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TRACKING NUTRITION TO INCREASE ENERGY
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS Nov, 2003
Short on energy? Always tired? Wondering what is the right balance of carbs to protein to fat for you for sustained energy? Do you have a good idea of what you�re consuming? Would you like to make changes and track what works best FOR YOU?
Factors Contributing to Fatigue
Inadequate sleep: If you are always feeling tired, a number of factors could be contributing to your lack of energy, not the least of which is not getting enough sleep. If you are able to wake yourself up naturally without an alarm clock, you probably are getting enough; if you are always yawning, if you feel the need for a nap after lunch, and if you find you try to �catch up� on sleep during the weekends, the first thing you need to do is find ways to get more sleep each night.
Inordinate stress: If you have a huge presentation to give or paper to finish, and work or school is cutting into not only your sleep time but also your exercise and social time, you need to balance out your current situation and be sure to make time for yourself. Even if that means taking a 10-minute brisk walk or soothing tense muscles for a few minutes in your hot tub, take time to reflect on YOUR OWN NEEDS and regenerate enthusiasm for your task. You may find that you do far better with short regular breaks than plowing forward relentlessly. Be sure you are not turning to food for stress relief, as that can ONLY make things worse.
Being overweight: Think about it. If you had to lug around a 20 pound child 16 hours a day, seven days a week, you�d get pretty tired, pretty quickly. If you�re carrying a lot of extra weight on your frame, any movement is going to require far more energy than if you are at closer to your ideal weight. By moving your body regularly (whether that is from gardening, walking, playing golf, or dancing) you are encouraging your body to release fat stores. Remember, movement is CUMULATIVE and needs to be done for LIFE.
Lack of exercise: Believe it or not, getting in 3-4 sessions a week of 20-30 minutes of continuous movement, as you�d get by walking, biking, or swimming, can help you 1) increase your energy levels, 2) sleep better at night, 3) bust stress, 4) need LESS sleep because you can handle the daily stresses better. By setting aside time to move, you are guaranteeing yourself more �fuel� to get through every day. Stop making excuses, and start moving today!
Overtraining: On the opposite end of the spectrum from sedentary living, if it�s been a while since you�ve taken a day off from exercise (generally not the case for most of the US population!) you may simply need a day or two of active recovery or rest to feel revitalized. For more on this condition, see www.bodyresults.com/e2overtrain.asp and www.bodyresults.com/E2restoration.asp.
Insufficient nutrition: You may be eating too many simple sugars (white foods like pastas, rice, potatoes, sweets, and bread) or you could be lacking in iron, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia (for more information on this medical condition see www.bodyresults.com/E2Anemia.asp as well as a feeling of general fatigue, especially when exercising. Iron in your diet (from such foods as leafy greens, dried fruits, spinach, lean red meats, and fortified cereals) helps your blood transport oxygen to all your working muscles. To assess iron levels, you can have your blood checked at your next physical. Try to avoid foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan (found in turkey and dairy products, for example) during the day; such foods may induce sleepiness and are better in the evening to help you increase the likelihood of falling asleep more quickly.
What is your macronutrient ratio?
To get a better idea of your own nutrition profile, you first need to understand the macronutrient make-up of your own diet, or in other words, how much of your caloric intake is coming from carbohydrates, how much from protein, and how much from fat. Nearly all foods have nutrition information on the food labels that point out how many grams of each you will ingest per serving and how many calories are in each portion. If you tend to buy food in bulk in order to save money, please realize that you may unknowingly be sabotaging your diet. Try buying single servings only, OR if you must buy in bulk, measure our single servings so you won�t be tempted to eat the entire quantity in one sitting. Pay attention to labels! To simplify things for you, there are a number of helpful free websites that you can turn to in order to track your nutrition.
If you are training for increased endurance in running, biking, climbing, trekking, mountaineering, kayaking, skiing, or anything that requires sustained energy for over an hour at a time, you will probably want to start by shooting for a macronutrient ratio of 50-60% complex carbohydrates (the more fibrous, the better; avoid simple sugars � white foods � such as highly refined pasta, potatoes, breads, white rice, and things containing lots of sugar and white flour; select multi-grain alternatives, colorful foods, and fruits and vegetables instead), 20-25% protein, and 20-25% fats. If you are on an eating program such as Atkins, be aware that you may need to increase your carbohydrate intake on days that involving any high-endurance activities or competition days.
Sample Tracking Systems
The system I send nearly all my clients to and which I�ve used myself with great success for several years is the free on-line tracking software offered at www.Fitday.com. FitDay.com is a fantastic tool to help you learn more about your diet and customizing your own personal menu. Be aware that it takes a little time to learn how to use it properly. On that site you can track your activities (calories expended) as well as intake (calories consumed) and you can customize your own dietary goals to reflect those areas of nutrition you�d especially like to track.
For example, if a pregnant woman wanted to be sure she was getting enough iron, folic acid, calcium and protein for sufficient growth for her fetus, she could set those values and use the tracking to help make sure she is getting adequate intake for each. If someone was trying to lose weight and wanted to keep caloric intake to 2000 calories while limiting saturated fats to 10% of his diet and increasing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats so that total fats were less than 25% of his total consumption, he could set those parameters as well.
Nutrition Analysis Tools and System (NATS www.nat.uiuc.edu/energy/daily.html) is another useful free website that helps track energy consumption. Visit the Energy Calculator and click on Advanced, and for your age and weight, you can find out: 1) how long you need to do a given activity if you know the amount of calories you wish to burn; 2) how many calories you burned by entering how long you did an activity; or 3) which activities you can do to burn a certain amount of calories in a given length of time.
This site, www.caloriesperhour.com also free, tracks calories burned, calculates your BMI (body mass index) and BMR (basal metabolic rate), and has a food index including all sorts of items from popular fast-food restaurants such as Baskin Robbins, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Subway, and McDonalds.
If self-tracking systems don�t work for you, and you continue to feel low in energy despite changing your sleep habits, nutrition profile, and exercise routine, then you may need to enlist the help of a registered dietitian or visit your doctor to rule out such issues including thyroid disease, clinical depression, or other medical conditions that might be responsible.