Energy friends and foes

Jane Garton

The aspects of your lifestyle that are draining you of energy and the small changes that will help refill the tank.

Energy foes

Foods such as honey, dried fruit, chocolate and fruit juice might sound like the ideal energy snacks but they all contain quick-release sugars, which means that although you get an instant lift it won’t last long. They are all high Glycaemic Index (GI) foods, which means they cause a surge in insulin and a corresponding drop in blood sugar 30 minutes later which can leave you feeling tired and irritable.

‘Dehydration is a sure-fire route to lethargy and low levels of get-up-and-go,’ says dietitian Azmina Govindji. The first signs of thirst are an indication of mild hydration so the secret is to drink regularly to keep energy up.

Iron men (and women)

You need iron to make haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood that carries energy-giving oxygen around your body. Low levels of iron mean you could be depriving yourself of oxygen, which will make you feel tired. Red meat, chicken, turkey are all good sources. Vegetarian sources include dried apricots, pulses and beans .

You may avoid exercise especially if you’ve got twinges in your joints because you think it will hurt too much. ‘But regular activity is one of the best therapies for relieving joint pain as it builds up the muscles surrounding your joints and helps prevent loss of mobility,’ explains Jane Tadman, spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK. If you suffer from severe osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis you should consult your GP before starting an exercise regime. Keep Moving – Exercises for arthritis is available from

Beware of sports drinks

Many sports drinks contain so much sugar that your body won’t be able to absorb them fast enough to maintain energy and keep you hydrated while working out. If you are new to exercising or only doing a small amount it is better to stick to water. If you’re an experienced exerciser and are doing more prolonged exercise try a specialised isotonic drink.

Your muscles need to recover after working out, especially if you are new to exercise, so take rest days after strenuous exercise or work different parts of the body on different days. And don’t rush back to the gym after being ill as this could depress your immune system increasing your risk of getting ill again.

Energy friends

Having something to work towards when you’re exercising can be invigorating. ‘Set yourself short-term achievable goals,’ says personal trainer Marilyn Gray. ‘And make them SMART - specific, measurable, agreeable, realistic and timed.’ Start off by walking for 30 minutes every day for a week.

‘To achieve long-term energy through exercise you must see it as part of your lifestyle rather than a chore that has to be completed every time you do it,’ explains Marilyn. For example incorporate walking or cycling into your daily life - you will also save on petrol, bus fares and the stress of driving and finding a parking place.

Your body adapts to exercise very quickly so every few weeks try a different activity. For example, if you usually work out on the rowing machine try a spinning class and watch your energy levels soar.

Home working-out

Forcing yourself to go to the gym when you have not got the time will just put you in a bad mood – a real energy sapper. Instead do a fitness DVD at home, such as Joanna Hall’s 28-Day Body Plan (£17.49 from, walk to the shops, clean the car, do the gardening. Any activity that makes you feel fitter and better about yourself will boost your energy.

  • Go for wholegrains, pasta, beans, lentils, oats, fruit and veg. ‘All are low GI foods which means they are digested slowly which helps to give you a steady supply of sugar for energy throughout the day,’ explains Azmina.
  • Breakfast kickstarts your body into action, while skipping it can leave you trying to catch up on energy for the rest of the day. Go for foods containing slow-release sugars to give you sustained energy throughout the morning plus some protein to help you feel satisfied. Good choices include porridge oats made with semi- skimmed milk, fresh fruit salad sprinkled with sesame seeds and a slice of wholemeal, or rye toast with a poached egg.
  • ‘Your body needs a steady, regular supply of nutrients to keep energy levels topped up,’ says Azmina. ‘Erratic eating habits and snacking on the go won’t help you achieve this,’ she adds.
  • Swap your PG tips for a mug of peppermint tea to wake up your brain.
  • Inhale for three seconds then exhale for three and repeat 10 times. This gets more oxygen into your cells, which the body then converts into energy.
  • Laugh. A good chuckle helps muscles to relax, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and releases energising feel-good hormones, endorphins.
  • Get outside as much as you can. Natural light inhibits the body’s production of melatonin - the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.