Let’s face it: Kicking ass in life takes energy.
You can have all good intentions of running your first marathon, completing an Ironman, starting a business, or being an awesome mom or dad to your kids. But if the energy isn’t there, you’ll be fighting a losing battle once the initial surge of excitement wears off.
Doing life-changing stuff isn’t as hard as most people make it out to be. But it absolutely requires showing up. That might mean getting up when it’s still dark out to get your run in. Or burning the midnight oil while your family sleeps. (As Gary Vee says, “7 PM to 2 AM is gametime.”)
So how do you get yourself to show up? If your goal is compelling enough—and by “compelling,” I mean it’s an obsession—then what it comes down to is energy.
The more you use, the more you have
It’s a strange thing, this energy. Anyone who has ever stuck with a fitness plan knows that once you’re a few weeks in, you have way more energy throughout the day than you did before you started exercising. Counterintuitive, considering exercise expends energy.
Similar for food: From a caloric standpoint, a McSupersized extra value meal should provide you with plenty of fuel to use. But how do you feel after you eat one of those? Unless you’re starving, less is more when it comes to food.
Same for sleeping: Logging in 12-hour sessions seems like it should ready you for the day, but usually it leaves you dragging. Unless you’re sleep deprived, it’s worth seeing what happens when you sleep just a little less.
So the big three rules most of us already know: Eat less, exercise more, and don’t go nuts with the sleep.
But there are other factors that could affect your energy.
They’re science-based. Yet they’re controversial.
Why? I suspect it’s because of people who overstate their importance. In my experience, none of these factors have the impact that the big three do. So when someone takes one and builds (and sells) an entire health plan around them, the result is a bunch of hype, a diet that doesn’t deliver, and our writing it off as a fad.
But this stuff shouldn’t be totally ignored. If energy is your goal, every one of these aspects is worth considering. Pick a few, try them for a few days or weeks, and judge for yourself. I doubt any of them will kill you, and you might just find you have some extra energy for ass-kicking after work or early in the morning.
6 Factors that Could Affect Your Energy
1. When you drink water (or any liquid).
Healthy people drink a lot of water, as well they should. But consider when you’re drinking that water: If you’re drinking it with your meal, you could be impairing your digestion.
Not only does water dilute the gastric juices required to digest food, it also exits the stomach after just a few minutes, taking those juices with it and making digestion difficult. And since digestion accounts for 5 to 15 percent of your energy expenditure, that’s something you should care about.
A half hour fluid-free buffer on either side of your meals is a good place to start. It’s strange at first, but you get used to it.
2. How you combine your foods.
There are diets based entirely on this principle, and I think that’s overkill, especially when the scientific tests of its efficacy are mixed. But the biggest tenet, which says that carbohydrate-rich foods should not be mixed with protein-rich foods, makes sense to me. The enzymes required to digest each nutrient tend to neutralize each other, again making digestion harder and slower than it should be.
So what does a meal look like, if it’s not a “square” meal of protein and carbs? Try a big pile of non-starchy vegetables (salad, perhaps), and either a protein- or carbohydrate-rich food, but not both.
(Side note: The Wikipedia entry on food combining has an interesting paragraph about how some cultural rituals around eating may have evolved to maximize energy.)
We multitask, we achieve, we stress, we worry. And so often during all of this, we forget to breathe.
Nobody breathes anymore. At least, not the way we’re designed to, from very deep within our bodies. The result is more stress, less breathing, and more stress. (As an athlete, however, you’re at a huge advantage. Your daily training encourages deeper breathing.)
Give your cells some oxygen. Take a few minutes every day and just breathe. If you need something to occupy your mind, try breathing exercises.
4. How acidic your body is.
The idea behind the alkaline diet is that our modern lifestyle produces an acidic environment in the body. In this acidic environment, disease thrives, the body stores fat and leeches minerals from bones in an attempt to become alkaline, and relative hell breaks loose.
Is the acid/alkaline balance worth building an entire diet around? In my opinion and limited experience with it, no. But I find most of the arguments compelling. And it’s not only quacks who are promoting it: In Thrive, Brendan Brazier advocates paying attention to acidity and alkalinity to what I consider a healthy extent—not obsessing over it, but not denying that it’s a factor in our health and energy levels. (For more of Brendan’s thoughts on energy, check out the second interview I did with him.)
5. Not just what you eat, but how you eat.
Eat at the table. Turn off the television and talk while you eat. Eat slowly. Chew your food.
We hear it so much, it’s starting to become nagging. But really, do you do this stuff? I don’t (enough). Eating slowly and relaxed happens to go beautifully with not chugging water to wash down every bite before it’s chewed, and with breathing as well.
6. Whether you burn fat or sugar for fuel.
This is one that I can totally get behind. I’ve noticed a major improvement in my endurance since I phased out most sugar on the mornings of my long runs, up until the very end when you need a boost to get to the finish.
I first learned this from Greg McMillan (see his approach to training your body to burn fat). Then I heard Stu Mittleman talk about it. These guys are talking about endurance running, but the same goes for the rest of your life. Your body stores far more energy in the form of fat than it can sugar. (Not an insult; this is true whether you have a cottage-cheese ass or washboard abs.)
So if you can train your body to burn fat at low intensities for a long time before it switches to sugar, you can go on with ass-kicking for hours before you shut down. If instead, you rely on sugar, as most people do, even at pretty low intensities, the fuel burns out quickly. If you’re running, you’ll bonk when your body shuts down to save some to keep your brain operating. To a lesser extent, the same goes for the rest of what you do during the day.
The way I see it, very few of us have the physiology background to really say whether this all is legit. We’re left with three options: You can buy in completely and blindly, you can call it all bullshit, or you can do what I like to do. Which is to try it. As long as it won’t kill me, I’m pretty much game if there’s the chance it’ll take my energy to the next level. What about you?