Instant Energizers

Fatigue-busting tips to boost your energy at work or the gym.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 12, 2006

It usually happens around 3 p.m. Your eyes get a little heavy, your energystarts to sag, and you feel like you need a nap or something to getyou through the rest of the day.

Afternoon fatigue (or a similar slump at any time of day) can be caused bylow blood sugar or dehydration, or it can simply stem from boredom or lack ofsleep. And no, candy bars or caffeine won't help. They may work immediately,but after a short while, energy levels drop again.

Still, there are a few things you can do to perk up and get back tobusiness, at your desk or in the gym. Eating small meals every three or fourhours throughout the day is one way to prevent energy lulls. But if eatingaround the clock doesn't fit into your schedule, try boosting your energy withone or more of these five "instant energizers."

1. Hydrate Yourself

Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining energy. So before you head tothe vending machine in search of a pick-me-up, drink a big glass of water.

"Being dehydrated can make you feel tired, so one of the easiest,calorie-free ways to beat an energy slump is with a tall glass of water orsparkling soda with a twist," says Carolyn O'Neil, RD, author of TheDish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. "As we age, our thirstmechanisms are not as reliable and don't work as well. Keep water bottles atyour desk or in the car, and sip regularly."

If water just doesn't do it for you, try a glass of iced tea or cup of hottea.

"It makes sense that cultures around the globe have enjoyed the dailyritual of 'tea time,' to enjoy a hot beverage and a little snack to perk uptheir sagging energy levels." says O'Neil.

Having a cup of tea helps hydrate you, and the addition of a small cookie ordainty tea sandwich is just enough to take the edge off your appetite andenergize you until dinner.

"An added bonus is, tea is loaded with antioxidants and otherhealth-promoting substances," O'Neil says.

Stock your pantry, briefcase, or desk with a variety of tea flavors andindividually packed, simple cookies or 100-calorie snack packs so you can enjoyyour very own "afternoon tea" time.

2. Bed and Breakfast

First off, you need a good night's sleep -- if you're sleep-deprived, it'sgoing to be challenging to overcome energy lulls with anything other than anap. Then, be sure to get your blood sugar perking with a healthybreakfast.

"Many people skip breakfast and this usually leads to a midmorningslump," says Marissa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American DieteticAssociation.

A bowl of whole-grain cereal, fruit, and low-fat milk makes a quick, healthybreakfast. If you just don't have time to sit down, whip up a smoothie or graba breakfast bar, banana, or yogurt.

3. Grab a (Balanced) Snack

A balanced snack could be exactly what you need to rev up your energylevels. But not any snack will do the trick: "Think carbohydrates andprotein," says Moore.

Some foods, like fruit, are simple carbohydrates that are easily absorbedand result in a quick rise in blood sugar and energy. Fruit also has thebenefit of containing water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But if you add somelow-fat or lean protein to your fruit, you've got a snack that can provide asteady stream of energy for several hours.

Plan ahead and take along one or more of these energizing snacks:

  • Apples with peanut butter
  • Hummus (or other low-fat dip) and vegetables
  • String cheese (or any kind of low-fat cheese) and whole-grain crackers
  • 100-calorie packs of popcorn, crackers, or simple cookies
  • Sugar-free cocoa with an added splash of skim milk
  • Rice cakes with nut butter
  • Low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg and a glass of juice
  • Glass of skim milk and graham crackers
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Low-sugar granola or cereal bar
  • Mini whole-wheat bagel and soft cheese
  • Trail mix of dried fruit and nuts

Of course, snacks also add calories. Keep your portions small, so you'll getthe energy boost without weight gain.

4. Eat Before You Exercise

After a long day of work or a long night's rest, you need an energy boostbefore heading to the gym.

"The best pre- and postworkout snacks contain low-fat protein andcarbohydrate," says Moore.

Protein helps your body repair muscle tissue, and carbohydrates give youfuel to help your body perform the physical activity and replenish bloodglucose afterward.

"Make sure the foods you eat before working out are easilydigested," says O'Neil, who recommends keeping the snack small.

Also, don't forget to drink plenty of water before, during, and afterphysical activity. O'Neil also recommends drinking an enhanced water or a smallcontainer of sports drink, to help keep you hydrated and give you a bit ofsugar for energy.

Here are some healthy snacks for before or after a workout:

  • Low-fat yogurt and whole-grain cereal or crackers
  • Small container of natural applesauce and a handful of nuts
  • Bananas, to provide quick energy plus potassium for muscles
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • A fruit smoothie
  • Low-fat cheese and a piece of fruit
  • Whole-grain toast with nut butter

5. Get Moving

One reason your energy is flagging at work could be the fact that you'vebeen sitting in the same chair hour after hour, without moving much more thanyour fingers.

"Get up out of your chair and move around at least a few minutes everyhour," advises Moore.

Instead of sending an email, go to your colleague's office. Schedule awalking meeting. Take the stairs to the restroom a few floors away. Just find areason to move around and be more active. And don't think of it as wastingtime. It could well help you be more productive.

"Engaging in small bursts of physical activity can be very energizingand help you overcome a slump and think more clearly," Moore says.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD, co-author, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous; health columnist, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and nutrition expert, American Online. Marissa Moore, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.

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