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With the days getting shorter, summer is truly behind us. The kids are back to school, work is busier than ever, it’s no wonder that energy levels can start to run a little low. However, many of us try to get a ‘boost’ with the help of an energy drink or a sugary snack. To put it bluntly – this is the wrong way! Relying on processed foods like the aforementioned gives your body a short term boost and a guaranteed big crash (more on that below). But if that’s the wrong way, then what are the healthy ways to get more energy?
Healthy ways to get more energy – Overview
Energy is made in the body via a series of chemical reactions. Specifically, these take place in something called the mitochondria in our cells. This process is rather complex but requires certain raw materials to both pass through the chemical reaction and also to support certain steps in the chain. As a whole this energy is made in the cell by a process called cellular respiration, which is closely related to the chemical process of photosynthesis i.e. the process by which plants, some bacteria and some protistans use the energy from sunlight to produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water. So the products of one system are the reactants of the other. In the body, the unit of energy that is produced by cellular respiration is called ATP.
You might even remember this equation in your biology book from school:
Basically, the process is cyclical: “Humans, animals and plants depend on the cycle of cellular respiration and photosynthesis for survival. The oxygen produced by plants during photosynthesis is what humans and animals inhale for the blood to transport to the cells for respiration. The carbon dioxide produced during respiration is released from the body and absorbed by plants to help provide the energy they need for growth and development. This is the never ending cycle that sustains life on earth.” (source)
If you want to geek out, check out the Khan Academy for in depth videos about how it all works.
What raw materials do you need to make energy
All parts of the body need energy to work. This energy comes from the food we eat and also from water. This food gets broken down during transit via the processes of chemical and mechanical digestion. In the intestines, digestion completes and the nutrients needed by the body are absorbed into the blood and lymphatic system and circulated around to body to individual cells. These nutrients are finally assimilated into the cells and used for various activities including making energy.
Carbs: Carbohydrates break down in the body into units of sugar, most of which is glucose. This glucose is stored in the liver and muscles for when needed to make energy. Carbohydrates are the preferred (don’t confuse with most efficient) source of energy as it is very easy to extract glucose and send it to the mitochondria. When at rest, your body will make energy from glucose and fatty acids (below). Depending on your intensity, when you exercise this process will start to use more carbohydrates.
Fats: Gram for gram, fat supplies more energy than carbohydrates. It makes sense too given that carbohydrates contain 4 kcals/g and fats contain 9 kcals/g. Fats are broken down during digestion into triglycerides and fatty acids which also circulates to cells and is also found in adipose tissue. At rest, most of your energy actually comes from fats. Even with moderate exercise, fatty acids and glucose contribute roughly equal amounts of energy.
Protein: Proteins are digested and broken down into individual units called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids of which 9 are essential. Essential means your body cannot make them and you need to get these from food. While these amino acids can be used for energy production, this is generally only a last resort. Instead, the body uses amino acids for growth, maintenance and repair of muscles and other body tissues.
B Vitamins: The B vitamin family is vital for energy production. Specifically, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin are the major B vitamins involved in energy metabolism. Other B vitamins involved include pantothenic acid and biotin. Actually, pantothenic acid is a precursor in the body’s production of a chemical called COQ10 (coenzme Q 10), which also participates in the biochemical pathways that generate energy. The amount of CoQ10 in the body decreases with age so it’s important to be aware of getting plenty of foods rich in this chemical. These include sesame seeds, broccoli, cauliflower and pistachio nuts.
Healthy ways to get more energy from plants!
As you remember from the top of this article, we noted that the chemical reaction for cellular respiration is the opposite of that of photosynthesis. And photosynthesis happens in plants! This means that these plant harness the energy from the sun via the process of photosynthesis for us to the consume and use in our cells to make daily energy from. Therefore, it makes sense to eat plant-based foods!
Here are some important sources of B Vitamins!
- Bell Peppers
- Turnip Greens
- nutritional yeast (nonactive yeast),
- pine nuts,
- Jerusalem artichokes,
- whole grains,
- acorn squash,
- rice bran,
- wheat germ,
- sunflower seeds,
- macadamia nuts (or butter),
- sesame seeds,
- green peas,
- most beans,
- Beet greens
- Sweet potatoes
This list goes on and on! Just look at all those healthy ways to get more energy!
Basil + Beetroot Brownie!
A brownie is a wonderful way to get a B-vitamin boost! Well maybe not just any brownie. The iRaw Beetroot + Basil flavour combo and micronutrient profile fits the bill. Using Buckwheat as a base, remember our vitamin B list above, they are a wonderful source of tasty high in antioxidants snack on the go or a dessert with your loved ones (including yourself).
Soothing basil and iron-rich beetroot make a good match in these delicious brownies. A refreshing and sharp flavour combination which work nicely together with a gentle kick of pepper in the background.
And as an extra plus, as it contains beetroot! Not only are you getting an extra boost of veg in your daily diet, but scientists believe that beets affect how the body processes nitrate into nitric oxide, thereby reducing the amount of oxygen burned by the body during a workout. This then allows the muscles to work more efficiently. So what are you waiting for!? Get working on these healthy ways to get more energy!