If you’re a health professional on the frontline, you’ll likely be working very long hours over the coming weeks and months as we support the nation to fight COVID-19. It’s important that you eat for energy prior to and during every shift. Here are five things you can do to eat for energy.
- Balance your diet
Food provides us with nutrients – vitamins and minerals that help keep your body healthy and regulate its chemical processes. The five main food groups that provide nutrients are:
• Carbohydrates: the most important fuel for slow-release energy and include bread, rice, pasta, cereals and potatoes
• Protein: needed for growth and repair and is found in fish, meat, eggs and beans
• Fruit and vegetables: contain essential vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of fibre
• Milk and dairy products: a great source of calcium which is needed for good bone health and to help prevent osteoporosis
• Fat and sugar: but keep your intake low to stay healthy and energetic
- Maximise your energy gain from food
Try these tips:
• Keep your meals regular – every three to four hours if possible – and eat fresh rather than processed foods
• Avoid foods that are high in sugar, such as chocolates and cakes. These will give you an energy ‘high’ that is quickly followed by a ‘low’. Choose foods that don’t contain refined sugar and are low on the Glycaemic Index
• Avoid fried and fatty foods. As well as being high in calories, these can make you feel less energetic. Replace them with plenty of fresh fruit and opt for unprocessed foods whenever possible to maximise your nutrient intake
• Include ‘superfoods’ in your diet. These are high in antioxidants, which can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. Superfoods include blueberries, avocado, lentils, broccoli and salmon
• For more information about food for energy, check out the British Nutrition Foundation
- Cut down on caffeine and alcohol
Replacing your tea and skinny lattes with herbal alternatives, fruit juice, or water will help to avoid tiredness and irritability. And try to avoid alcohol; even in small amounts, it can make you feel tired.
- Have enough vitamins and minerals in your diet
Eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will help ensure you have enough vitamins and minerals.
• Vitamin C is especially important for high energy levels. So if you need a boost, increase your intake of citrus fruits such as kiwi fruit, peppers and oranges. Including foods that are high in iron and zinc such as pulses, seeds and nuts, spinach, fish and liver in your diet will also help to give you energy
• Vitamin B12 can help raise energy levels. And with apologies to vegans and vegetarians, try increasing your intake of meat, fish, eggs and yeast
• For pre-menopausal women, low levels of iron can cause anaemia, which leads to feelings of exhaustion. Green leafy vegetables, liver, and pulses all contain iron and will help you to feel more energetic. Your GP may also advise you to take an iron supplement
- Drink more water
Water helps us to absorb nutrients, regulates temperature, and flushes our systems, helping to get rid of waste products. Even being mildly dehydrated can lower our energy levels and cause headaches. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water and don’t wait until you’re thirsty before having a drink. Try keeping a bottle or glass of water handy, whatever you’re doing, and take regular sips to make sure you drink enough.
If you continue to feel tired, get checked out by your GP. They may take a blood test and/or advise you to take a vitamin supplement.