Feeling sluggish? Here are the 5 best nutrients to boost your energy
See if this sounds familiar: You wake up feeling sluggish despite getting those sacred 7–9 hours of Zzz’s, and no amount of coffee or green tea prevents the dreaded afternoon slump. If this rings a bell, it may be time to check in on your levels of a few key nutrients.
Vitamins and minerals serve various critical functions for our bodies – they are somewhat of a “secret sauce” for our well-being. They have a hand in bone health, energy, the immune system, and brain and muscular function, among other things. Nutritional deficiencies can have all sorts of unpleasant consequences for our health and are a common cause of fatigue.
In this article, we cover 5 essential nutrients you need to keep you feeling energized throughout the day. Keep reading to find out which ones they are, how they impact your body, how to up your intake, and how to check your levels.
Vitamin D: the mood lifter
Vitamin D, commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is a powerhouse nutrient for your body. It keeps your bones healthy and strong by regulating how much calcium and phosphorus get absorbed into your blood. Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which support your immune system and can help keep infections at bay.
Some research suggests that vitamin D may even reduce the risk of developing some chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Our bodies produce vitamin D when we spend time in the sun. So it’s no surprise that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in Europe, since the winter months are relatively cloudy and dark in the north and east. 60% of the population in Germany has a vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels are linked to a host of symptoms and health problems, including loss of bone density (osteoporosis) and bone pain, muscle weakness, and low mood.
Research also shows that a lack of vitamin D hinders mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are small structures within cells that help convert food into energy. When they aren’t working properly, your energy levels take a hit.
All in all, there’s no underestimating the importance of vitamin D for overall health, energy, and mood, so make sure you get enough of this nutrient on a daily basis.
How to boost your vitamin D levels
Here are 5 foods you can eat more of to increase your vitamin D stores:
- fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines
- beef liver
- egg yolks, and
- fortified cereals
But it’s challenging to get all the vitamin D you need through diet alone. Did you know that only 10–20% of our vitamin D needs can come from food? That’s why people with low vitamin D levels or who have a higher chance of a deficiency are recommended to take a daily supplement, particularly in the wintertime. When choosing a supplement, go for one containing D3 instead of D2, as D3 is easier for your body to absorb.
Iron: the athletic performance booster
Iron is an essential nutrient that your body needs to make new, healthy red blood cells. Your body uses iron to produce hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs all around your body.
According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies around the globe. It’s also the leading cause of anemia, a condition where there’s a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body. 33% of the global population has anemia, and around half the time, iron deficiency is the culprit. It’s particularly common among reproductive-age women and people who follow a plant-based diet.
Iron-deficiency anemia can cause a number of symptoms, including lightheadedness, heart palpitations, pale skin, and extreme fatigue. It can also lead to problems with concentration and memory. Plus, without sufficient iron stores, your muscles won’t have the oxygen they need to function properly. As a result, strength and athletic performance take a major hit, and working out becomes difficult.
So, ensuring you’re getting enough iron on the daily is a key way to keep your energy levels up.
How to increase your iron intake
Below are 5 of the most iron-rich foods you can eat more of to boost your levels:
- red meat
- organ meats
- beans, and
- nuts and seeds
Our bodies can absorb iron from animal products (heme iron) more effectively than from plant-based sources (non-heme iron). However, there are plenty more foods you can turn to if you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking to up your iron intake. For more food inspiration, check this list of 10 foods to boost your iron levels.
👉 Pro tip: Vitamin C enhances iron absorption in the body, so try to eat foods high in this vitamin, like citrus fruits and leafy greens, together with iron-rich foods. Coffee has the opposite effect, so wait about 2 hours after consuming iron to have your cup of Joe.
If you have low iron levels and feel fatigued regularly, supplementation could be just the thing to get your energy back on track. A 2012 study examined 198 women between the ages of 18–53 who experienced fatigue and had an iron deficiency, and found that 12 weeks of supplementation decreased their fatigue by a whopping 47.7%.
Always consult your doctor before starting a supplement to find the dosage that’s right for your body. If it’s taken in large amounts, iron can have harmful effects. When choosing a supplement, look for one with the highest level of “elemental iron”. Elemental iron is what’s naturally in your body – so the more of it is in a supplement, the better you’ll be able to absorb it.
Vitamin B12: the cognition enhancer
B12 is crucial for central nervous system function, healthy red blood cell formation, energy production, and DNA synthesis. Consuming vitamin B12 can boost your memory and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Just like iron, a B12 deficiency can interfere with the healthy development of red blood cells. This can cause anemia and symptoms like extreme fatigue and weakness. Other common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include headaches, low mood, stomach issues, problems concentrating, and tingling in the hands and feet. As we age, our bodies can’t absorb vitamin B12 from foods as effectively, so deficiency is more common in older adults.
If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, getting more of this nutrient through foods and supplementation can make you feel energized again. But there isn’t evidence that B12 raises energy levels in people who have healthy levels.
How to raise your vitamin B12 levels
To up your vitamin B12 intake, here are the foods to turn to:
- dairy products, and
- some fortified breakfast cereals
As you can see, vitamin B12 only occurs naturally in animal products. So, what does this mean for vegetarians and vegans? If you follow a plant-based diet, it’s highly recommended to take a daily B12 supplement to avoid a deficiency. People who take metformin are recommended to check their levels of B12 regularly, as this medication reduces absorption of this vital nutrient in the body.
Methylcobalamin is a natural, active form of vitamin B12 that’s found in supplements. Consult a healthcare professional to find a supplement that’s right for you.
Magnesium: the muscle protector
From controlling blood sugar and blood pressure to supporting muscle and nerve function, magnesium is a critical nutrient we can’t live without. It’s another big one for our energy levels and it boosts athletic performance.
The kidneys normally limit how much magnesium leaves the body, so a deficiency in this mineral isn’t as common as the previous 3 nutrients. But certain things, including high alcohol intake, older age, and gastrointestinal conditions, can increase the chance of low magnesium levels.
Too little magnesium can impede mitochondrial function, making you feel weak and tired. Having chronically low magnesium stores raises the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. It can also contribute to low mood.
How to get more magnesium in your diet
Here are 5 magnesium-rich foods you can eat more of to increase your levels:
- green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and collard greens
- legumes, such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans
- nuts, including almonds, cashews, and peanuts
- seeds, like chia and pumpkin, and
- whole grains including wheat, oats, and barley
For people with low magnesium levels, supplementation can bring your energy levels back on track. More research is needed, but some studies demonstrate how taking a magnesium supplement can benefit sleep. It may even help people with insomnia sleep better. Other research suggests that magnesium promotes muscle relaxation, protects the muscles from damage, and reduces tightness and tiredness all around the body.
Zinc: the immunity booster
Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning your body only needs it in small amounts. It’s vital for DNA production, cell growth, and immune health. Almost 300 of your body’s enzymes use zinc to perform necessary chemical reactions. It also helps your body metabolize protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Low zinc levels can make you feel less alert and more fatigued. Eating foods high in zinc and taking a supplement can dramatically improve energy levels in people with a deficiency: A 2021 randomized clinical trial including 150 people aged 60 and older found that taking a 30mg zinc supplement for over 2 months significantly reduced fatigue.
How to increase your zinc intake
5 foods that contain high amounts of zinc include:
- shellfish, like oysters, crab, and lobster
- red meat
- legumes, like peas, pulses (dry lentils and chickpeas), and beans, and
- whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa
Be sure to consult your healthcare provider and get a blood test for zinc before starting supplementation, as your body only needs a little bit of this mineral. Plus, excess zinc can cause negative side effects like diarrhea, indigestion, and headaches. Too much zinc can also interfere with iron and copper absorption.
How to check if you have a nutritional deficiency
If you suspect you may have one or more nutritional deficiencies, you can find out with a simple blood test. At Aware, we offer a comprehensive blood test for long-term health that measures a variety of key health markers and minerals like Vitamin D and iron that are important for your energy levels. You can sign up for our Early Access Program and get tested in our modern lab in the heart of Berlin (more locations coming soon!). Learning if you’re lacking any key nutrients can help you take proactive steps to improve your health.
Looking for more ways to boost energy through your diet? Check out our article with 14 science-backed foods to combat fatigue
The bottom line
- Micronutrients are a crucial piece of the health puzzle. Our bodies need them to function normally, and some are especially important for energy.
- Deficiencies in vitamin D, B12, zinc, magnesium, and iron can make you feel tired, weak, and lethargic.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of vegetables, protein, and whole grains can help you maintain healthy nutrient levels and keep you feeling energized day to day.
- Taking supplements can prevent or improve a nutritional deficiency and boost your energy over time. Get a blood test to check your nutrient levels and talk to a healthcare professional before you begin supplementation.
June 9, 2023
August 9, 2023