Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Fatigue is one of the biggest problems of modern life, but we’re trying to fix that problem in all the wrong ways. Trying to “get” or “find” energy is like trying to grab a fistful of water. If you want water (energy) to sit in your hand, you have to first create the conditions under which it’s possible—in the case of water, keeping your fingers tightly together and your hand cupped while open will do the trick—but trying to grab the water will not. It’s the same thing with energy.
Energy isn’t something you get or grab, rather it’s the by-product of certain conditions that allow it to show up in your life. If your health, attitude, body, and mind are all aligned in the right way, there’s nothing else for you to do but feel energized. It’s the natural “side effect” of a healthful life—it just comes with the territory.
Let’s say you were a swimmer wearing a weight belt, and you want to increase your time in the 50-yard freestyle. You could spend a lot of effort researching the latest high-tech swimsuit—which might add a second or two to your time—but wouldn’t it be a lot more effective to simply drop the weight belt? Most of us are carrying around weight belts and looking to increase our energy with coffee and stimulants, but if we just dropped the weight belt, we’d automatically go faster.
Some of the items that make up our weight belt are too little sleep, disorganization, toxic relationships, high-carb diets, undetected food sensitivities, and all sorts of other facts of modern life that I discuss in detail in my book The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy. The following are seven of the most important ways to help drop the weight belt from your energy tank. Do them and you may be surprised at what a boost in energy they give you.
1. Support Your Liver
You can help your liver do its job more effectively—and boost your energy in the bargain—by taking a daily dose of an herb called milk thistle. Also, eat liver-supporting vegetables, such as carrots, beets, beet greens, garlic, artichokes, burdock and dandelion roots. I consider the liver the most misunderstood and underappreciated organ in the human body; when it’s not working correctly, your energy level is the first thing to suffer. Giving the liver all the nutrients it needs to perform its daily tasks is one of the most important things you can do to boost your energy.
2. Get 10 Minutes of Sun Every Day
“The sun gives you strength, lifts your spirits, and is a source of energy,” says my friend Al Sears, MD, author of Your Best Health Under the Sun. Like a growing body of health experts, Sears thinks we’ve become so sun phobic that we’re missing out on the myriad mood-boosting and energy-enhancing benefits that the sunshine vitamin has to offer.
3. Disconnect for a Day
One of the great energy drainers of the 21st century is information overload. We’re deluged with stuff coming at us— e-mails, social media, Netflix, smartphones—you get the picture. Knowledge may be power, but information overload is just … well, noise. Try a media-free day, and feel your own energy accumulate rather than letting it dissipate as you attend to millions of distractions, most of which—when you think about it—won’t make much difference in the long run anyway. (If you find the idea of disconnecting for a day is a frightening thought, you are exactly the person who needs to do it the most!)
4. Try the “No-Frills, No-Excuses, Anytime-Anywhere” Workout
We all know that exercise helps with energy—at least I hope we do—but when it comes to working out, time remains a big obstacle for many people. Here’s my own “no-excuses” low-tech workout that you can do just about anywhere in as little as 15 or 20 minutes for an amazing boost in energy: 1) run a mile; 2) do some squats; 3) do some push-ups; 4) do some crunches; 5) stretch. After that, go about your business refreshed and energized. And if you can’t go out and run the mile, do some jumping jacks in your office.
5. Revive Your Chi
Acupuncture is based on the precepts of traditional Chinese medicine—that the body and mind are inextricably linked; that vital energy (chi or qi) regulates a person’s spiritual, mental, and physical health; and that each of us is a delicate balance of opposing and inseparable forces—yin and yang. When that balance is disrupted, vital energy becomes blocked or weakened. When our chi is at optimal levels and flowing smoothly, we’re ready to take on the world—spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically—we’re strong, healthy, and energized. One terrific way to balance that energy is through acupuncture.
6. Unclutter and Deep-Six the Energy Drain
Here’s a rule I’ve found to be a universal truth: your energy has a perfect inverse relationship to the accumulation of stuff you don’t need. The more stuff you have cluttering up your life, the less energy you have. Believe it or not, the condition of your closets, desk, office and living space actually reflects a lot of what’s going on in your head. If you take time to organize and unclutter, you’ll be freeing up a lot of psychic space, and that can really turbo-charge your energy.
7. Take the Right Supplements
While supplements don’t really “give” you energy, they can correct metabolic issues that are draining it. They can also speed certain pathways that are nutrient-dependent and get sluggish when those nutrients are in short supply. At the very least, take a good, high-potency multiple vitamin/mineral. See below for a round-up of top energizing supplements.
Supplements sold as energy enhancers are a mixed bag. Some are downright dangerous, with potentially harmful levels of ephedra or bitter orange (citrus aurantium). Some are just useless. Some actually work. And some may help close some nutritional gaps which, in turn, can clear the way for metabolic pathways to work more smoothly, resulting in more energy and well-being in general. Here are some of the top contenders in the energy supplement marketplace.
- Coenzyme Q10: Your body needs optimal CoQ10 for energy production. CoQ10 has the ability to increase the production of something called ATP—adenosine triphosphate—also known as the body’s “energy molecule.” Karl Folkers, an early CoQ10 researcher, noted that a reduction of CoQ10 levels in the body by just 25 percent (to 75 percent of optimal) may cause illness, while falling by 75 percent (to 25 percent of optimal) could cause death.
- L- Carnitine: Carnitine acts like a shuttle bus that transports fatty acids into the part of the cell where they can be burned for energy—no carnitine, no energy production. Carnitine is found in any appreciable degree only in animal products, and strict vegetarians or vegans may ingest as little as 1 mg a day. In conditions when fatigue and low energy are issues, supplemental carnitine may help a lot.
- D-Ribose: Ribose is a component of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the “energy molecule” of the cell. It’s critical for metabolism. In one pilot study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 41 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or both were given 5 grams of D-ribose three times a day for 25 days. By the end of the study, the participants reported significant improvements in feelings of well-being, sleep patterns, mental clarity, and energy. The average energy increase was 45 percent, while about two-thirds of the people reported feeling “somewhat better to much better” while taking the D-ribose supplements. It’s likely that D-ribose may help with general fatigue. I recommend starting with 5–10 grams a day (one slightly rounded Tbs. of powder), in two divided doses (1/2 to 1 Tbs. each).
- EGCG: I’m a huge fan of tea for both its health properties and as an energy drink in general. And while all tea is great, one particular compound in green tea—called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG for short—has been isolated and is available as a supplement. EGCG sparks a process in the body known as thermogenesis, or heat production (thermo means “heat,” genesis means “making new”). You may know the process of thermogenesis by it’s more common term, “fat burning.” And sure enough, EGCG has been found to be of great interest to those on a weight management program for the same reason it may help you with your energy.
- B Complex: All the B vitamins have important functions in the body, and some—like thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B2)—are critical for normal energy production in human cells. In one 1997 study done in Wales, healthy women who took B1 supplements had faster reaction times and reported feeling more clearheaded and energetic than before. The Bs are eaten up during stress. That’s yet another reason why many people feel so much better supplementing with B complex. Even the popular media seem to have caught on to this. An article in a 2003 issue of Psychology Today was appropriately titled “Vitamin B: A Key to Energy” and subtitled “To fight fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration, power up with B vitamins.”
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is another of those vitamins that can help plug holes, so to speak. If you’ve got enough vitamin D in your system, taking more won’t necessarily make you faster or stronger, or give you the energy to run a marathon. The problem is, many people are very far from having enough of it. Some studies show that over 70 percent of people have less-than-optimal vitamin D levels in their blood. And when you don’t have enough of it, it can cost you dearly in terms of energy, health, and physical performance.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha (withania somnifera) is an herb commonly used in Ayruvedic medicine that is believed to increase longevity and health. Ashwagandha has been used in traditional herbal medicine for over 2,000 years mainly as a “vitalizer” or “energizer” of the body. Conversely, it seems to have a noticeable “antistress” effect, which makes sense considering so many people use ashwagandha for relaxation, too.
- Panax Ginseng: Panax ginseng—which includes both the American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), and the Asian ginseng, (Panax ginseng)—is probably one of the most investigated plants in the world for its medicinal uses. The term “panax” actually means “all-heal” in Greek. [Note: “Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is actually not ginseng at all, but a different adaptogen with entirely different active ingredients.] In Eastern medicine ginseng roots are prized for their ability to treat tiredness and fatigue. In fact, a common side effect is the inability to sleep, which should tell you something! The researchers on one study said that the data suggest that “Panax ginseng can improve performance and subjective feelings of mental fatigue during sustained mental activity.”
- Rhodiola: Rhodiola is another herb with a pretty strong resume of published research documenting its ability to fight fatigue, improve reaction time, improve attention, and reduce stress. In Russia it has been used for hundreds of years specifically to help cope with the harsh Siberian climate, and is said to have been used by the Vikings as well. Rhodiola has very low toxicity and extremely low occurrences of side effects. According to the Physicians Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, most users find that it improves their mood, energy, and mental clarity. For that reason, you shouldn’t take it at night, since it can easily disrupt sleep. A good dose to start with is 50–200 mg a day.