Feeling more fatigued than usual lately? You’re far from alone. Beyond the Covid-19 pandemic
, we’re seeing an epidemic of low energy, says Steven Gundry, M.D., a California-based cardiothoracic surgeon and author of the new book The Energy Paradox: What to Do When Your Get-Up-and-Go Has Got Up and Gone
. One of the reasons for this? When we’re stressed or bored — two things we’ve all likely experienced often over the past year — we inevitably turn to comfort foods consisting of simple carbohydrates (looking at you, chips and cookies) that lead to an energy crash later on.
Another culprit of low energy has to do with the number of hours the average American is consuming food. We’re now eating up to 16 hours every day, says Dr. Gundry — and that’s very different from the way humans used to eat. “If we’re eating 16 hours a day, that means we only have eight hours to clear the ‘rush hour’ out of our energy highways,” he adds.
(Want to cut back? Reducing your window of eating is called intermittent fasting
.) Eating too many low-nutrition foods for too many hours a day is overall a major factor in feeling low-energy.
The good news, though, is that you can implement small changes to boost your energy without completely overhauling your lifestyle. Consider these doctor-approved tips to feel more energetic without pouring yet another cup of coffee
How to Get More Energy Without Caffeine
1. Eat two servings of mushrooms per week.
Mushrooms can increase your energy for two reasons. First, they are filled with prebiotic
fiber, which are the foods that our good gut bacteria eat, says Dr. Gundry. The biproducts of this process are compounds called post-biotics, which are essentially the communication system between your microbiome and your energy-producing mitochondria. Post-biotics tell mitochondria to make more energy — so eating a few cups of mushrooms per week (think tossing fresh sliced mushrooms into a salad, stirring dried mushrooms
into marinara sauce, sipping mushroom broth
or snacking on crispy mushroom snacks
) can stimulate energy production.
Second, mushrooms are one of the best sources of food-based melatonin. “People hear that and think, [melatonin] is the hormone that helps you sleep — but research has now shown that melatonin is the most important antioxidant in mitochondria,” says Dr. Gundry. Eating mushrooms boosts your overall mitochondrial energy system, giving you more energy.
2. Get a dog.
Sure, it sounds obvious — having an eager dog anxious to exercise encourages you to live a more active lifestyle, too (don’t even think about skipping that walk!). The more active you are, the more energetic you’ll feel. But there’s another reason getting a pup can boost your energy: Because they go outside, they bring friendly bacteria into your home.
A dog’s microbiome can actually make your microbiome more diverse, says Dr. Gundry, and the more diverse your microbiome
, the more energy you make. Consider this permission to let Fido lick your face. “I actually write prescriptions for people to get a dog,” says Dr. Gundry.
3. Go for exercise snacks.
When the 3:00 p.m. slump hits and you’re heading to the kitchen to raid the pantry, give your body an “exercise snack” instead of diving into a box. (By the way, here’s how to eat healthy while working from home
.) “The reasons we look to snack are often because we’re bored,” says Dr. Gundry. These little exercise snacks have been shown to keep your hunger at bay, and even a 10-minute workout
or a few minutes of walking up and down the stairs can be effective.
Think about ways you can build more movement into your day in the smallest of ways to boost your energy. For example, you could do squats while brushing your teeth twice a day, Dr. Gundry suggests.
4. Eat more shellfish.
The membranes of our energy-making mitochondria are made up of phospholipids, an active site for production of adenosine triphosphate
(ATP) — a source of energy for use and storage at the cellular level. Many of these membranes have been damaged because of the amount of trans fats not shown on food labels that are part of Americans’ diets, says Dr. Gundry.
To repair them, you need to consume foods high in phospholipids, and one of the best sources is shellfish. Bivalves in particular, such as oysters and scallops
, can help clear brain fog, he adds. (See more reasons to get hooked on the health benefits of a seafood-rich diet
, including shellfish.)
5. Drink hydrogen water.
Remember the postbiotics we talked about earlier? One of those postbiotics is hydrogen gas. The hydrogen molecule is the smallest of any molecule, meaning it diffuses very easily, and it’s produced by our gut bacteria. When we eat particular fibers, hydrogen tells our mitochondria to produce more energy, says Dr. Gundry.
“People are embarrassed by gas, but I tell them to ‘step on the gas,” he adds. That’s why he recommends drinking hydrogen water, which has been studied extensively in Japan and Korea, with more research showing its benefits slowly being published. Because hydrogen diffuses so easily, it can’t be bottled in plastic containers, so it’s easiest to drink hydrogen water by diffusing hydrogen tablets in regular water, Dr. Gundry says.
6. Reduce blue light.
You already know that endless scrolling or checking emails right before bedtime can suppress sleep — blame it on the blue lighting. Unfortunately, blue light is now everywhere, says Dr. Gundry, and it’s one of the troublemakers contributing to the low-energy epidemic. One of the best and most obvious ways to combat fatigue is to get better sleep
(and give our energy-producing mitochondria a rest), yet many people don’t get enough each night.
“We can’t burn our mitochondrial candles at both ends,” Dr. Gundry adds. He suggests downloading apps to change your screens’ lighting with the time of day, wearing blue-light-blocking glasses
, and scheduling FaceTimes with family and friends early in the day so you can eliminate screens after sunset.
Still feeling low energy?
If you’ve tried all these things and are still feeling tired a lot of the time, don’t ignore it. Chronic fatigue — and other symptoms that can sometimes go along with it, such as not being able to focus or think straight — can be a sign that there’s something more seriously wrong in your body. “This isn’t a normal consequence of [the pandemic] or our stressful, high-powered lives,” says Dr. Gundry. “It’s a warning that you need to look deeper under the hood to find out why.”