One of the most common complaints people have when meeting with a doctor or nutritionist is fatigue. A common refrain is, “I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” or “My get up and go got up and went!”
These sayings might elicit a chuckle, but feeling tired and run down all the time is no laughing matter. You can chug energy drinks or pop caffeine pills, but the effects of these are short-lived and they don’t address the underlying reasons for why you feel so sluggish in the first place.
What are some healthy ways to boost energy that are more likely to put a permanent pep in your step?
Before you look for ways to increase your energy, it’s important to identify why you’re dragging. It’s possible there’s a very simple reason for your fatigue.
On the other hand, it’s possible the culprit is something more serious. If so, it’s best to address that with a medical professional rather than masking the symptoms with stimulants and expensive supplements that promise to banish fatigue. Work with your doctor to rule out the most obvious causes for fatigue.
If you have trouble getting good quality sleep, obviously that can play a role in low energy, but if you know this is an issue for you, then your fatigue isn’t a mystery. (It’s important to note that difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of other medical issues, so discuss this with your healthcare provider as with any medical concern.) But assuming suboptimal sleep isn’t the main factor for you, what else could it be?
Low thyroid function is frequently undiagnosed or improperly treated, so if your fatigue is accompanied by other signs and symptoms of low thyroid, be sure to get the proper testing and medication, if necessary. (Hair loss, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, constipation, depression, brain fog, low sex drive, and feeling cold often are some of the most common symptoms.)
Another possible cause for low energy is medication. If you’re taking prescription medications, read the package insert or the information provided by your pharmacy to see if drowsiness, low energy, or fatigue are potential side effects.
If so, ask your doctor if there’s a different medicine you can take that will be effective for your condition without sapping your energy. (Medications with potential to sap energy include certain drugs for blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, statins for high cholesterol, antipsychotics, antibiotics, and more.)
Various nutrient deficiencies can result in low energy. Vitamin B12 in particular is important for healthy energy levels, and because of their essential roles in metabolism and converting food into energy, a deficiency in any of the B-vitamins can result in lethargy and low energy.
Iron is also crucial for steady energy—fatigue is one of the hallmark signs of iron-deficiency anemia. Evaluate your diet to see if you might be low in iron or B-vitamins, or get evaluated by your doctor.
(And keep in mind that just because you consume certain foods, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll absorb their full content of vitamins and minerals. For example, the diabetes drug metformin impairs absorption of vitamin B12, and certain antacids—including ones used over the counter—reduce absorption of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and B12.)
There are also several conditions that affect digestive function and might result in you not reaping the full nutritional benefits of the foods you choose.
If you’ve ruled out causes for low energy that should be addressed with a medical professional and you’ve determined that your flagging energy is probably related to your diet and lifestyle, two things you can adjust are your diet and your physical activity.
Very low-carb ketogenic diets are well known to help boost energy. There are no randomized controlled clinical trials to prove that keto increases energy, but social media—and doctors’ offices—have amassed several thousand anecdotes from people doing keto on their own, who report feeling more energetic once their bodies are fueled on fat and they’re not experiencing wild highs and lows on the blood sugar roller coaster.
(If you’re already following a low-carb or keto diet but you often still feel tired and sluggish, read this article for tips on why that’s happening and what to do about it.)
Exercise is another healthy way to boost energy, and best of all, it’s free! Despite slick marketing from the 1980s with VHS tapes of aerobics instructors in neon-colored leotards and leggings, exercise isn’t very effective for weight loss. But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to exercise. Apart from improving cardiorespiratory fitness, mobility, and mental health, regular physical activity can help with energy.
You’ve probably noticed that right after a workout, you feel “pumped” and ready to tackle the world. A little while later, though, your body might give you signals to slow down and rest.
When physical activity is a regular part of your life, though, you’re likely to have better energy overall, even on days you don’t do any deliberate exercise. Remember your high school physics: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. It’s easier to be active on a regular basis than it is to be inactive for a long period of time and start it up again.
The good news is, you don’t have to start training for a triathlon to reap the energy-boosting effects of exercise, and you don’t even need to pay for a gym membership! Just getting up and going for a short walk, particularly outdoors in fresh air, can clear the cobwebs in your head that can lead you to feel tired. (Give that a try next time your head starts to bob at your desk at work. Even if you can’t go outside, a couple of laps down the hallway and back can “turn the lights back on.”)
You could also do something right at your desk or cubicle—there are plenty of movements that can be done in a small space without any special equipment, that can bolster flagging energy.
Here’s a guide from NASA with 20 exercises and stretches you can do at your workstation. Air squats (performing a squat motion using just your body weight) are dynamite for a quick boost, as are jumping jacks, if you have the space. You’d be surprised at how big an impact these simple actions can have on your energy.
Are you sick of trying to figure out what food you need to eat to get that daily dose of vitamins and minerals in your day? Then try Keto Chow! Keto Chow is a meal replacement shake that has 1/3 of your daily recommended nutrients. And it comes in over 30 flavors that are all super delicious!