7 nutrients that fight fatigue

Feeling sluggish? Changes are good that your diet’s to blame. Fight back with these energy-boosting superfoods

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Eat to regain your energy

If walking to your mailbox or making it through the day without a nap seems beyond your current energy level, you may be suffering from fatigue. It has many causes, including stress, medications, overwork, sleep difficulties, or illness. If your fatigue is chronic or extreme, ask a doctor to check you out. But once you’re certain that your tiredness doesn’t stem from a medical problem, it may be time to reconsider your diet. Plenty of all-too-common eating habits sap energy-and plenty of relatively simple fixes can inject more oomph into your day.

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beans on spoons

1. Protein: Fish, meat, dairy products, beans

If you’re someone who eats salads with no meat, fish, or beans for lunch and then craves an afternoon nap, snubbing protein may be your problem. Studies have shown that people who skip protein at breakfast, for instance, are more apt to be depressed, stressed, and less physically fit than those who regularly add protein to their plates. Amino acids, which make up proteins, are the body’s building blocks, growing and repairing everything from blood vessels to hair. Amino acids also help increase levels of neurotransmitters that in turn boost mood and alertness.

Aim for: You need 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram (0.36 gram per pound) of body weight. For example, if you weigh 68 kilograms (150 pounds), you need 54 grams of protein. One serving of beef tenderloin has 32 grams of protein; 1 cup (250 millilitres) of black beans, 15 grams; and 1 cup (250 millilitres) of milk, 8 grams.

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2. Iron: Red meat, molasses, beans

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, leading to a low volume of red blood cells that results in fatigue. Symptoms include weakness, pallor, fatigue, and brittle nails. If you suspect anemia, check with your doctor. Most cases are caused by blood loss (for example, from a bleeding ulcer or heavy menstrual flow).

Aim for: The recommended amount of iron is 8 milligrams per day for men and menopausal women and 18 milligrams for menstruating women. One 90-gram (3-ounce) serving of beef has 3.2 grams, and a cup (250 millilitres) of soybeans provides 8.8.

Helpful hint: Our bodies absorb iron much better from meat than from plant foods. If you get most of your iron from vegetarian sources like beans and peas, eat them with foods like citrus fruits that are high in vitamin C, which aids iron absorption.

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fruits and vegetables

3. Complex carbohydrates: Whole grains, fruits, vegetables

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, but many of us eat too many “simple” carbs that digest quickly, sending blood sugar on a wild ride that saps energy. Choose complex-carb foods like brown rice over white, to get a steady supply of energy. In a British study of 142 people who ate high-fibre cereal at breakfast for two weeks, the volunteers had more energy, mental clarity, and less emotional upset than they did when they went back eating to their usual breakfasts.

Another reason to get your fill of whole grains: They’re a good source of B vitamins. Run low on Bs, and you’re apt to slump. They have many functions, including the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into glucose, the fuel our bodies run on.

Aim for: In addition to the recommended 7 to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, aim to get at least three carbohydrate servings from whole grains like whole wheat or brown rice. A serving of bread is one slice; a serving of rice is 1/2 cup (125 millilitres).

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4. Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli

When 17th-century sailors swooning with scurvy sipped lemon juice, their lethargy vanished. Present-day studies have found that vitamin C deficiency is associated with fatigue. C is necessary for a healthy adrenal system, which helps prevent fatigue from physical or emotional stress. It also helps fight off infections and helps us absorb iron.

Aim for: The recommended amount is 75 milligrams a day for women and 90 milligrams a day for men, but more is better in this case. One red bell pepper has about twice that amount; a cup (250 mL) of broccoli also provides more than the quota.

Helpful hint: Cooking reduces vitamin C by about 25 percent, so eat some fruits and veggies raw.

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5. Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds, spinach

Adopt Popeye’s spinach habit. One of its nutrients, magnesium, is essential for the production of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, the end product of food’s conversion to energy. Magnesium also relaxes muscles and aids sleep. If we don’t have enough, we feel tired and weak.

Aim for: 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily for men; 310 to 320 milligrams for women. A quarter cup (50 mL) of pumpkin seeds has 185 milligrams; a cup (250 mL) of cooked spinach has 157.

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6. Beta-carotene: Sweet potatoes, carrots

Add colour to your plate, and you’ll add energy to your step. Beta-carotene, the vitamin A precursor that puts the colour in carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach, helps boost a depressed immune system, often at the root of chronic fatigue. By promoting healthy cell membranes, beta-carotene boosts protection from viruses, bacteria, fungi, and allergies. It also ups the activity of T cells, which fight infections, and it’s necessary for healthy red blood cells.

Aim for: Make five of your daily produce servings leafy dark green vegetables and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables.

Helpful hint: Lightly steaming (not overcooking) foods like carrots and spinach can help your body absorb their beta-carotene.

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7. Potassium: Spinach, avocados, squash

Run short on potassium, and you risk muscle weakness and exhaustion. Studies have shown that people low on potassium have weaker hand grips than people with enough of the nutrient. Potassium helps transport nutrients to cells, maintain water balance, regulate muscle contraction, and maintain a healthy nervous system and heart rate.

Aim for: 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day. One cup (250 mL) of cooked spinach has 839 milligrams; an avocado, 875; and a cup (250 mL) of winter squash, 896.

Helpful hint: Potassium decreases the excretion of calcium, so boosting your potassium intake also helps keep your bones healthy.

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