Forget the early morning fry-up! If you want to maintain high levels of energy throughout the day, experts recommend six small meals at regular intervals.
Those in the know say that when thinking of food as fuel, you're better off operating on a steam locomotive method as opposed to combustion engine. Instead of filling up the tank with a full English breakfast at 7am and hoping you'll stay sharp until lunchtime, nutritional experts recommend you light your engine with an energy-filled meal within 45 minutes of waking and then 'stoke' it through the rest of the day with small meals at regular intervals.
Breakfast: clear the morning mist
After an eight-hour fast in the shape of a snoring, tossing and turning combo commonly known as sleep, the likelihood is you're going to wake up hungry. Convenience may mean that you often just catch a slice of toast the moment it pops up out of the machine and then dash off to work.
Your energy needs really require more attention first thing in the morning. "So yes to the toast, but with a protein-filled topping such as scrambled eggs, or if time really is tight a generous dollop of peanut butter," suggests dietician Helen Bond. Research published in the International Journal of Obesity (2010) has highlighted how a protein-rich breakfast can significantly reduce fatigue throughout the day.
Mid-morning snack: maintain the balance
The thinking behind breaking down your daily energy intake into six small meals a day is, according to research from the Georgia State University in the US, because it enables you to maintain an energy balance. Keep meals short and not too sweet and you won't experience blood sugar rushes and their inevitable, energy-draining comedowns.
Your best mid-morning snack is, according to Yale Medical School, fruit. An apple, banana, melon slices or berries mixed with low-fat yoghurt can give you the energy jolt you need. "It takes less time for your body to digest fruit than some denser foods," says Helen Bond. It also gives your body a shot of natural fruit sugars which, unlike processed sugars found in the likes of doughnuts, won't lead to a spike in blood glucose.
Lunchtime: push for pasta and protein
At lunchtime try engaging the power of wholegrains to stir up your metabolism. As most marathon runners will testify, pasta can provide an energy boost that'll help your body deal with a stamina-sapping endurance event. But during the working day the high carbohydrate content of a pasta lunch can leave you feeling even more sluggish come mid-afternoon when the body naturally slows down.
Instead, have wholegrain pasta or wholegrain bread as a base for your lunch. "This is a low Glycaemic Index (GI) food which means the energy within it is slowly released as a result you don't experience that sluggishness," says Bond, who also suggests protein in the shape of chicken breast or tofu at this point too. "Protein is filling and so will stop you craving snacks."
Mid-afternoon snack: go nuts for energy
Tree nut snacks, such as 30 to 90 grams of walnuts or macadamias, can provide a perfect energy boost in the mid-afternoon as the body clock hits its go-slow. "Though they're high calorie and high fat, they predominantly contain 'good fats' which don't contribute to weight gain so long as you're not overdoing them," says Bond. These nuts also include a number of key nutrients including magnesium and selenium which also help balance your levels of get-up-and-go.
Throughout the day: take on water
With every meal and between them be sure to glug down a little water or at least put the kettle on. While sipping from a simple bottle of H2O may not feel like you're getting the same turbo-charged fuelling that an electrolyte-filled sports drink contains, taking on water throughout the day can have a very positive effect on your body's energy production.
"One of the key causes of fatigue, be it in sports or the workplace, is dehydration," says Bond. Research carried out on cyclists found that losing just 2% of your body's water weight can lead to a 20% drop in energy levels. "Ideally you want to drink around 1.5 litres of fluids through the day not of the alcoholic kind including hot drinks to maintain your hydration levels and prevent tiredness," says Bond.
Evening: food for a final lift
Nutritionists often advise people to eat the bulk of their carbohydrates later in the day and lay off the foods that can fire up the metabolism to avoid a sleepless night. But if you're out for a long night and want to keep yourself physically and mentally sharp then the right food can help.
"Just keep it light," says Bond. "Protein-packed fish dishes provide good 'brain food' while steamed, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli along with a little brown rice will provide low GI, slow-release energy too."
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