My quest to find more energy started about 5 years ago. My first child was one year old, and I had just returned to work after a long maternity leave. In one day, my schedule was completely changed. Each morning, I rushed to get her off to crèche and myself to work on time. I raced all day long to complete my job in half the time so I could pick her up right as the crèche was closing. Then, I rushed to get dinner on the table, get her to bed, and finally – crash myself. I felt like I had given everything I had to give, and I had absolutely nothing left. Not for me, not for my family, not for my friends. Just, done. Gym memberships went unused. I was falling asleep at my desk after lunch. Date nights with my husband turned into fall-asleep-on-the-couch nights.
To me something was missing – there was more to life than this. I had to find a way to create more energy in my day. So I made it my mission to figure this out. In my research, I learned that it’s actually our internal processes that drain most of our energy. And one of the key ‘jobs’ of our internal organs is digestion. Some sources say digestion itself eats up between 50-80% of our total energy – daily! “The less energy spent on digestion, the more energy you’ll have.” (Brendan Brazier, Thrive Energy) Ok so now I was starting to get it. The better you can facilitate digestion in the body, the more energy you have left for other things. For playing with your kids. For training as hard as you can. For bringing your best to whatever challenge life throws at you. This was getting exciting.
In the following weeks (and to this day) I changed the way I ate. I did this by following some really simple and straightforward rules to eat for optimum digestion and energy.
The result? After a few weeks, I felt like a new person. I remember coming home from work one day feeling like I could run a marathon! I didn’t have any more energy slumps during the day. I wasn’t falling asleep on the couch in the evenings. I was alert and present for every moment I had with my daughter. I started running again. I had so much more to give!
So what did I do exactly? What did I eat, what did I avoid? I’m really excited to share what I’ve learned with you. Here are the 7 basic principles I followed and what was (and still is) on my plate.
Start every day with lemon and hot water. One of the most alkalizing foods, lemon is packed with enzymes and vitamin C, and supports the liver function to detox. The hot water promotes cleansing as it relaxes your gut. A perfect way to gently cleanse your system daily, giving you a ‘clean slate’ as you start your day.
Drink green smoothies daily. This is the single most important daily change you can make to your diet, and immediately start seeing results in your energy level. Leafy greens like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce, are the most nutrient dense food on the planet, and we need to eat a lot of them (Victoria Boutenko, Green for Life). They are incredibly alkalizing, packed full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and full of fiber – all exactly what the digestion system needs to operate efficiently. When you blend them, their cellular walls are broken down and “pre-digested”, so your body skips a lot of the work to digest the food and can quickly metabolize it into useable energy. See the sidebar for a basic recipe you can make at home, or skip the work and sign up for weekly green smoothie deliveries with BonJu (bonju.ch)
Green salads before every meal. This is another way to sneak in more greens (and we already know greens are good!) It also allows you to fill you up before moving on to your main course – resulting in consuming less overall calories, yet still feeling satisfied. A sustainable way to help lose a few kilos in the long term, too.
Stay hydrated. You want to drink when you’re really thirsty (morning) and throughout the day, especially in between meals. It’s important to remember not to drink too much with your meals, as it can slow down digestion and create bloating. Drink water at room-temperature – ice water can shock the system and expend more energy to warm the liquid to your body’s natural temperature. We have much better things to do with our limited energy reserves!
Cut the caffeine. I used to drink 2 venti lattes every single day. I felt I couldn’t function properly without my coffee. But I learned that caffeine can create spikes (and dips) of energy, and over-consumption can be tough on the liver and also lead to increased levels of cortisol, a stress response hormone. Turns out that coffee-induced jittery feeling is not actually giving you the result you want. Try replacing it with green tea at first, or even better with herbal tea or hot water and lemon.
Avoid the refined sweets. This is not easy, as sugar can be very addictive. For all of you with a sweet tooth, I hear you! But instead of creating lasting energy, sweet snacks create an immediate rush as it elevates our blood sugar, which then quickly dissipates as it crashes. This leaves us wanting more sweets, creating a vicious cycle that is a total drain on your energy. Try to reduce at first – replace refined sugar with stevia, coconut sugar or date paste, and choose whole fruits like apples, dates or grapes as sweet snacks when the craving hits. Replace soda with water. (I recently cut sugar out completely for 6 weeks – life changer! Look out for my next article on that topic. Very difficult, but so worthwhile.)
Eat more plants! Whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, veggies – they are all energizing power houses. “Plant beauty foods are super energizers to help replenish us from stress, while digesting easily and having lots of fiber to provide sustained energy without weighing us down.” (Kimberly Synder, Beauty Detox Solution.) See sidebar for some of my favorite energy-boosting plant foods.
As you can see – there’s no mention of dieting here. Each one of the suggestions above is meant to be a daily habit to incorporate into your lifestyle. My suggestion is to tackle one or two changes at a time and stick with them for 6 weeks (the time it takes to create a new habit.) Try simply drinking lemon/ hot water and a green smoothie every morning. Change nothing else. You will see that this alone will make a huge difference! And the beauty of it is that as your energy goes up, so does your willingness to continue making healthy choices throughout the day. So naturally you will choose fresh fruit over a sugary sweet. You will crave a salad at lunchtime. You won’t need your coffee to wake up after lunch. Soon you too will be writing me about having the energy to run marathons after work! I cannot wait to hear your transformation stories.
Let’s juice more out of life!
- Bananas: They are high in potassium, which is necessary for digestion and muscular function. Antioxidant, fiber and carbohydrate rich, bananas are a perfect snack to take with you whenever you need an extra burst of lasting energy.
- Apples: Packed with powerful antioxidants, apples are also a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. I always keep an apple in my bag when I’m on the go!
- Nuts & seeds. These heart-healthy snacks are rich in protein, B vitamins and omega-3s, help you absorb fat soluble nutrients, fill you up and give you a burst of energy anytime you’re feeling sluggish. Almonds are my favorite – they are especially high in magnesium, which increases energy production, supports the immune system and boosts your mood.
- Hummus & veggie sticks. Chick peas are a great source of protein, and together with veggies make the perfect salty energizing snack. Carrots, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumber – all high in fiber, nutrient-dense and super energizing!
- Blueberries are especially known to promote brain function and boost energy. Strawberries are high in fiber and very high in Vitamin C (more than an orange!) Toss them into your daily smoothie or make yourself a berry dessert bowl.
- The healthy fat from avocados provide a slow, steady stream of energy and are also a great source of fiber. I love to make avocado toast, guacamole or toss chunks into salads or Buddha bowls.
- Raw sauerkraut. As long you buy the raw/ unpasteurized variety, sauerkraut has more beneficial bacteria than in live yogurt! High in Vitamin C, K and iron, it strengthens your immune system, aids digestion and energizes your body. Try adding them to salads when you can.
- Quinoa provides slow release energy and is a great source of protein containing all the essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, iron, magnesium and is gluten free. I like to keep cooked quinoa in my fridge so I can toss together with veggies for an easy, filling and tasty salad.
- Dates. Full of fiber, potassium, magnesium and carbs, dates provide fuel for your brain and muscular function. They travel well and pair very well with almonds for a sweet pick me up when you need it.
- Chia seeds. Protein, check. Omega-3 fats, check. Fiber, check. These little seeds provide sustained energy and help the body to fuel up or recover after a workout. Chia comes from the ancient Aztec’s in South America, and the Inca warriors would eat them daily for strength and stamina. One tablespoon of chia was considered enough to sustain a warrior for 24 hours! (Fun fact, Chia means strength in Mayan.)
- Sweet potato. A deliciously sweet source of slow-release carbs, sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamin C, beta carotene, magnesium, iron and potassium (all essential energy nutrients). They help to balance electrolytes while exercising and give you lasting fuel. Try baked sweet potato fries with paprika (see recipe), or simply bake and eat!
- 2 cups of chopped raw leafy greens (try spinach, romaine lettuce, or kale)
- 1 frozen banana
- 1-2 cups of fresh fruits (try strawberry, mango or kiwi mixed with apple and orange)
- Wedge of lemon
- 1 tablespoon of flax seeds
- at least 1 cup of water, likely more
Add water and leafy greens to blender – mix. Once liquid, add rest of ingredients and mix again. Sip slowly and enjoy! For a boost of protein, add 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds on top.
- 1 can of chickpeas, drained
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 tablespoons of tahini
- handful of basil leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- enough water to blend, a few tablespoons
Add all ingredients to blender and blend away! Serve with cut up raw veggies. Enjoy!
- 6 medium sweet potatoes, sliced into wedges or sticks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (should be enough to thinly cover all fries
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Mix the olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Add to potatoes and ensure each piece is coated with marinade. Place on parchment covered baking sheet, ensuring the fries have enough space and are not touching (otherwise they will be soggy, not crunchy!) Bake around 25 minutes or until starting to crisp around the edges.