Tired of being tired, writer Elizabeth Bennett tried a nutritionist-approved diet for boosting energy – and she’s not looking back.
I can’t exactly identify when it happened but at some point, tiredness became my new normal. I sleep relatively well, don’t have kids and work for myself in a job that isn’t hugely stressful – yet I’m still complaining about being tired. Often it’s not full-on, can’t-keep-my-eyes-open exhaustion, but a sense that I could do with some more energy.
I’m far from alone in this predicament; it’s rare that I meet a mate who doesn’t – at some point – complain about their tiredness. The barrage of exhaustion-related memes online only supports this further. Doctors even have an acronym for it, TATT (tired all the time), and a 2022 YouGov study found that one in eight people in the UK feel they’re deep in the TATT tunnel.
With constant political turmoil, post-pandemic life and constant work/life targets, it’s no wonder people are knackered. But perhaps our diets also play a role in how lacklustre and worn out we feel.
So much of the narrative around nutrition, especially for women, is how food relates to fat and how what we eat impacts our physical appearance. It often feels like we’ve forgotten that food is fuel, and what we eat directly correlates to how much energy we have.
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How to start eating for more energy
This got me wondering whether eating for energy might actually make a difference. Would I feel noticeably more lively and have more motivation to exercise? Would choosing energy-rich foods help stave off the creeping tiredness that usually hits me as the day goes on?
To start this experiment, I called up Thalia Pellegrini, a nutritionist who specialises in helping women get their energy back.
Eat more protein at every single meal (but especially breakfast)
“Most women I see in my clinic do not eat enough protein,” Pellegrini tells Stylist. While the amount of protein needed varies between women and the amount of exercise you do, Pellegrini advises trying to get between 15-20 grams at each meal. This is most important at breakfast.
“From an energy perspective, if you skip protein at breakfast, you’re coming out of the gate running on empty,” she explains. “That sets the pattern for the rest of the day and you’re always wanting to catch up with your energy.”
Science seems to back that claim up. One study found that eating a high-protein breakfast resulted in more steady glucose and insulin than a low-protein alternative. Interestingly, the same study noted that a high-protein breakfast increased both satiety (fullness) and positive mood markers.
Focus on eating fat and fibre at every meal
Protein aside, Pellegrini explains that it’s also important to ensure you’re getting the macronutrient profile right at every meal. If you consume more sugar than protein, fibre or fat at any one time, you’re likely to experience a “rollercoaster of blood sugar” throughout the day. You need healthy fats and fibre – specifically a complex carb – every time you eat.
Eat three meals a day (plus any snacks you need)
While some people might find their blood sugar is more stable after a bout of intermittent fasting, Pellegrini suggests sticking to three meals a day with snacks as and when needed.
“Women with menstrual cycles are experiencing different appetite fluctuations throughout the month so if you’re hungry, you should eat,” she says.
If you do need that extra energy boost, Pellegrini recommends looking at protein-rich foods once again like nuts, cheese or hummus. You can pair these with some fruit, veg or something like a wholegrain cracker.
How to follow an energy-boosting diet
Eat more protein-rich breakfasts
With Pellegrini’s advice in mind, I start making some changes to my diet. The first big change I make is breakfast.I think of my diet as relatively healthyand I’m also pescatarian but on second glance, my breakfast has been letting me down.
Often, I eat something like granola with yoghurt and fruit or a bowl of bran flakes with almond milk. That’s not unhealthy, but it’s more carb than protein so it’s no real wonder I’m usually flagging by 11am.
Some mornings, I follow Pellegrini’s suggestion of two eggs on toast with a piece of fruit. And I mix it up with overnight oats (made with chia and tahini for added protein), wholegrain toast with peanut butter or avocado on toast with walnuts.
Have larger lunches
I also try to take a more European approach to eating –having a hearty meal at lunch to power me throughout the afternoon.
Again, I look at my usual lunches and find that they’re usually low on protein. So, I start batch-cooking things like lentil and spinach dahls to have with Greek yoghurt and wholegrain rice.
Other days, I go for a peanut stew made with chickpeas and kale (beans and pulses are a great vegetarian source of protein).
As I’m having bigger lunches, I don’t need to cook as much in the evening and stick to smaller, simpler dinners like tofu stir fry or ratatouille.
Does the energy diet actually work?
I try to apply these principles over a two-week period and from the first day, I notice a difference. Having a higher amount of protein at breakfast works its magic. When my midday meeting runs over (meaning I don’t get to eat lunch until 2.30pm), I feel fine. Normally, I’d have an energy dip mid-morning, and feel ravenous around 12.30pm.
Eating bigger meals at lunch feels strange at first but I don’t really crash in the afternoons anymore. Often, I’m coasting from 4pm but during this two week period, I’m far more productive than usual – even working right through to 6.30pm one Friday.
Exercise-wise, I usually don’t have the energy to do much after work. On this energy-boosting plan, however, I start doing 30 minutes of pilates most evenings, which I find is a great way to separate the working day from evening down-time. It also frees up the morning to do some pre-work meditation.
On Pellegrini’s recommendation I stock up on nuts and dark chocolate to have as snacks but on the days I follow the principles religiously, I don’t really need them.
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I relax a little on the weekends – eating out and going away on work trips. While that’s just life, it was interesting to note that I wasn’t as energetic as on the days I stuck to the eating for energy principles.
This challenge has really made me consider what I eat and why. It’s made me so much more aware of how a balanced plate (and particularly more protein) can really make a difference to your day, your energy levels and how much you manage to achieve.
While I won’t always keep to it religiously, it makes most sense to follow these principles on normal working days. Sometimes tiredness will hit because of other reasons – brought on by a bad night’s sleep or a particularly busy time at work.But what you put on your plate can play a big role too.
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