We all know what it feels like to be full of energy and often times we think it is only available to the young. Each year we struggle to find the same level of energy we had the previous year. Where does our energy go? Is it really our age, or can we get it back?
Although age is a factor, I have found it to be a small factor. After just turning 49 I am running as fast as I was when I was 45 despite undergoing major knee surgery in March of 2011, and 13 previous surgeries after I was hit by a semi-truck while cycling at age 20.
I have found four factors that affect energy levels the most: diet, training, rest, and stress. This article focuses on the first two areas where we tend to lose energy: diet and training.
Diet: Nutrition & Hydration
What you eat and what you fuel your body with determines your energy level. It is that simple. It is essential to fuel you body by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Think of your body like a car; you put the best type of fuel in your car so it runs well. Our body is no different. What would happen if you put sugar into your gas tank? Would your car even run? Food is fuel and it needs to come from sources that our body can easily digest, utilize, and convert into energy. If you are a high endurance/long distance athlete, protein and healthy fats are crucial. It is important to get protein back into your body within 30 minutes of exercise; my secret weapons to achieve this include almond butter and avocados.
If you are eating white bread, chips, crackers, or any types of processed food with corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, et cetera, you are not fueling your body. In fact, digesting these foods strips your body of energy. Furthermore, most of these kinds of processed foods are loaded with trans fats, which are the worst kind of fats for your body’s system. Start reading food labels and educate yourself about proper nutrition. Discover what good healthy foods you can fuel your body with. Remember food is fuel and your body needs the right kind of fuel to run (just like your car).
Hydration and water along with food is crucial to maintaining energy. Before you exercise you should take in as many ounces of water as half of your body weight in pounds. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should hydrate with at least 70 ounces of water before exercising. During exercise, you should take in 16 ounces for each hour of exercise. It sounds like a lot, but most of us are dehydrated on a daily basis. A few signs of dehydration while exercising include irregular or strained breathing, lack of sweating, or an increase in heart rate without an increase in effort. If this happens, find a shady area, rest, and hydrate.
Dehydration can lead to overheating, which can be much more serious. Signs of overheating to look out for include dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, diarrhea, or fatigue. Fatigue is often times a symptom of dehydration, not just tiredness. Although you may not feel thirsty, taking in a significant amount of fluids (at least 16 ounces) will rehydrate and reenergize you.
Training: Undertraining & Overtraining
There is a wealth of information on training available from a variety of sources such as personal trainers, fellow athletes, friends, and publications. Ultimately, you are your best source of knowing how much is too much, and how much is too little. In my experience most people over-train but there are many people that under-train as well.
Weekend warriors are often undertraining. When the weekend comes, you go out and hit it hard without training during the week. This leaves you sore or hardly able to walk for a few days. This is not a good way to approach sports, become an athlete, or be healthy. Demanding your body to perform on an all-or-nothing basis stresses the body because there is no rhythm or understanding as to why you are requiring strength, energy, and power. Additionally, your body is unable to store the necessary fuel and hydration needed.
By stressing the body, weekend warriors are likely to endure some injuries along the way. From injuries the body can develop bad habits that may never go away, and that can lead to additional stress and compensations in the body. All of this requires energy. Energy to strain, energy to perform the task, and energy to survive the challenges we are faced with. It is important to develop a weekly routine to prepare your body for the weekend that is manageable, easy to maintain and enjoyable.
To avoid overtraining, establish a variety of ways in which you can build your strength and endurance. For example, I find the best running formula for me is 4-5 days of running rather than seven. This gives my muscles the time they need to repair, heal, and recover to maintain their strength and stamina. If you do not allow time for recovery (like if you are running 6-7 days a week), you are overtraining and damaging your body. For swimming, I recommend 2-4 times a week and for biking, 3-4 times a week. Anytime you do a particular activity or sport more than five times a week, you are most likely overtraining. Pushing a body that hasn’t had time to rest, repair, and restore will require more energy.
For more, go to: Part II