What should I eat to beat tiredness?

When someone asks how you are, do you automatically answer, “I’m tired”? Are you struggling to stay awake at 11am or reaching for the biscuits at 3pm? Feeling constantly tired can make you feel miserable, and leave you relying on caffeine to get you through the day.

Woman in duvet holding cup

But, did you know, diet can directly impact your tiredness levels? And just a few small tweaks to your nutritional intake could leave you feeling energised and satisfied, whatever the time of day.

As we’re talking about food and energy, it’s important to note that, in this case, we’re specifically focusing on tiredness (rather than fatigue). If you do struggle with chronic fatigue, it’s important to consult your GP as there could be something else going on.

What’s the difference between tiredness and fatigue?

According to nutritional therapist Michaella Mazzoni, tiredness is more situational. For example, if you have a bad night’s sleep, it’s understandable to feel tired the next day. But, with fatigue (often chronic), the intense feeling of tiredness, foggy head and all round-grogginess is not alleviated by any rest and further support may be required.

But, back to tiredness…

Ways to combat tiredness with diet

Balance your blood sugar

Michaella explains that, when thinking about food and energy levels, it’s important to pay attention to your blood sugar levels and to identify peaks and troughs. Blood sugar refers to the amount of sugar – or glucose – found in the blood that gets transported all over the body and used by cells for energy.

“When you have something that’s quite sugary, your blood sugar spikes, and what goes up must come down. You have that sugar crash about 90 minutes later, usually at 11am or 3pm in the afternoon.” So, if you’ve just eaten a chocolate bar, you might expect to feel energised, even excitable and raring to go. But, fast forward 90 minutes, and you could find it difficult to concentrate, groggy, headachey and irritable.

So, when it comes to what foods to limit when struggling with regular bouts of tiredness, sadly, the number one culprit here is sugar! You actually only need one teaspoon of sugar in your body at any given time, which really isn’t that much.

“Make sure that if you do have something like dark chocolate or fruit, or even something like toast for breakfast, you’re having a protein or fat alongside it: a handful of nuts with your chocolate or a nut butter on top of your toast,” says Michaella.

The good news is, we’re not saying no to sugar completely, but consuming it in moderation and as part of a balanced diet is key.

Stimulate your digestive system

“Some foods like red meat for example are a bit tougher for the body to digest, and they can sit around in the digestive system for a long time. If you have a very sensitive digestive system and eat a very heavy meal, a lot of blood flow will be directed to the gut,” explains Michaella. This can leave you feeling very tired and sluggish.

To combat this, Michaella recommends stimulating adequate digestion as much as possible. “Chew your food really thoroughly, and avoid drinking about 20 minutes beforehand, during eating and 20 minutes after so as not to dilute your digestive enzymes.”

Some people can also be very sensitive to proteins; consuming foods like turkey, red meat and eggs may make you feel tired as the body is investing a lot of energy in the digestive system to break down these proteins. Turkey also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, which is known to help calm the body and mind, and aid sleep.

What should I eat when tired?

Michaella says it’s all but eating the rainbow. Eating a broad variety of colours ensures you consume as many minerals and vitamins that are all essential for energy production. Leafy greens like spinach and kale are really high in key nutrients, especially iron and someone who struggles with constant tiredness can often have low levels of iron.

Foods like beetroot, lentils, beans, porridge and salmon are also excellent natural sources of essential vitamins and minerals to help combat feeling tired.

It is advised to switch your refined carbohydrates to brown carbs; have brown rice instead of white and opt for brown and multi-seed breads. These brown carbs are slow-releasing giving you a steady flow of energy, rather than a spike and subsequent drop in blood sugar like the refined carbohydrates do, leading to noticeable sluggishness.

Should I be eating at certain times of the day to increase energy levels?

For most people, eating breakfast is recommended and eating at regular intervals will help ward off tiredness as you’re providing the body with a steady stream of nutrients that can be used for energy production, and you won’t struggle with blood sugar highs and lows.

“I really like people to eat breakfast as you’re balancing your blood sugar. Then technically you should be able to get by with just breakfast, lunch, and dinner and not need a snack in between. But, if you do find that you’re hungry, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, have something that’s got a good protein and some fats to help stabilise the blood sugar until your next meal.”

Energy-stabilising snacks could be a handful of mixed nuts, some Greek yogurt and berries and a personal favourite, sliced apples with peanut butter.

How can a nutritionist help with tiredness?

Working with a nutritional therapist can help you understand not only the basic principles of eating to combat tiredness, but what is right for you. There is no one size fits all with nutritional therapy. Nutrition professionals can also advise on any testing that might be suitable such as a stool test, and help make lifestyle adjustments alongside your diet. Any kind of testing, if it’s necessary, can highlight where areas of the body might be struggling.

As Michaella says, “General information can be really helpful, but it’s even better to get right down into what makes you unique, and working with someone who can help you understand that and target that is so valuable.”

If you’re looking for support for constant tiredness and are ready to reach out to a nutrition professional, you can get in touch with nutritional therapist Michaella Mazzoni. Or, you can use the advanced search to find a professional in your area or online.

Article last updated: 5th December 2022

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Written by Katie Hoare
Katie is a writer for Nutritionist Resource.
Written by Katie Hoare
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