Tip No. 1: Have a Morning Cocktail
We aren't kidding! There's a simple natural cocktail that will start your day with a bang: "Every morning, before you even brush your teeth, mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into one cup of water," says Nikki Ostrower, a nutritional expert and founder of NAO Nutrition in New York City. "You want it to be raw apple cider vinegar, as that's naturally fermented and has important antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients that are important for energy-boosting." Drinking this funky elixir every morning will aid digestion, too.
Try one of these!
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, $4, bragg.com.
Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar by White House, $5, jet.com.
Tip No. 2: Eat. Breakfast. Please.
How many times have your parents told you not to skip breakfast? Turns out that the early meal really is important. "Have your biggest meal at breakfast since digestion is strongest in the morning," Ostrower says. "You'll want to stick to unprocessed, whole-food meals, meaning foods that are in their natural state."
"The body has this amazing ability to restore itself." —Nikki Ostrower
Forgo sugary cereals and granola bars, and opt for whole-grain oatmeal with healthy fats such as coconut oil, chia seeds, or hemp seeds. "The high fiber, healthy fat, and protein content will sustain blood sugar levels." (Blood sugar maintains energy, so you want it to be steady.) Alternatively, eat two eggs in any style with avocado; yogurt (from grass-fed cows) with berries and flax seeds; or fish. "Wild smoked salmon is a great brain food and has beneficial sources of omega-3 and protein."
Tip No. 3: Upgrade Your Lunch and Snacks
As lunchtime rolls around, of course you want to feast on pizza. But if you're trying to keep a clear mind, try something new. "Have a protein—sourced from either an animal or legume—with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds," Ostrower says.
"Remember that coffee is a stimulant that will give you energy for about an hour or two."
Around 4 p.m., when you feel the need to hit up the vending machine, go for natural bites. "Eat a sweet potato with coconut oil, veggie sticks with hummus, half an avocado with olive oil and sea salt, grass-fed beef jerky, or even wild smoked salmon on a rice cake," Ostrower says. "Those are really awesome energy-boosting snacks that will have you feeling and looking your best."
Tip No. 4: Limit Your Coffee Intake
Don't fall into the temptation of grabbing a coffee every time fatigue hits, though it's OK to have a cup or two. "Monitor how much coffee you're drinking, but remember that coffee is a stimulant that will give you energy for about an hour or two," Ostrower says. "If you drink it properly, you're fine, meaning that if you're eating clean and engaging in physical activity 75 percent of the time, then you can spend 25 percent on things like caffeine and alcohol—the body has this amazing ability to restore itself when you treat it right 75 percent of the time."
"Try to reach for a green tea instead," Ostrower says. "It gives you a more stable source of energy because it has a ton of antioxidants." Enjoy your green tea any way you like: try a matcha latte or mixed into a smoothie.
Tip No. 5: Set a (Loose) Schedule
Don't stress over an hour-by-hour eating regimen, but it helps to time your meals, large or small, throughout the day. "If you have a sedentary job, you could probably eat every four and a half hours," Ostrower says. "When you're more active, try munching every three and a half hours."
Tip No. 6: Know Your Nutrients
There are three important players that affect your alertness: B vitamins, like B12, vitamin D, and amino acids. "B vitamins are known for their role in increasing energy levels, boosting your mood, and improving your concentration," Ostrower says. "You can find B12 in animal products, but not so much in plant food." You can get Vitamin D from good ol' sunshine, as well as in foods like fish, cod liver oil, and egg yolks that come from pasteurized eggs, says Ostrower.
"If you go to bed on a full belly, your body concentrates more on digestion than it does on sleeping."
Amino acids help keep blood sugar levels steady, and they also "protect brain cells, lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and help to maintain muscle mass," says Ostrower. "You can find them in non-processed forms of red meat, seafood, chicken, and dairy." Portion out your meat to the size of a deck of cards, though, because if you overdo it, you could get too full and feel sleepy!
Tip No. 7: Consider the Seasonings
Integrate more flavor into your life with good-for-you spices. "Turmeric is a powerhouse healing spice that increases energy and is anti-inflammatory," Ostrower says. "You can throw some on top of cauliflower or on top of any vegetable, really." Spirulina, an algae, and maca root both store energy inside your body, so you can stave off fatigue. Try them in smoothies!
Tip No. 8: Customize for Your Lifestyle
If you find yourself staying at work late or you study far into the night, make a dinner that's light and optimal for bedtime. "If you go to bed on a full belly, your body concentrates more on digestion than it does on sleeping," Ostrower says. "The best option is to have a small meal or snack, such as a smoothie or bone broth soup." She suggests eating one to two hours before you go to bed so your food can digest properly.
And if you enjoy an after-work workout, plan ahead: "Have dinner at your office around 5 p.m., go to your fitness class, then have a snack when you get home." Moderation is key, because while you've focused on staying alert throughout the day, you want to make sure you still prepare yourself for a restful night of sleep! See, energy does come full circle, it seems. ;)