Winter can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the busiest. Working more than one job or trying to fit it all in before the season ends can leave us feeling more like slushy mush rather than fresh powder. Our first response when we're feeling sluggish might be to reach for a quick fix - such as an energy drink with sugar or caffeine - to give us a boost. These can perk you up in the short term, but drinking them won't help your overall health in the long run.
Heather Pratt is a master nutrition therapist who teaches health and wellness classes at Colorado Mountain College. Pratt said consuming caffeine doesn't actually give you energy, but takes it from another source.
"Caffeine doesn't create new energy (in the body)," Pratt said. "It takes energy from other bodily functions to support the outward energy, and (the) other bodily functions are slowed because of it."
Pratt said people often reach for something with a high sugar content when they're feeling tired, which causes one's blood sugar to spike. Blood sugar spikes might feel like a fun high, until the inevitable crash, making you feel worse than you did before.
"You definitely need your blood sugar to go up, but it needs to stay in the normal range," Pratt said. "Your body can only use so much (glucose) at one time. The body cells take what they need, pack some for storage, and then anything that's left over can cause internal damage. You need your (blood sugar) to go up a little, but it should be a gentle ride, more like a carousel rather than a rollercoaster."
Adding sleep to cut cravings
While riding the rollercoaster sounds like a thrill, many would now prefer the carousel.
"(Overall) energy drinks are becoming less popular, except for all natural drinks, which are becoming more popular," said Katie Hendricks, a certified nutritionist who runs the Optimum Wellness Center located inside the City Market in Avon. "(We) became so accustomed to energy drinks; we became reliant on them. Now (we've) opened up our eyes and saw how (many) problems we're actually causing for ourselves."
Even if you're aware of the detrimental effects of excess caffeine and sugar, you may feel like you can't make it through your day without them. Don't sip that third cup of coffee just yet, because there are ways to feel more energized without sacrificing your health. The first advice both Pratt and Hendricks give is the easiest and yet also the hardest for many people to follow.
"The No. 1 thing is getting a full eight hours of sleep," Hendricks said. "Shutting your body down for eight hours is huge for (both) your mind and your body. Whenever I'm fatigued and tired, the first thing I crave is sugar. That's when people go for the doughnuts or cookies or energy drink. But instead they could just get an extra two hours of sleep."
'Long term, sustainable energy'
If you can't manage to get those eight hours every night, there are still ways to feel more alert during the waking hours. Pratt said eating a balanced diet that contains protein, fat and complex carbohydrates will help keep your blood sugar stable and energy levels consistent.
"For example, if you eat a snack like an apple with some almond butter or peanut butter, you're going to get a quick jolt from the fruit but your energy will be more sustained due to the peanut butter," Pratt said. That's because it contains fat, which takes longer to absorb in the body and helps slow the blood sugar spike.
For those who do eat healthy and still feel fatigued, Pratt recommends upping their intake of B vitamins, especially B12.
"Some people will take B12 and it will be a miracle," Pratt said. "I recommend starting with a B complex vitamin."
Pratt also suggests Coenzyme Q10, which is involved with energy production in our cells.
"(It's) not going to give the same jolt people expect from caffeine or sugar; it's (more of) a long term, sustainable energy," Pratt said.
Hendricks said some people do benefit from B12, but you have to consume a certain amount to actually feel more energized.
"Most people (who) use B12 lozenges have a misguided belief that one little lozenge will give (them) that boost, and that's not the case," Hendricks said. "You have to get up to 3,000 to 6,000 micrograms (of B12) per day for you to utilize it for energy."
In addition to B12, Hendricks said people could also try taking a ginseng, bee pollen, or royal jelly supplement. Pratt thinks people should stay away from guarana, a popular supplement that contains a significant amount of caffeine.
Supplements, not substitutes
Hendricks points out that while supplements and vitamins can aid in your overall health and energy levels, they should not serve as a substitute for eating real fruits and vegetables.
"We know an orange for its vitamin C, but there's actually over 3,000 phytonutrients in that orange," Hendricks said. "We know a tomato for its lycopene, which is an antioxidant, but there are also 2,000 to 3,000 nutrients in that tomato. It's always so much better to actually eat the tomato or the orange than try to get something like it."
We all know someone who seems like the Energizer Bunny, going and going without ever appearing to be tired. How do they do it? Hendricks said the people she knows who have more energy than others often stick to a routine that prioritizes their health.
"They usually tell me they are on strict regimens," Hendricks said. "They don't overdo the alcohol, they try to get at least seven hours of sleep and they depend on nutrition, supplements, and vitamins to get them through their day."