Many years ago, my friend Steve Abel, who served as best man at my wedding, asked me if he could take dietary supplements in the morning. He was concerned that if he took them at night, the “extra energy” would keep him awake.
I used to think ideas like that were quaint, given the basic biology of vitamin and mineral nutrition. Typically, vitamins and minerals act gradually, building up natural support for healthy cells and tissues over time. That’s why it usually takes two to three months before you’ll experience the full benefits of taking dietary supplements.
But more recently, there’s growing evidence that some foods and nutrients do have short-term, “immediate” effects—especially when it comes to increasing mental and physical energy.
For instance, I often write about the many benefits of coffee. And one of those benefits is an immediate boost in mental energy and cognitive function.
I also continue to be impressed by the immediate energy infusion I experience from the right combination of water-soluble, natural, whole-food extracts such as blueberry, baobab, and rose hips. (The same combination you will find in my CoreForce BioBlend formula. You can learn more about it or order a supply by calling 800-292-5808 and asking for order code GOV2T200.)
But what about the so-called “energy drinks” or “energy bars”? These overhyped, artificial, processed items are both dangerous and counterproductive for natural energy. Instead, follow my whole-food recommendations for both short-term and long-term healthy, natural energy.
How vitamins and minerals give you more energy than sugar and carbs
Like I told my best man Steve, the vitamins and minerals in whole foods don’t provide energy, per se. Energy comes from burning down complex macronutrients in foods.
But “vitamins” is just another word for co-factors, which help enzymes in our cells carry out all aspects of cellular metabolism. These vitamin co-factors allow metabolic reactions to occur many thousands of times faster than if they were obeying the old laws of chemistry, physical mass action, and thermodynamics.
That’s why for pure energy, you need to pick foods that are rich in vitamins and other nutrients—which help your body make the most of macronutrient food energy.
On the other hand, the short bursts of energy provided by sugar and refined carbs are counterproductive and unhealthy. Low-carb foods with healthy fats and proteins taste better, are more satisfying, and provide more sustainable energy.
Complex, natural, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat also take longer to digest and metabolize—which helps your body produce sustained energy.
Specific foods and supplements you can take to increase energy
B vitamins are important for both mental and physical energy. If you are deficient in these vitamins, which is increasingly common in the U.S. (especially for vegetarians and vegans), you will likely feel tired.
That’s why I recommend taking a high-quality vitamin B complex every day. But don’t overdo it. If you take more B vitamins than you need all at once, you won’t feel extra-energized. But your urine will be supersaturated with the excess vitamins. Another approach is to ask your doctor about getting B vitamin injections once or twice per week, for sustained energy.
You can also get caloric energy, as well as vitamins and minerals, from nature’s “perfect foods”—organic dairy, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry.
One of the great tragedies of modern nutrition is that faulty dietary advice has steered people away from these healthy foods. I still see clueless dieticians and nutritionists asking how many eggs “you can get away with” eating.
But in nature, eggs provide all of the nutrients needed for a growing embryo (when fertilized—but people eat non-fertilized eggs today, leaving all those nutrients for them).
I used to have breakfast periodically with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when I worked with him during the 1980s and ’90s. He ordered two to three eggs every day and a glass of milk. He said this breakfast was the only way he could get the energy he needed—and in his 70s, he had more energy than most people in their 30s.
Foods and beverages that will give you a good night’s rest…and a good day’s energy
Many natural foods also help you maintain sleep cycles, which is key for staying energized. Halibut, salmon, tuna, bananas, and chickpeas are rich in vitamin B6…which helps the body naturally make melatonin, known as the “sleep hormone.”
Tart cherry juice or extracts also raise melatonin levels.
Yogurt and other dairy foods are natural sources of calcium—which helps you sleep.
Beans, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds are all high in magnesium. This mineral is key for brain function, including the neural sleep center.
It’s also important to avoid foods and beverages that can harm healthful sleep. As I mentioned earlier, coffee is a great source of healthy energy in the morning and during the day. But avoid coffee and caffeine at least four hours before bedtime.
Too much alcohol can also keep you awake, as your body works to metabolize it. Drink only moderately (two to three drinks per evening), preferably with food, and avoid alcohol within three hours of bedtime. It is worth staying up a little longer after you’ve had your last drink to savor the moment. You’ll feel better in the morning.
You should also avoid eating big meals late in the evening.
My mother was fond of the old French expression Qui dort, dine, or “one who sleeps, eats.” The bottom line is that food is fuel for the body—which translates to cellular effects, mental abilities, physical performance, good health, and plenty of energy…both short-term and long-term.