Optimising energy requires a multi-faceted approach, looking beyond the simplistic idea that energy ‘in’ automatically means energy ‘out’, and that simply putting in macronutrients (e.g. carbohydrates) is what fuels us. Instead, we need to look at optimising the vital micronutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc) and supporting the body processes central to energy production. Think of how a car requires not just petrol or diesel, but oil, water, antifreeze, driving sensibly and regular MOT servicing. Our own human energy system is no different!
A place to begin is the mitochondria. The mitochondria are our cell’s energy factory (or ‘power house’). It’s the job of the mitochondria to produce cellular energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). We know that certain nutrients and enzymes play a huge role in mitochondrial function and, more recently, that genetic variability affect the mitochondria.
1. External influences
The mitochondria’s function may be compromised by oxidative stress (cellular damage). This can be partly from external influences (pollution, stress, chemicals in the environment, alcohol etc) but also cellular damage can occur as part of the natural process of energy production. Therefore, the mitochondria require a diet rich in antioxidants – think colourful vegetables, some fruit, herbs and spices and other healthy foods that supply essential nutrients.
Make sure you eat plenty of protein food such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds, beans/lentils and eggs to support amino acids like glutathione that protect the mitochondria. You can boost your protein in the morning by adding in a green protein-rich smoothie.
Two special antioxidants, alpha lipoic acid and Coenzyme Q10, support energy and protect the mitochondria and mitochondrial ‘biogenesis’. Biogenesis is the process of renewal and increase of the mitochondrial cells. The more mitochondria we have, the less they are ‘overworked’ and the more we gain from them. This all supports optimal energy.
Many of us are low in magnesium and it is this special mineral that is essential for the production of energy. When we are busy and hit by life’s challenges we are also more likely to dip into our magnesium stores so keeping them topped up is important. It is worth supplementing as well as eating foods like dark green vegetables, meat and nuts.
5. Other core nutrients
Vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron and selenium are also required nutrients. These can all be found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans/lentils, dairy products, fish and meat.
6. Healthy fats
These are also ‘fuel’ for the mitochondria. So make sure you increase oily fish in your diet, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil or flax seed oil. Healthy fats also protect the mitochondria by providing anti-inflammatory support.
The mitochondria are also sensitive to toxins and interesting research looks at how some medications and chemicals compromise its function. Supporting the mitochondria with what it needs (e.g. nutrients) is just as important as removing factors which block its function. This is where cleaning up a diet is essential and removing unnecessary toxins. Supporting the health of the gut is also part of this as this in turn supports the immune system and healthy management of inflammation. When inflammation gets out of control it can affect the mitochondria – what is termed as mitochondrial dysfunction. Long before we even understood the science of energy and the mitochondria, natural practitioners across the world have been recommending healthy detoxification as a means of supporting energy production.
8. Being fructose aware
Fructose (fruit sugar) impairs rather than promotes the production of cellular energy. We are not saying to stop eating fruit, but be mindful of stick to two portions of fruit per day, choose ‘whole’ fruit rather than juices and avoid products with added fructose syrups.
For more tips on how you can optimise your energy, see '9 Natural ways of optimising your energy' and '6 Nutrition tips to help support your blood sugar balance'