For so many people there is a point in the day when their energy levels dip and they reach for a tea or coffee and/or a sugar fix to get them through. I know I used to feel the same way. Sometimes this dip would happen mid-afternoon but on a really bad day, I’d feel like I needed that kick just to get me started in the morning.
Then I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My energy levels were rock bottom and the craving for sugar and caffeine to give me even a short energy hit became even greater. But I quickly learned was that caffeine and sugar would often left me feeling worse than I did before. I now understand why so wanted to share a little bit of science to help explain it to you…
In stressful situations, your brain stimulates the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol from your adrenal glands. These hormones raise your heart rate, increase alertness and cause glucose (sugar) to be sent to your muscles to help them work more effectively, making you feel more energetic. This response is designed for a time when stress was caused by a genuine threat to life, which we need to fight or run away from. But when in this ‘fight or flight’ mode your body also turns off functions it views as unessential, like digestion, reproduction and general repair in the body, because if you’re about to die those things really aren’t going to matter!
The problem is our bodies and our physical reaction to stress hasn’t evolved as fast as the world around us. In the modern world stress is not an occasional short lived event. It’s a daily experience. And our food choices contribute to this. Yes, that’s right, both caffeine and sugar trigger a stress response in your body, stimulating the production of adrenaline and cortisol which make us feel alert and energetic – for a short time at least. The problem the more stress in our life, the harder our adrenals have to work and sometimes if we push them too hard our adrenals go on strike and literally stop producing the cortisol and adrenaline we need for everyday life. We call this state adrenal fatigue, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
But don’t panic, drinking caffeine and eating sugar alone wouldn’t be enough to trigger adrenal fatigue – for me it was a long and slow accumulation of factors. But I think it’s important that everyone is aware that the short-term energy hit of caffeine and sugar really is a false economy when it came to long-term energy levels and health and wellbeing.
Three better ways to beat that energy slump
- Prevent the slump by making sure you have a good source of protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts/seeds, beans, lentils) at every meal. Protein helps balance blood sugar and keeps your energy levels more stable, whereas a high carb meal (bread, pasta, rice, cereal) will send your blood sugar soaring and then crashing not long after – triggering yet another stress response in your body and cravings for a quick fix of sugar.
- If you do feel the need for a caffeine hit choose green tea – although contains caffeine, it also has L-theanine an amino acid which has a naturally calming effect on the body so balances the effect of the caffeine.
- If you do need a snack make sure you chose something which combines carbohydrates (sugar) and protein e.g. an apple and a handful of raw unsalted nuts or yoghurt with berries or oat cakes with nut butter or humus.
For me health is about more than feeling physically ‘well’ or ‘fit’. It’s also about feeling happy, calm, relaxed, energised, in control, aware and so much more. Health is also unique to every individual. What works for one person will not work for everyone. By sharing my journey to health and the things I did which improved my wellbeing, I am not saying do this and you’ll feel better…if only life were so simple. But I am sharing my experiences in the hope it makes you realise there’s more to making yourself feel well.