WEEK 1. 

Fueling your body for success

The important thing to remember for this early stage of the challenge is to be fuel your body with the right foods, at the right time to get the maximum benefits.

Do not starve yourself!

What and when you eat can have a profound impact on your energy levels. Eat the wrong thing at the wrong time, and you can end up feeling flat and a craving for the wrong foods will soon follow.

Many of us stumble through our days feeling half asleep – dependant on coffee and sugary snacks. And finding the energy to exercise? Forget about it!

By paying attention and being more mindful of what you eat and the time you eat it, can change this cycle for the better!

Carbohydrates – your body’s energy source.

It’s important that you understand the role carbohydrates plays in energy production.

Carbohydrates, foods such as rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, and cereals, is broken down into glucose when you eat it. That glucose is your body’s preferred source of energy. The more active you are, the more glucose your body wants and needs.

However, there are different types of carbohydrate, and each one is metabolised at different speeds.

For example, simple carbs like fruits and sugary snacks are metabolised more quickly. This means that soon after eating them they are converted to glucose and dumped into your blood. That’s good news if you are about to exercise and need quick energy but not so good if you are working away at your computer.

If you are exercising, those fast-acting carbs will be used by your muscles. This will lower your blood glucose levels and return them to normal – eating fast acting carbs increases your blood glucose levels very quickly, but exercise brings them down again.

However, if you eat a lot of fast-acting carbs while you are sedentary, your body produces a lot of insulin to lower your blood glucose in place of exercise. Insulin drives the glucose out of your blood and into your muscles and liver.

Unfortunately, insulin can be a bit too efficient and can lower your blood glucose levels too far. This can leave you feeling lethargic and low in energy. That’s why chocolate gives you a quick burst of energy but then also makes you feel tired afterward.

In contrast, slower-acting carbs such as starches increase your blood glucose levels more slowly. Because of this, your body produces much less insulin and, subsequently, you won’t experience such a dip in energy and blood glucose levels. Instead, your blood glucose levels will remain stable, and your energy levels will stabilise too.

This is great if you intend to be sedentary but could leave you a little flat if you need quick energy for exercise.

Making carbs work for you.

To maximise your energy levels, adjust your carbohydrate intake to reflect your activity levels – the more physically active you are, the more carbs you need. Also, make sure you consume slow acting starches most of the time and only consume fast acting sugars just before and after exercise. This strategy will help stabilise your blood sugar levels which is the key to maintaining your energy levels.

What about fat and protein?

Fat and protein are also necessary for energy, but they don’t tend to affect your energy levels as dramatically. Fat, for example, is broken down in the presence of oxygen to provide energy but even the leanest person has plenty of stored fat which means this energy source is never in short supply. Protein can also be used for energy, but it’s very rare your body does this. Neither fat nor protein has much of an impact on your energy levels although both are still essential nutrients.

Don't forget vitamins and minerals.

Without vitamins and minerals, your body would find it very hard to unlock and utilise the energy in food. Natural foods (that have undergone minimal processing) are usually rich in the vitamins and minerals that allow your body to make good use of the energy they contain.

In contrast, processed foods are stripped of most of their vitamins and minerals, and while these foods do contain calories, that energy is less accessible and is more likely to be stored as fat.

While two foods could conceivably provide the same number of calories – an apple and a cookie for example – the unprocessed apple is the better source of energy. This is because as well as calories, it also contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for the effective breakdown of energy. Without vitamins and minerals, your body has a much harder time making use of the energy in your food.

SO HOW IMPORTANT IS THE FOOD YOU EAT TO YOUR ENERGY LEVELS? VERY

Here are some tips for maximising your energy levels: 

  1. Eat breakfast every day but avoid fast-acting sugary cereals. Oatmeal, a slow releasing carb, is a much better choice than many other sugary cereals.

  2. Eat little and often to keep your blood glucose and therefore your energy levels stable

  3. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods – they cause big peaks and even bigger dips in your energy levels

  4. Eat natural, unprocessed foods to supply your body with essential vitamins and minerals so it can unlock the energy in your diet efficiently

  5. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as brown bread, brown rice, brown pasta, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. These slow-acting carbs will provide you with sustained energy - IN YOUR METABOLIC WINDOW

  6. Get enough sleep – seven to eight hours per night is optimal

  7. Use but don’t abuse caffeine. Like fast-acting sugars, caffeine gives you a fast lift but can also cause a slump in energy levels

  8. Plan your food intake around your activity levels; the more active you are going to be, the more carbohydrate you should consume. If you are going to be sedentary, you may want to dial back the carbs – especially if your goal is weight loss

  9. Drink at least two litres of water a day. Water is essential for energy production and helps flush your body clean of fatiguing toxins

  10. Modern life can sap your energy and leave you feeling like you are always one step behind. However, if you eat healthily and learn how to make the most of the energising power of carbohydrates, you should find that you are much better equipped to keep up.