These research-proven pick-me-ups will get you going and keep you charged, even if you've had too little sleep. Still having trouble? Take this quiz to find the best fixes to increase your energy. Also, check out more ways to boost your energy at home or at work.
Have a Protein-Powered Breakfast Toast alone or even a granola bar won't do it. You need protein to feel full and satisfied and to avoid the blood sugar roller coaster an all-carb meal triggers, which leaves you feeling tired and cranky. "You can make and eat a fatigue-beating breakfast in five minutes, which is probably all the time you'll have on a morning when you're tired and have slept in as late as possible," says registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer. But protein doesn't mean bacon, eggs, and sausage (as if you'd have time for these, anyway). Somer's suggestions: whole-grain toast with peanut butter and a banana; whole-grain cereal with low- or non-fat milk and fruit; low-fat plain yogurt with berries, granola, and a handful of nuts.
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Sip Water If you're dehydrated, you'll feel more blah, and you may function less well, too. A small Swiss study found that when volunteers were deprived of water (in this case, for 24 hours), they were nearly twice as tired and one-third less alert. They also had to work twice as hard at a series of cognitive tests. It's unlikely you'd be that dehydrated, but to stay on par, sip frequently. Don't gulp, though - your body can't absorb too much at a time. "Drink a lot of water quickly and your kidneys just filter much of it out of your bloodstream and eliminate it before your body can use it all," says Somer.
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Have a Smarter Caffeine Strategy Tempting though it is, skip the café grande. The best way to thwart the dreaded afternoon slump is to drink two ounces of coffee (about six to eight sips) every hour from mid-morning until early afternoon, says James K. Wyatt, Ph.D., a sleep specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Caffeine blocks adenosine, a sleep-inducing brain chemical that accumulates throughout the day," says Wyatt, who admits to nursing a single mug of joe for hours at a time. "If you drink all your coffee first thing in the morning, the boost will wear off just when you need it most." But do cut it off by early afternoon. Caffeine has a half-life of three to seven hours, Wyatt notes. "Drinking it too late in the day will interfere with your ability to fall asleep that night" - setting you up for another low-energy day tomorrow.
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Refuel with the Right Snack If you're asking your brain and body to be perky when you're exhausted, don't expect to run on fumes, says Somer. Or on candy or soda, which will set you up for an energy surge and crash. Whole fruit is a better choice, as long as you pair it with protein to keep blood sugar levels steady. Have an apple, orange, or banana, or a handful of grapes, but also nibble on low-fat cheese or yogurt. Repeat in the mid-afternoon.
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Have Green or White Tea Unlike black tea, these mild brews aren't oxidized during processing, so they may contain the highest levels of l-theanine, a relaxing amino acid found in tea. In an Oxford University brain-scan study, levels of alpha waves - which are linked with feeling relaxed yet alert - were significantly higher in people who'd sipped a drink containing 50 milligrams of l-theanine than in those who drank plain water. The amount of l-theanine varies in different brews, but try having a cup or two. On low-energy days, take a tea break even if you're also having coffee. In another British study, people who were given doses of l-theanine plus caffeine reported feeling less tired - and they upped their speed on tests of attention and memory.
Learn More Great Health Benefits of Tea (And Other Superfoods)
Pass Up Pizza Burgers, mac and cheese, and fried chicken, as well. A high-fat lunch left volunteers in one British study sleepier in the afternoon than those who had a leaner meal. The high-fat group was also slower and less alert on an attention test. Fat triggers the release of a digestive hormone that seems to provoke a brain slump called postprandial somnolence. For an energized afternoon, says Somer, "be sure your lunch contains a whole grain, a vegetable or fruit, and a lean protein." That could be turkey on whole wheat with mustard, plus a fruit salad, or you could have a bowl of bean soup, a small roll, and a side salad of mixed greens.
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