Health & Wellness

Eating for Energy

By Janeen Goldsmith, CNT
Fatigue is a common – and often debilitating – symptom of MS. It affects us both mentally and physically, interfering with our ability to function and perform basic daily activities. Though an erratic energy supply can be caused by many things, you can give your body every advantage in the fight against fatigue through the energy of food. This includes not only the types of food and drinks we consume but how often we eat and at what time of day.
We get energy through fats, carbo-hydrates and protein. Each must be broken down into smaller molecules before our cells can use them, either as a source of power or as building blocks for our bodies.  The energy that comes from that breakdown, or metabolism, allows us to do everything from sitting, reading, and talking to  stretching, walking, and running. Food can have an amazing effect on our body’s stamina, so it’s important to choose our diets wisely. 
Step One: What We Eat
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of power and the brain’s main source of energy, but we have to be smart about how we use them. Some carbohydrates, such as sugary foods and heavily processed grains, break down in the body very quickly. They often give you an instant energy boost, only to cause a drastic collapse in energy later in the day. Too often, this results in a vicious cycle: you eat more simple carbohydrates to try to keep your energy up, then crash again. Instead, you want to build meals that give you sustained energy. 
Combining complex carbohydrates – vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes – with protein and a small amount of high-quality fat in every meal and snack will help you maintain a steady energy level throughout the day.  Healthy sources of the fats your body needs include olive oil, nuts, avocado, and fish, such as salmon. 
Round out your diet with greens. Remember when you learned about photosynthesis in science class? Chlorophyll is the life force of plants, but our bodies need it, too. Chlorophyll stimulates red blood cell production and helps boost our energy levels. Plants get chlorophyll from the sun, but you can get yours through green leafy vegetables, chlorella, wheat grass, green drinks and spirulina.
As a rule, fresh, whole foods will give you the best nutritional value, compared with processed foods or those that are packed with additives. Even when prepared foods are necessary though, you have control over what you buy. Be sure to check labels and read ingredients. Look for low sodium and sugar contents, avoid hydrogenated oils and stay away from foods where the ingredient list is long and full of chemical additives you don’t recognize.
Step Two: When We Eat
Eating breakfast will help you to make better nutritional choices throughout the day. People who do not eat breakfast play catch-up all day long to satisfy their needs and tend to eat more heavily in the evening. Start the day with one of these balanced meals:
  • Fruits, nuts, and seeds with a gluten and wheat-free or whole-grain toast and nut butter.
  • Try eggs poached, in an omelet with green leafy vegetables, or in a breakfast burrito.
  • A hot grain cereal with nuts, seeds, and fruit.
  • You might also try protein shakes, left-over dinner from the night before, or yogurt with fruit and nuts.
Controlling portion sizes at each meal also plays a role. You need to eat enough calories throughout the day to support your body’s needs. Not eating enough or eating empty calories will sap your energy. The more active you are the more calories you need. But a snack or meal that is too high in calories or fat will slow you down because your body will use energy for digestion.
Planning ahead is really helpful. Try to have healthy snacks available to you throughout the day, so that you don’t go for a long period of time without eating. Keep food in your desk drawer at work, in your purse, briefcase, or backpack, and in your car.
Step Three: What We Drink
Meals give us energy, but did you know that dehydration can be a cause of daytime fatigue? Water also helps to move toxins out of the body. A good rule of thumb is to drink about eight to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water each day. If you are unsure you are drinking enough, check your urine color. It should be a pale-yellow, or straw-colored. If your urine is a dark color, it is a sign that you may not be drinking enough.
Many people turn to stimulants such as coffee, caffeinated tea, and soft drinks for instant energy, but that can be a mistake. If you drink caffeine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach it could affect your energy for the rest of the day, and it often leads to drinking more caffeinated beverages or eating simple carbohydrates when your energy crashes. Caffeine can also dehydrate you.
If you have to have a cup of coffee in the morning (or three!) try pairing your coffee or caffeinated beverages with a glass of water. Or consider green tea as an alternative. This type of tea is a good antioxidant, contains less caffeine than coffee, and you can even sip it for a few hours. Try it – or any of these nutrition tips – and I bet you’ll feel better all day long.
Janeen Goldsmith is a certified nutritional therapist who has focused much of her research on helping people find ways to improve their energy levels. Because she lives with MS, she understands the challenges of struggling with fatigue and an erratic energy supply. As a nutritional therapist, she focuses on how to achieve more vitality and maintain a steady liveliness throughout the day.
(Last reviewed 7/2009)