Smart phones, time management apps, online shopping, a connected world where you can find a chinese restaurant at the touch of a button… we live in an age of convenience. It is easier than ever before to get information or book tickets, dinner and activities. But the downside of this super-paced lifestyle is that it can feel like we are being stripped of our energy. We do more but we are more tired because of it. We pack more into our days, but at the cost of our energy levels due to constantly being connected and wired.
Many of us respond to this fatigue by reaching for quick fix remedies. We increase our caffeine intake to get through early mornings and late nights. But it’s a temporary fix that masks our fading energy, rather than boosting it. Longer term fixes include changes in our lifestyle, slowing down, resting more. But that can be hard to do. Sometimes life doesn’t allow for those changes in the way our body would like.
What if there was a pill you could take to increase your energy levels? Would you try it? Maybe you’re already thinking of the caffeine tablets, the energy drinks and shots that are available over the counter. Do they really work? And at what cost? What are the alternatives? We went in search of some answers and this is what we found...
Natural Stimulants: How They Work And Their Effect On The Body
Prescription drugs such as amphetamines are created in laboratories and regulated due to the stimulant effect they have on the body. On the other hand, natural stimulants are active ingredients like caffeine, guarana (found in many energy drinks), Huperzine-A, Ashwaghanda, cacao and even natural sources like ginger. Stimulants have an immediate effect on the body. Rather like someone pouring cold water on a sleeping person, stimulants wake up our bodies.
Stimulants work to produce increased energy, a reduced appetite or an improved mental focus and clarity. They often increase your natural heart rate, by some degree. That is why you may feel more alert when you have a natural stimulant.
The downside of stimulants depends on the individual substance. Caffeine and guarana can give people headaches and a slump after their effects wear off. In more extreme cases, some stimulants can cause palpitations and health problems, depending on the amount ingested.
Why Do People Rely On Natural Stimulants?
The main reason is a lack of energy to start with. Tiredness, fatigue and a busy lifestyle can all lead to people reaching for that double espresso or a can of energy drink. But is that really the best solution for your body?
Stimulants like caffeine and guarana can often seem like the ‘quick-fix’ solution to a lack of energy or fatigue. But often, your body is trying to tell you it is lacking in nutrients it needs to function at its best. While stimulants can mask those signs temporarily, they won’t necessarily address the underlying causes.
Vitamins and Energy Levels
Your body thrives when it has the right balance of nutrients for optimal health and energy. So what vitamins are proven to increase your energy levels? Should you be looking to take a supplement or just improve your daily diet?
Vitamin B-12: For Energy
Vitamin B-12 is needed by everybody, which can be a problem for vegans and vegetarians in particular, when it comes to following a plant-based diet. It is naturally found in red meat, fish and dairy products, with a very small amount found in vegetables. Vitamin B-12 is vital for healthy blood cells, supporting the nervous and digestive systems, and it’s probably most famous for energy. It’s what we need to convert carbohydrates into glucose, and therefore the energy for our bodies to use.
Being deficient in Vitamin B-12 can cause anaemia, nerve damage, heart diseases and many other ailments. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling faint, breathlessness and headaches.Those following a plant-based diet are recommended to take a supplement to ensure the right amount of Vitamin B-12 levels in your daily diet.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
According to Public Health England, most of us aren’t getting enough Vitamin D. That is because unlike a lot of other nutrients, Vitamin D3 is made in our bodies, through a chemical reaction when our skin comes into contact with the sun’s rays. Given the lack of sun for most of the year in the UK, our bodies don’t produce enough of the vitamin naturally.
What has this got to do with our energy levels? Well, traditionally we may think of Vitamin D as essential for bone health, which is true. But a study from Newcastle University in 2013, explains that muscle fatigue can be a result of low levels of Vitamin D. “Alongside poor bone health, muscle fatigue is a common symptom in vitamin D deficient patients. This fatigue could be due to reduced efficiency of the mitochondria: the ‘power stations’ within each cell of the body.” Click here to read the full article
Although there are some foods that contain Vitamin D, this is often in very low levels. These foods also only contain the Vitamin D2 variant, which needs to go through a conversion process in the body before it can be effective. Vitamin D3 is the type of Vitamin D our bodies really need.
Why is it important? Vit D
- Improves immune system - Prietl et al. (2013)1
- Improves bone health via supporting calcium absorption - Hill et al. (2013)2
- Reduces risk of bone loss & fracture risk in the elderly - Hill et al. (2013)2
- Vitamin D deficiency associated with development of CVD, cancer, IBD & AI disorders - Holick (2007)3
- Reduces depressive symptoms - Shaffer et al. (2014)4
- Vitamin D potentially improves strength - Tomlinson et al. (2015)5
- Potentially improves fat loss - Ortega et al. (2008)6
Omega-3: The Fatty Acids
When it comes to energy and nutrients, Omega-3 is right up there as essential for your body to function at its best. Omega-3 not only helps brain function, attention levels, memory and alertness, but also are an anti-inflammatory, helping to renew cells and energy levels. Naturally found in fish oil, this can be an issue for those following a plant-based diet. There are supplements available - those considering a supplement should look for one containing Omega-3 EPA and DHA, rather than ALA, which is the least effective form of the Omega-3.
Are All Supplements Created Equal?
You may now be considering taking a supplement to increase your intake of one or more of the nutrients we have looked at so far. But what supplement do you choose? Is there any difference between supplements? If you can take a multivitamin for all three and more, why wouldn’t you?
The answer lies in the results you might get depending on the supplement you choose. Like any market, the supplements market is crammed full of options, particularly if you are following a plant-based diet. However, not all supplements are created equal! Choosing the right supplement for your needs means you will be getting the results your body needs.
Here’s a few points to consider:
- How effective is that multi-vitamin? Some nutrients are absorbed in different ways and need different conditions. Some nutrients are less effective when combined with other vitamins. If you are considering taking a multivitamin, make sure the company has explained their process in combining those nutrients. Also check how much of each nutrient is in the supplement you are taking.
- Vitamin D3 not D2. Many vegetarian and vegan supplements are Vitamin D2, which needs to be converted by the body to be effective. Vitamin D3 vegan and vegetarian supplements are available and give your body the Vitamin D it needs immediately.
- Vitamin B-12 injections. There is a growing trend for Vitamin B-12 injections, particularly for those following a plant-based diet. While this can be a good way to get a high dose of Vitamin B-12 immediately, evidence suggests that many are unable to absorb the higher level dose and as such can get as little as 10mcg of a 500 mcg supplement. This can leave you thinking you are covered but not actually getting the vitamin B-12 your body needs.
What Is Behind Your Lack Of Energy?
We all lead busy lives. So it can be natural to lack in energy and feel fatigued. But it is important to track your energy levels, as this can be a symptom of an underlying health condition. As well as trying to improve your nutritional levels, it is always seek the advice of a health professional regarding your concerns. It could be that you need to be tested for underlying conditions, such as chronic fatigue or anaemia.
According to Fitness and Nutrition Coach, Dave Mercer, it is also important to note here that people who follow a vegan diet will find it difficult to get the sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals from the above groups through plant-based food along. “Daily supplements of the required vitamins should be included in your diet to ensure your levels remain optimal for balanced health,” Mercer added.
Changing Your Lifestyle
Getting the right nutrients your body needs to function at its best will help improve your energy levels. But your body also needs a healthy, balanced diet and the right amount of rest balanced with regular exercise. If you are finding yourself lacking in energy, maybe it is a good time to take a step back and consider making some lifestyle changes. Are you eating a balanced diet, whether that is plant-based or with animal products? Are you getting enough sleep and sleep of a good quality? Do you need to plan some time off or time out to recharge? Small changes can make a big difference.
So... Is there a pill that can give me more energy?
Well the answer is both yes and no. Vitamins and minerals are an important part of nutrition, but they are just a part of the whole picture. If your body is lacking rest, water or balanced nutrition, then no supplement will be able to provide a quick fix solution. But, as a part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, supplements can provide that extra boost your body needs to function at its optimum best.
Download our Free Guide now - Ultimate Guide to Supplements
If you would like to know more about what the nutrients your body needs and where supplements can be helpful (and where they aren’t!) download our free guide now:
- Vitamin D and Immune Function
Nutrients. 2013 Jul; 5(7): 2502–2521.
Published online 2013 Jul 5. doi: 10.3390/nu5072502
- The role of vitamin D in maintaining bone health in older people
Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2017 Apr; 9(4): 89–95.
Published online 2017 Feb 14. doi: 10.1177/1759720X17692502
- Vitamin D deficiency, N Engl J Med. 2007 Jul 19;357(3):266-81.
- Vitamin D supplementation for depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosom Med. 2014 Apr;76(3):190-6. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000044.
- J Sci Med Sport. 2015 Sep;18(5):575-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2014.07.022. Epub 2014 Aug 11.
Effects of vitamin D supplementation on upper and lower body muscle strength levels in healthy individuals. A systematic review with meta-analysis.
- International Journal of Obesity volume 32, pages 1–11 (2008)
doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803774 Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence: a powerful marker of health https://www.nature.com/articles/0803774