How to maximize physical energy in everyday life

So, the end of the academic year is upon me, and along with it my feeling of burnout in which I can hardly muster the energy to complete relatively simple and pressing tasks. I believe that part of this is due to the encroaching summer heat and my mental exhaustion after a long year, but I believe that part of it is also due to physical tiredness on account of less-than-optimal lifestyle choices. So I turn to the dopers for advice on how to maximize energy in everyday life. I’m not looking for quick-fix temporary solutions; I’m willing to work at this (well, once I get up the energy). I think I’ve identified the important areas as outlined below, but need advice on how best to deal with each one. I’m sure plenty of you out there have learned what works for you, and so any words of wisdom on any or all of these areas would be greatly appreciated.

Caffeine: My habit is such that I need at least one cup of coffee in the morning to function. This cup is something I look forward to and even savor (time permitting) every morning, and it affords me not only physical stamina and mental attentiveness but also some degree of motivation, optimism, and joie de vivre. And yet I wonder, if I were to quit this habit and survive the inevitable withdrawal phase, would the advantages of a more natural and evenly distributed energy level throughout the day outweigh the loss of this daily delight? Can anyone speak from personal experience on this?

Exercise: Other than doing a fair amount of brisk walking to get from one place to another throughout the day, I don’t get much exercise, and I only very rarely break a sweat. What would be optimal? Something like a 20-minute jog every day? Or is three times a week sufficient? And is this best in the morning or before dinner or later after dinner or what?

Nutrition: Other than aiming for a “balanced diet”, are there certain foods to avoid or to seek for maximizing energy at certain times of the day? What has worked for you?

Sleep: This one seems pretty straightforward. Ideally I would sleep at least eight hours per night, and always get up and go to bed at the same time of day. But that’s so boring. And often impractical. Oh well.

Natural slumps: I suppose that even if I improved in all the above areas, there would still be times of the day where I feel sluggish, but at least I’d know that I’m doing everything I can and it’s not just me being lazy or bringing this on myself. What’s the best way to deal with those inevitable periods of sluggishness?

Other: Any other tips?

Frankly it sounds to me like you know pretty well what you’ve got to do. Cutting out caffeine (or scaling back), normalizing your sleep schedule, exercising, and eating better can all help you have more energy and be more productive. I suppose the question is how badly you really want it. If you find normalizing your sleep schedule to be, “boring,” well I guess it’s a trade off you will need to decide on.

If you’re right in the middle of finals right now it might be a bit too much to expect to implement all of these changes at once, you might want to wait until the end of the school year, especially for the more challenging steps like phasing out caffeine if you choose to do so.

I used to have a decent caffeine addiction and found that gradually scaling back until I stopped consuming it wasn’t that painful and seemed to give me a lot more energy and productivity averaged out over the day.

Interesting thread. I once honestly wondered how many extra calories I’d burn by just shaking one leg rapidly up and down (as I’m wont to do when feeling fidgety anyway) throughout the day.

I bragged about my energy in this thread.

First, genes are part of it. I stopped taking naps at a very unusually young age, as soon as I walked. I didn’t like kindergarten naps because I could never sleep during the naptimes, I’d just lie still doing nothing. I drove my mom crazy that way. Neither my mom or brother were that way, but my dad is, and his dad was too.

My dad and I do operate on the “sleep loss is accumulative” principle; that is, sleep loss is accumulative over a lifetime. e.g., if you sleep 6 hours, you’re not making it up by sleeping the proper 8 hours the next few days. You have to get those 10 hours in one night. No, we don’t have cites to back it up, just a hunch.

My dad and I are both big time exercise freaks and we get lots and lots of exercise. We stay away from sugar & carb foods but otherwise we love our steak, fruits, veggies, pizza. He’s over 60 now and he still can do 3 miles in 22 minutes. We’re both mesomorphs at our technically-ideal weights (though of course I’d rather be 100 pounds than 117 at 5’4") with very low body fat percentages. We’ve both got bulging muscles though we don’t make a point of being a bodybuilder, we just enjoy our bodies.

As for caffeine, yes, definitely cut it down. Cutting down caffeine is like the feds raising interest rates… it doesn’t increase your energy in the long term (nor does it help the economy to raise rates), but it gives you a lot of belt to tighten when you -do- need it.

Honestly I think exercise is the biggest factor, followed by sleep and then by caffeine.

I wouldn’t just leap into jogging 20 minutes every day. Every other day is just fine, at least until your body gets used to it.

Really, if all you want to do is have more energy and be in better shape in general, in a sustainable manner, just do something physically-oriented (go for a walk, jog, shoot hoops, swim, take up rock-climbing or dance lessons, do pilates or yoga, lift weights, go biking, gardening, whatever sounds fun) 4-6 days a week. Don’t do the same thing two days in a row if you can help it, 20-40 minutes a day and try not to kill yourself with the effort. Keeps boredom from setting in and lets your body recover from whatever horrible trauma you’re doing to it. :slight_smile:

More importantly, it avoids one of the larger pitfalls that people fall into when picking up a new exercise routine–sometimes they tend to overestimate their ability to handle training loads, get all gung ho and then either burn out after two weeks when they can’t keep up with what they think they should be capable of doing or just plain get bored by it. Also, it’s more fun, particularly during the summer when you should be outside more anyway.

Just do it whenever it fits best in your schedule. I like to exercise right after work, before I let my butt hit the couch, but other people like doing stuff in the mornings or during lunch or before they go to bed. Hell, I’ve even heard of people bugging out in the middle of their work day to exercise (“Sorry, Al. I’m in a…‘business meeting’ strapping on jogging shoes”).

A couple of random, interesting fitness-related sites: for running-related information. If you want to take up jogging, memorise the beginner’s section of this site. for weight-related stuff. Even if you’re not a girl, this is a good place to start.

Fixed link.

I think you will get good results with sleep/exercise/food. If the caffeine you’re worried about is one cup of coffee in the morning, I wouldn’t sweat it. I definitely would make that the last thing to tackle. Definitely don’t add to an already stressful time by quitting caffeine.

Everyone hates it, but I actually find the USDA food pyramid gives me a pretty balanced diet. Pay attention to what they mean by a serving, and don’t forget to make at least half the grains whole grains.

The one other thing I would add is, if you don’t already, build in some enjoyable social time on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but if you are spending days in a lab or something, make sure to get out a little.

I hate, hate, hate feeling slugish throughout the day. I found some of the following useful.

-One cup of coffee a day isn’t going to hurt you. But the rest of the day drink water. Lot’s of it. Keep a water bottle on your desk and get used to sipping it continuously all day long. Your going to have to go pee a lot but that’s good. Keeps your system flushed, good for your skin, etc.

-Stay away from heavy foods. The starches are bogging you down. Go with fruits, vegetables, lean meats. Stay away from white breads, mashed potatos, white rice, fries.

-Some daily cardio exercise is great. Doesn’t even have to be a lot. 20-30 minutes a day. Brisk walk, weights, jog, whatever, as long as your heartrate increases. While I don’t practice what I preach the absolute best time for this is first thing in the morning. It revs your heart and keeps it going through the day.

-Stretch. When you wake up. When you break at work. When you get home. Before you go to bed. Just some simple stretching exercises can get your blood moving again and will make you feel better.

-And while you’ve heard it a million times, more frequent smaller meals rather than a couple big meals. I’ve even stretched out dinner over 4 hours. Chicken breast at 5, can of green beans at 6, glass of skim milk at 7, granola bar at 8, pineapple and oranges at 9.

My best analogy would be comparing your body to a garbage disposal. Keep the blade spinning at a good constant rate, don’t bog it down with too much crap at once, put in stuff it can easily chop up/digest, rinse it often with running water.

I don’t think caffiene, in moderation, is a problem. Don’t drink too much of it, and don’t drink it late enough in the day that it interferes with your sleep. (You probably know when your cutoff is; mine’s 3 PM.)

IMHO getting up at the same time every morning is absolutely key. Don’t worry about getting X hours of sleep every night; the necessary amount varies from person to person. Just get up every morning at the same time (even weekends) and go to bed when you’re tired. If you had a late night the night before and you’re really dragging, a short nap (<20 minutes) can help you get through the day without disrupting your sleep cycle.

Just take this idea for a test drive. It takes three weeks to form a habit, so tell yourself that for the next 21 days, you will set your alarm and get up at the same time. Check off the days on a calendar. For some reason, having a finite time that you’re going work on a new habit makes it much easier than if you just tell yourself “From now on . . .” If at the end of the three weeks your energy hasn’t improved, then you at least know that you’ve given it a fair shot.

Others have covered exercise. Excercise GOOD.

Good power foods include whole grains and nuts and lowfat dairy products, which have good, slow-release sources of energy like protein and unrefined carbohydrates. Avoid foods high in sugar and white flour (including pasta), which give you a brief surge of energy and let you down hard, and foods with a lot of fat and not much else, which tend to make you sleepy. Chocolate should be consumed in very small amounts as a mood-altering substance, not as a source of nutrition! Having a candy bar for “energy” is a terrible idea.

For natural slumps, see if you notice a pattern. Do you always crash hour after breakfast or lunch? Maybe your food choices aren’t giving you sustained energy. Do you always crash at 10 AM, or 3 PM? Schedule “tea time” then and have a healthy snack and a bit of caffiene, or just take a short walk at that time every day.

I think it’s important to respect the natural ebb and flow of your energy. If I’m feeling sluggish and dull, then I drop the difficult and important work that I’m probably screwing up, and find a simpler task. I’ll come out of the funk faster if I feel that I’m getting something accomplished. Similarly, if I’m bored with some easy task and my attention is wandering, that means I have the energy to tackle something more challenging. I can do the easy task some other time when my brain’s not operating at full capacity.

Most people have a fairly predictable energy flow through the day, and you should work with it instead of against it, if you can. Every afternoon I need to prepare a specific, straightfoward, relatively simple task to do first thing the next morning, when I don’t have a lot of energy or intiative. If I don’t plan anything, I’ll take forever to get myself going. If I leave myself a vague nebulous task (“Figure out why code isn’t compiling!”) I won’t be able to grok it. Either way I’ll end up surfing the web for a couple hours. So leave something clear and not very challenging: “Print graphs for yesterday’s model runs,” which gets me rolling. Conversely, I schedule meetings with my advisor around 3:30, because that’s when my energy level is highest, and I sound the smartest. :wink:

Save the stimulants for when you need them. They’ll hit you harder that way.

Suck it up and do it anyway. This one’s important.

Eating complex carbs has NEVER increased my energy. Neither does chicken, eggs, or dairy. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, and fish seem to be the only things that help. Oh yeah, flaxseed oil helps if I take enough of it, and remember to take it everyday. It seems like the common factor is fat, but I thought fat decreases your energy. :confused:

Once I started making sure I had some protein for breakfast (instead of a lovely carbgasm - no I try to balance it out more) I noticed I had a lot easier time making it to lunch without getting really sleepy. I also broke my very heavy Coke habit (the drink, not the powder) - I drink it occaisionally now, but it used to be liters a day. The withdrawal was hard, but my stomach feels a lot better now, for one thing. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Those are all high in omega-3 fatty acids. Eat more of those.

That strikes me as an excellent, if not particularly poetic, analogy. :stuck_out_tongue: