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Awareness Magazine
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Simple Steps to Power Up Your Energy Reserves

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS


Whether training for your fifth marathon or starting your first fitness program, there are a few differences in how you should be priming your energy reserves. You can’t count on a single food or supplement to give you an energy burst, let alone keep you going throughout the day.

What you can do is create the right conditions within your body for energy to “show up.”

We’re afraid of the wrong foods 

Let’s face it. We eat too many carbohydrates, too many processed foods in general and we definitely eat too much sugar. These are the energy drainers. Carbs are like kindling to a campfire. They give you an immediate flame but what they don’t give you is the nice, sustained glow that will get you through the evening. For that, you need heavier logs. That’s where fat, protein and fiber come in. Like the heavier logs that catch fire from kindling, they provide the fuel for a warm, glowing evening fire that can last all night long.

Blood sugar hell

When you are eating foods that play havoc with your blood sugar — throwing it up to the ceiling and crashing down — there’s no way you can feel sustained energy. You’re on a blood sugar roller coaster and all you can do is hold on for dear life. When that blood sugar drops, the first thing that goes is energy. So the first order of business is to remove energy drainers.

When you and I talk about “energy” we tend to think “get up and go.” But in science, the term “energy” means calories. Some companies selling “energy” foods and beverages capitalize on the confusion between the colloquial and the scientific definition.

When you buy an “energy” bar, all you’re really doing is buying a bar that has calories, which is fine, but the source of those calories is what’s going to make the difference to your “get up and go.” A high-carb “energy” bar with little protein, fiber and fat will provide calories, but not alot more than that.

So when you take the bad stuff out of your diet, and replace it with the “good stuff,” you get more energy! That is because you’re removing the obstacles to energy, like blood sugar hell, and giving your body the nutrients it needs to make cellular energy.

The magic of protein

Years ago, I wondered why I felt more energetic after eating canned tuna. After becoming a nutritionist, I learned that tuna is rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. That is a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine which triggers an excited feeling of pleasure and anticipation in your brain.

Protein is also more satiating than carbohydrates. It also speeds up your metabolism and helps to rebuild your body: everything from neurotransmitters to bones are made from proteins. Focus on eating more protein than carbs, and stop worrying so much about fats. Low-fat diets are a bust. Research shows they don’t produce weight loss or improved health.

Supplementing your energy ATP

ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a molecule made in every cell. It’s like the currency your body uses for cellular energy. Your body uses a sugar called D-Ribose (also known as ribose) to create that currency. But ribose is not like rollover minutes. You can’t store it up. If you are doing something strenuous that requires a lot of exertion, you’ll need a lot of it, maybe more than your body can churn out right away.

And if your muscles are sore from a workout, you’ll need to recover in a reasonable time so you can keep up your work-out schedule. For that reason, Bioenergy Ribose is an ideal supplement to take. I play tennis 8-9 times a week, without a day to relax and re-boot. I need to keep my ribose storehouse constantly replenished, so it is an important part of my supplement program.

Other supplements to consider include Vitamin D, which has been shown to improve performance in older adults, and Magnesium which also relaxes muscles and eases soreness.

For sustained energy, I’m also a huge fan of drinking tea all day. I’m not one of those people who thinks caffeine is the worst thing people can ingest. Plenty of research shows that coffee helps diminish risks for a number of health conditions. But as much as I love Starbucks, for sustained all-day energy, I’m a big fan of green tea, which gives you caffeine without the jitters. It contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which is also associated with clear, calm focus and even better sleep. You can also try black, oolong, white or yerba matte tea. While they don’t contain relaxing theanine, they have many health-giving properties, and the mild dose of caffeine offers sustained energy.

Stop looking for zebras!

One of the cleverest pieces of advice I got in grad school was from a professor who said, “When you hear hoofbeats outside your window, don’t start looking for zebras.” Low-energy people often start looking for answers in food sensitivities or weird genetic anomalies. Sure that might be the reason, just as hoofbeats might be from zebras, but the more logical explanation is also the simplest: You’re tired because you don’t sleep enough. Instead of looking for magical superfoods, try getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Seriously.

When you sleep well, you make smarter nutritional decisions. If you also add D-Ribose into the mix, your tired muscles will recover faster so you can exercise even more. More exercise means sleeping better at night and having more energy throughout the next day. It’s that simple.

Suggested snacks for sustained energy

Training for a marathon? Try oatmeal with cream, nuts and raisins, or a baked sweet potato with butter and canned tuna.

Pre-workout pick-me-up? Try string cheese with an apple.

Post-workout recovery? Try a whey protein shake (but go easy on the extras.)

For everyday activities: A handful of almonds with one piece of fruit, Two slices of turkey with sliced tomato, 100-calorie pack of popcorn with a handful of walnuts, hard-boiled egg with apple and two whole-grain crackers.

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka “The Rogue Nutritionist”) is a nationally-known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of 13 books on health, healing, food and longevity including three best-sellers, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Living Low Carb and his latest, The Great Cholesterol Myth. Visit: