Coffee and energy drinks are quick fixes for your afternoon meetings, but we all know that the energy they bring is fleeting.
You walk into a health store and immediately see a variety of herbs and supplements branded as “energy boosters.“
Sounds convenient, doesn’t it?
Sorry to bust your hopes but there is little or no scientific evidence that could support claims like this.
What’s even more alarming is the potential safety concerns and low quality ingredients. For example, ephedra was once one of these “energy boosters” but was banned by the FDA due to increased risk of heart attack!
Don’t be disappointed. Since when did humans have to rely on stimulants to keep going anyways? Since when did caffeine and sugar become energy?
In this guide, we will teach you how to increase your energy levels naturally. No unpronounceable chemicals, no unsafe pills, just mother nature and a bit of self care.
The book The Power of Full Engagement has an excellent quote that sums up how humans derive their energy:
“To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement
Note that coffee and pills are not part of the recipe.
If you want to have sustainable and renewable energy throughout your day and the rest of your life, you need to take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Let’s dive into each in a bit more detail, shall we?
1. Physical Energy
Your physical energy level is a result of nutrition, fitness and sleep. If you constantly feel that your body is being dragged down by a giant magnet, chances are you are ignoring one or more of these three factors.
There is a lot of truth in the old saying that “You are what you eat”. Many processed foods claim that they are high in “energy”, but what they really mean is calories. These calories come purely from added sugar and fat, and are therefore considered “empty calories”. They contain no nutritional value and can’t be used as good fuel for your body. In fact, they end up leaving you hungrier and deficient in essential nutrients. It’s exactly like how bad fuel eventually wears out a good car!
Research has shown that for every percent increase in sugar in your diet, the weight of real nutritious food decreases.1 As a result, micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent and can result in metabolic disruption and mitochondrial decay.2 Mitochondria is the powerhouse that makes energy molecules inside our cells. When mitochondria is inefficient, it not only decreases our energy level but also paves the way for serious chronic diseases.
Instead, you should focus on the quality, not quantity of calories. For example, wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables contain very few calories, but a range of vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you are not used to eating lots of whole foods, start by turning them into a green smoothie (you can even add protein powder to make it a protein shake). Replace soft drinks with homemade fruit juices. This way, you avoid the added sugars while preserving the natural nutrients and fiber.
Fiber can make you feel fuller and effectively prevent you from overeating, keeping your weight in check. Fiber-rich foods also usually have a low glycemic index, meaning that they release energy in a steady fashion rather than causing a sugar spike. You won’t feel sleepy right after a healthy meal or smoothie and won’t be hungry either until several hours later.
Physical exercise takes energy, but you still need to do it to improve your energy. It sounds contradictory, but it’s scientifically proven to work. Exercise pumps up your heart rate and blood circulation, while releasing the “feel good” hormone – endorphins. These effects strengthen your heart, muscles and mind. A comprehensive meta-analysis of 16 research studies concluded that even a single bout of exercise could enhance energy levels.3
Fitness is also not confined to a gym. Simply get up from your chair once in a while, do some stretches or take a walk. Although exercise may be the last thing that your body feels like when it’s depleted of energy, you will feel completely different afterwards when your body is replenished with circulating oxygen. Try to find sports that you enjoy and incorporate them into your routine, such as:
- Whole body challenges: Rock climbing, dancing
- Aerobic exercises: Cycling, running, swimming
- Core Strength & Flexibility: Pilates, barre, yoga
In addition, exercise is great for promoting a good night’s sleep, which is the next factor that determines your physical energy status.
We are designed to sleep for one-third of our lifetime for a reason. Disruptions to the natural circadian rhythm are associated with a range of mental and physical disorders, reduced performance and productivity.4
Nowadays, many distractions take away sleep time, such as mobile screens before bed and afternoon coffees. You essentially deprive yourself of the natural biological gift of energy renewal. Our body functions the best when it is put back in balance after a long day, and sleep is when the “reset” happens. Therefore, if you take away time that is allocated for rest, your energy levels during the wake hours will suffer instead.
2. Mental Energy
Mental strength is all about the ability to focus on your daily tasks for however long you want. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be flexible to switch in and out of tasks, but you should be able to re-focus easily without being distracted. Unfortunately, most of us today have extremely short attention spans. Some people rely on distraction-blocking apps to force themselves to work, but most of the time, it’s painful and not sustainable either.
1) Train Your Brain
Improving your mental energy is possible. Our brain is just like any other muscle in the body – it is flexible and can be trained to get stronger. For example, mental training is as important as physical training for many elite athletes, who need to withstand tough mental stress and physical fatigue.
Meditation is an ancient mindfulness practice that is adopted by many successful athletes before they are mentally engaged for hours of games. As Kobe Bryant puts it, “It’s like having an anchor. If I don’t do it, it feels like I’m constantly chasing the day, as opposed to being controlled and dictate the day.”
Indeed, when you can train the brain to control whatever comes your way, instead of being controlled, you will have mastered mental energy. The feeling of mentally drained is often when your mind is cluttered with too many thoughts, leaving no space for productive or creative thinking. Meditation helps you declutter the mind and re-focus on what’s important.
As a beginner, you can first learn mindful breathing, such as the Box breathing technique. Then, take advantage of guided meditation apps that will help you calm down and let go of unproductive thoughts on your mind. At first, you may only be able to focus for a minute and all kinds of thoughts would run wild, that is normal. Keep trying it everyday and you will notice your mental power and energy level step up.
2) Get Rid of Mental Baggage
Whatever happened, happened. It’s extremely exhausting to indulge in the memory of something you screwed up in the past. Sleep is meant to reset your body and mind, but it doesn’t work when you resist it.
At the end of a tough day, it helps to imagine taking all of your negativity and stuffing it into a garbage bag. Tell yourself that it’s okay to leave today as it is, and focus on welcoming tomorrow’s new experiences. The more you think about controlling something that you can no longer change, the more mental energy you waste. In the long term, the mental baggage will only get bigger and heavier, dragging you down in whatever you do.
3. Emotional Energy
Emotions are some of the most powerful forces that can change energy states. Anger, hatred and stress can easily take control over lives. Negative emotions are like toxins inside the body, which take up a lot of our energy to get rid of. Sometimes, the rate of detox is simply not as fast as we put in more toxic emotions, which ultimately lead to mental illnesses like depression.
The only way out of this emotional turmoil is to counteract the toxic emotions with their natural antidotes – positive emotions. Try to be grateful for what you have, enjoy the life that you are blessed with, and face up to difficulties as new challenges rather than stressful roadblocks.
1) Celebrate Achievements
In addition to positive thoughts, research has shown that appraisals also play important roles in improving emotional health and mental energy.5 Appraisals are positive confirmations of your achievements, coming from yourself or others. Things like “I can do it!” or “You did a great job!” could have far-reaching effects on people’s mental state.
So make sure you recognize your own achievements and share them with others. Receive the compliments when they are due. When we don’t always focus on the mistakes but acknowledge the achievements too, positive reinforcement kicks in and encourages us to keep going. Take a look at kids, if you praise them for something, they can get so much energy to prove to you that they can do even better!
Your social circle is extremely important for supporting your emotional health. Surround yourself with people that are grateful and generous with praises, and you will feel more energetic. Try to find like-minded people and form a support group, where you can share words of encouragement and positive vibes. Moreover, strong social connections also have physical health benefits. Some intriguing research found that people’s status of human interactions can even affect immune functions and dementia.
4. Spiritual Energy
Last but not the least, your ultimate energy output also depends on whether you are spiritually aligned to a purpose. Being spiritual doesn’t mean religious, but having a “why” that gets you up in the morning and feeling excited for what waits ahead.
Even with perfect nutrition, fitness, sleep, mental health and emotional grip, you still need a motivation that can put your energy to good use. What kind of person do you want for your identity? What goals are you working towards? What values do you strive to have?
If you haven’t contemplated these questions yet, it’s time that you take a break and think about your purpose. If you need some inspiration, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential women in our time, but she also suffered tremendous adversity and was once in search of her own inspiration. In her book The Path Made Clear, Oprah describes that finding the purpose made her “energized in a way that fueled every cell of [her] being.”
1) Find Your Purpose
So perhaps it’s time for you to slow down and ask yourself:
- What do I love and what do I believe?
- What is my gut telling me to do?
- What makes me feel energized, connected, and stimulated?
- What can get me excited every morning for the rest of my life?
It’s absolutely important that you figure out your beliefs because you become what you believe. If you start with a clear “why” in mind, your purpose will feed to your energy, constantly.
Quick 5-Minute Energy Boosters
Changing your state means changing your energy. Anytime you’re feeling a dip, focus on changing your state. If in doubt, remember: movement is medicine.
Frequently Asked Questions About Boosting Energy
- How can I boost my energy naturally? Your energy level depends on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. A healthy lifestyle that incorporates these 10 habits can naturally boost your energy:
- Eat nutrient-dense but not calorie-dense foods
- Eat plenty of vegetables or green smoothies/juices
- Do physical exercises that you enjoy frequently
- Avoid unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking
- Never compromise on the quality and quantity of sleep
- Manage stress using relaxation methods and meditation
- Live in the present and don’t carry mental baggages
- Fuel yourself with positive emotions by celebrating small wins
- Cultivate supportive social connections
- Find your purpose, your inspiration and your role model
- How do you fix low energy? Quick fixes are never the best solution for your low energy. Make a long-term commitment to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Incorporate more healthy habits each day and wane off activities or thoughts that harm your energy.
- Why is my energy so low? A low energy is an indicator that you are ignoring one or more of your physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health. Ask yourself:
- Am I eating too much junk food?
- Am I moving my body everyday or mostly sitting in front of a computer?
- Am I sleeping enough?
- Am I holding onto stress, past mistakes or fear?
- Am I all alone and lacking social support?
- Am I feeling lost and purposeless?
- What should you eat when you feel low energy? For a steady energy release, you should eat food that’s low on the glycemic index. Most natural whole foods, including grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and nuts are great. The high fiber content will make you feel full and the complex carbohydrates will offer you long-lasting energy. Avoid eating empty calories from processed foods as your body needs to spend a lot of energy getting rid of them. They also do not provide the nutrients needed to fuel your energy.
Wrap-Up: How to Increase Energy Naturally
In conclusion, our energy levels are an outward reflection of how we treat our health. You can’t even expect a machine to run at super speed if you don’t give it the right instructions, resources and care. So don’t try to find a magical pill that can give you unlimited energy, but really start to optimize your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health in your everyday life.
- Marriott, B. P., Olsho, L., Hadden, L., & Connor, P. (2010). Intake of Added Sugars and Selected Nutrients in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 50(3), 228–258. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408391003626223
- Bruce N. Ames. (2006). Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(47), 17589–17594. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0608757103
- Loy, B. D., O’Connor, P. J., & Dishman, R. K. (2013). The effect of a single bout of exercise on energy and fatigue states: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior, 1(4), 223–242. https://doi.org/10.1080/21641846.2013.843266
- Niu, S.-F., Chung, M.-H., Chen, C.-H., Hegney, D., O’Brien, A., & Chou, K.-R. (2011). The Effect of Shift Rotation on Employee Cortisol Profile, Sleep Quality, Fatigue, and Attention Level: A Systematic Review. Journal of Nursing Research, 19(1), 68–81. https://doi.org/10.1097/JNR.0b013e31820c1879
- Tong, E. M. W., & Jia, L. (2017). Positive Emotion, Appraisal, and the Role of Appraisal Overlap in Positive Emotion Co-Occurrence. Emotion, 17(1), 40–54. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000203