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How you can increase energy!

Words and photography by Kirsty Urquhart

It is very rare that I see a client who doesn’t have issues with energy. Fatigue is actually one of the main complaints that I see within my clinical practice and it’s something that I feel a lot of people struggle with every day!

Here are just some of the reasons a person may be experiencing fatigued;

· Stress - which you can read more about here

· Depression and anxiety

· Nutritional deficiencies - such as Iron, B12, Zinc and Essential Fatty Acids

· Poor sleep

· Poor mitochondrial function - our cells energy powerhouses

· Impaired digestive function

· Thyroid dysfunction - Underlying Hypothyroidism

· Chronic fatigue syndrome

Depending on the root cause of fatigue different nutrients may be supportive and beneficial. This post is a very general look at some of the nutrients that can support energy to reduce fatigue. In particular highlighting 3 of the points above. If you are suffering from fatigue and would like a more personalised outlook you may benefit from a nutrition consultation.

Energy that powers the body’s metabolic processes is derived from the food we eat. Fighting fatigue with food helps us explore dietary sources which contain these vital nutrients. Whilst diet plays an imperative part in fatigue, sleep and movement also help make up the whole picture!

Mitochondrial Function

Lets begin with mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are our cells energy powerhouses. They generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is a series of reactions that break down larger molecules into smaller molecules to generate energy which is known as cellular respiration.

The transformation of energy from dietary sources (such as carbohydrates, fat and protein) into ATP requires several micronutrients which act as cofactors and coenzymes in the chain of reactions to produce energy.

Magnesium plays a major role in glucose and fat metabolism and the production of energy. It is required by all enzymatic reactions involving ATP.

Sources; Amaranth, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and cacao, quinoa, tofu, dark leafy greens, brown rice, spinach, cashews, almonds, chia seeds, chickpeas, walnuts, avocado, banana and legumes

B group vitamins are essential cofactors in the conversion of carbohydrates, fats and protein into energy, helping release energy from the food we consume.

Sources; Sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, oats, mushrooms, avocado, green vegetables, banana, pumpkin seeds, legumes, almonds, walnuts, red meat, fish and liver

Coenzyme Q10 assists the mitochondria in generating energy from carbohydrates and fatty acids, supporting and speeding up the energy generation process.

Food Sources; Meat, fish, trout, sesame seeds, broccoli and cauliflower

Other micronutrients that support mitochondrial function and macronutrient metabolism include, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, copper, iron, manganese and zinc

Iron assists in burning carbohydrates and fats to produce energy

Nutritional Deficiencies

There are many reasons why a person may develop nutritional deficiencies. An inadequate micronutrient intake, poor diet, restricted diet, malabsorption due to impaired digestive function, abnormal metabolism and the use of some medications.

Iron deficiency is a common health problem, especially in a menstruating woman.. When we don’t consume enough dietary iron our stores (ferritin) can become low and one of the main symptoms presents as fatigue. Iron is needed for over 90 enzymatic reactions, it assists in burning carbohydrates and fats to produce energy, it transports oxygen to the lungs and the body, it’s a cofactor for production of energy in the mitochondria. Vitamin C works with Iron to assist in absorption, non-haem sources (plant based) and best paired with vitamin C.

Sources; Livers, Dried apricots, lentils, quinoa, black strap molasses, cooked spinach, tofu, lean meats, chia seeds, cashews, eggs, fish, broccoli, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

Zinc also plays a role in energy metabolism and around 90 enzymes utilize zinc for activity in our bodies. Without the correct levels of zinc, cells are unable to properly utilize dietary nutrients, disrupting the capacity to produce energy. Along with fatigue other symptoms of zinc deficiency include hair loss, loss of appetite, changes to your sense of taste and smell, acne and lowered immunity.

Sources; Oysters, lean beef, turkey, cashews, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, fish, sunflower seeds, chia seeds

*If you are concerned about your iron or zinc statis, it is best to see a GP to be tested for deficiencies

Impaired digestive function

Digestion may just be the most important function of the body to have working correctly. There are several problems that tend to cause impaired digestive function that can in turn lead to feelings of fatigue. We want our digestion to be working optimally so we can absorb and utilise all of the nutrients that we are ingesting. Symptoms such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, flatulence and reflux can indicate impaired digestion.

Intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut’ is the breakdown of the borders between each cell in the small intestine. These cells, when in a healthy state, should sit together tightly, if the border is compromised then the cells can move apart allowing proteins to enter into the bloodstream, compromising digestion and nutrient absorption.

Other factors that compromise digestion include food intolerances and allergies, nutritional deficiencies, dysbiosis (an imbalance in the levels and types of bacteria in the gut), parasitic infections, candida and yeast overgrowths (caused by consuming a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates) and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). If you suffer from food intolerances and allergies the best way to ensure your digestion isn’t compromised is to avoid consuming these foods.

The best way to support your digestion? Eat a diet based on wholefoods with minimal processing, fill up your plate with plenty of greens, avoid and reduce foods that feel aggravating, write a food recall and symptom diary to try to connect the dots to the foods that feel aggravating if you aren’t aware of them and seek the assistance of a health care practitioner to address the root cause of symptoms.

As always, we have to play a special mention to the importance of sleep and movement! Make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night and get your body moving when you can (like going on a hike), both support our digestive capacity, improving our gut health and reduce the incidence of fatigue!

About the author

Qualifications: Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine and Dietetics), Registered Clinical Nutritionist (ANTA)

Kirsty Urquhart is a holistic clinical Nutritionist who is passionate about empowering and educating people through their journey with health. With an emphasis on food as medicine, she believes in the healing nature of food and the many rewards it can provide to assist in wellbeing and vitality. Her moto is ‘finding balance’, with a strong focus around individualised care.

When she isn’t in clinical practice, you’ll find her exploring a new hiking track, creating new recipes, cooking for friends, trying to improve her gardening skills or deep into a crime thriller novel!

You can find out more about Kirsty on her website or instagram.


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