Eat Right, Stay Alert

December 9, 2020

Ever find it difficult to rally the energy to get out of bed? Feeling sluggish during your shift and tired when you get home? Are you forgetful and finding it hard to concentrate? Maybe you’re not eating right.

Here are some tips for using food and healthy eating habits to increase your level of energy and help you stay more alert so you’re better prepared to meet the physical and mental challenges that you face on the street.

Start the day with water. Your brain is more than 70% water by weight. If this percentage slips below a certain level you’ll feel listless, dull and headachy.

“Brain dehydration” can happen easily. Dry indoor air causes fluid loss you may not be aware of, and combined with too little fresh water intake and too many caffeinated beverages, this gradual dehydration can leave you with a brain-drain headache in the afternoon.

Keep yourself energized by starting your morning off with an 8-ounce glass of plain water, then keep a bottle handy and drink 1-2 quarts throughout the day.

Make it a point to eat breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping it can leave you feeling lackluster and muddle-headed at work.

Many studies on children have shown that reading, memory and other cognitive skills falter when they miss breakfast. The brain appears to be sensitive to short-term deficits in fuel and nutrient supply.

For some people, skipping breakfast causes a drop in blood sugar levels, which produces feelings of lightheadedness. Since sugar, in the form of glucose, is the brain’s primary fuel source, it’s no wonder your memory and other thinking powers go downhill when you’re running on empty.

Eat raisins. Along with apples, pears, nuts and parsley, raisins are a great source of the mineral boron, which plays a role in brain function and perhaps combats drowsiness.

It isn’t known exactly how much boron is needed for healthy brain function, but it couldn’t hurt to toss a few raisins and nuts into your cereal and salads and pack some snack-size boxes or packets for afternoon grazing.

Eat nuts and tuna, too. These are two of the best food sources of selenium, a mineral that not only serves as an antioxidant but may also boost mood, lift spirits and contribute to feelings of clear-headedness.

Before you rush out and buy a selenium supplement, however, be aware that the mineral is highly toxic in large doses. Stick to dosages no greater than 400 micrograms. Better yet, concentrate on getting selenium from your diet. Other good food sources include chicken, turkey, lean beef and whole-grain breads and cereals.

Remember, less lunch, more energy. Loading up at lunch can leave you feeling sleepy. Too much food in the digestive tract diverts blood away from other parts of your body, leaving you feeling sluggish.

Studies show that a big meal—about 1,000 calories or more—at midday causes more drowsiness than do lunches half that size.

If you still feel sleepy by midafternoon following a light lunch, try adding some protein to your meal.

Watch the caffeine. Drinking a cup or two of coffee is known to improve feelings of alertness and clear-headedness, and even bolster performance on monotonous tasks, but moderate use of this pick-me-up can easily brew into a caffeine habit that may zap your energy and cause fatigue.

If you develop a dependency on caffeine, you run the risk of feeling tired, irritable and even headachy (a caffeine withdrawal symptom) if you don’t get a steady allotment.

If you view coffee or other caffeinated beverage as a life source without which you can’t function, try phasing it out a little at a time to regain your own natural feelings of energy.

Fill up on fiber. If you feel de-energized when your meal wears off and the hungries begin, try adding some fiber to your fare. Pectin, a type of water-soluble fiber found in fruits such as apples and oranges, has been shown to help people feel full longer by delaying emptying of the stomach.

[Elements of this article were reprinted with prior permission from Runner’s World magazine.]


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