Nutrients are our fuel and an essential part of energy production. Lack of certain nutrients can result in tiredness, exhaustion and lethargy. In our modern hectic lifestyles, food is often grabbed on the run, with preference for convenience rather than nutrition. Lack of nutritional education pays its toll too. People tend to recycle the nutritional data that has been published in ’70s and apply it to modern lifestyle, not realising that scientific research has gone much further since then and updates on human nutrition are published very often. So it is not surprising that most people complain of chronic tiredness and lack of concentration. In this article, I will explain how we produce energy and what key nutrients are required for its production.
Serious conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), anaemia and pernicious anaemia are on the rise due to nutrient deficiencies. Fatigue can be caused by a number of medical conditions that restrict oxygen supply, i. e. arteriosclerosis results in poor circulation and lack of oxygen for aerobic cell energy production. Ailments that affect blood sugar levels and metabolism are also result in fatigue, i.e. diabetes, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, etc. Chronic fatigue can be caused by viral infections, chronic stress, excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine and sugar (stimulants), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, lack of exercise and obesity.
The Importance Of Oxygen And Water.
We derive energy by breakdown of simple organic compounds and capture the energy released from this process. The production of energy requires carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and a range of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that support various stages of the energy generation process. To effectively digest, absorb and metabolise these nutrients, it is essential to provide two most basic, but very important elements – air and water.
Oxygen supports aerobic metabolism, which is very important, because our main energy “factory” – mitochondria - is an aerobic (oxygen dependent) organism. In the absence of proper delivery of oxygen to cell, the body shifts to a state of anaerobic metabolism, which can be the cause of inflammation, abnormal cell division, greater oxidative stress, etc. One of the best ways to increase the oxygen uptake and the amount of mitochondria is exercise. Yoga is good for its deep breathing techniques, cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, dancing, cycling, etc, are good too. Stress and hunched posture can be the reason of shallow breathing, which results in lack of oxygen, so keeping an eye on your posture is important too.
Water binds to proteins, carbohydrates and nucleic acids to maintain their proper function. Dehydration results in muscle cramps, fatigue, headaches, reduced mental clarity, constipation and accumulation of toxins.
Nutrients For Energy.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins go through a three stage process: Glycolysis (Kreb’s cycle), The Citric Acid Cycle and The Electron Transport Chain.
- First, glucose is split to produce pyruvate.
- Pyruvate is then converted into the CoA (the energy molecule), which produces NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) and FAD (Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide) from vitamins B3 and B2.
- Then, Electron Transport Chain generates energy as NAD and FAD carry electrons that are passed along to oxygen.
The image above shows which nutrients are required to support each stage and as you can see, B vitamins play an important role there.
Carbohydrates. The digestive system converts the carbohydrates into glucose, that is transported to cells for energy. Any glucose not used by the cells is converted into glycogen – a form of carbohydrate that is stored in muscles and liver. The body’s store of Glycogen are limited and once they are depleted, the body will generate glucose from non-carbohydrate sources in the liver. Carbohydrates fuel high intensity, short duration exercise, like sprinting.
Fats are energy rich as each gram supplies the body with 9 calories as opposed to 4 calories carbohydrates and proteins provide. Because fats are such an efficient form of energy, the body stores all forms of excess energy as fat, i. e. unused glucose from carbohydrates transforms into triglycerides (fat) and stored for later use. Thus, over consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugar aids weight gain. The use of fat for energy, requires a lot of oxygen and it is an important fuel source for longer duration and less intense exercise, such as long distance walking, hiking and swimming.
Proteins contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Digestion breaks protein down into their constituent amino acids. If amino acids are in excess of the body’s physiological requirements, they are too metabolised to glycogen or triglycerides and subsequently used for energy metabolism.
B vitamins was the first thing I always recommended to my customers that complained about their low energy levels. B vitamins are water soluble and have to be replenished daily. Considering the crucial part that B vitamins play in energy process and the fact that many people have poor diets nowadays, it is no surprise, that a lot of people do not have enough of B vitamins.
- Thiamine (B1) is an important part of the energy production process. Adequate thiamine levels in the body has been associated with clearer thinking, being composed and energetic. It is also involved in breaking down fat to generate energy.
- Riboflavin (B2) is a component of co-enzymes FAD (Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide) and FMN (Flavin Mononucleotide), that are necessary to both Citric Acid Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain (Stages 2 and 3 of the energy production process).
- Niacin (B3) is used to form NAD, that plays a major role in Electron Transport Chain (see above).
- Pantothenic Acid (B5) is a component of the “energy molecule” CoA (Coenzyme A), which is necessary for both Citric Acid Cycle and the use of fat and protein as energy sources.
- Pyridoxal-5-phosphate or PLP (the active form of B6) functions as a co-enzyme for glycogen phosphorylase – an enzyme that brakes down the release of glucose from carbohydrate stores (glycogen).
- B12 is a natural energy “shot”, which works very well within minutes. It increases energy by elevating red blood cell production. Red blood cells carry oxygen, which is vital for energy and to combat fatigue. B12 also aids in food metabolism. It is beneficial for those with tendency to anaemia, for women during period, vegans and vegetarians, and frequent exercisers.
Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone) is found in mitochondria – our energy production “factory” that generates Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – the energy storage molecule. CoQ10 is the final electron acceptor in the Electron Transport Chain. Its levels reduce significantly with age, stress, poor diet, infections and certain prescription medication, such as statins. CoQ10 is best utilised when taken with medium chain triglycerides (MCT).
Iron is an electron acceptor in the Electron Transport Chain. Iron’s role in energy production is also the “haem” part of the compound haemoglobin in red blood cells, which transports oxygen to tissue, to fuel the release of energy from food.
Magnesium is required for the synthesis of the ATP, that is used to fuel almost all metabolic processes in the body. Magnesium is an essential component in the production and transfer of energy for protein synthesis and contraction of muscles.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid involved in fat metabolism. It helps to break down free long-chain fatty acids into acylcarnitines, and for their subsequent transport into mitochondria of cells, where they are oxidised to produce energy. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a popular supplement for both energy and greater effectiveness of weight loss reduction during and after exercise.
L-Glutamine in the form of L-glutamic acid is a significant fuel source, particularly for the intestinal epithelial (mucosa) cells and muscles.
Diet For Energy.
While it is true that glucose is a primary energy source, it doesn’t mean that simple sugars and refined carbohydrates are good for you. Foods that causing rapid rise in blood sugar should be avoided as it results in a surge of insulin, which quickly depletes blood sugar, causing a “blood sugar crash” that is a root cause of fatigue and food cravings. On the other hand, low sugar levels (hypoglycemia) should also be avoided. The best way to combat fatigue is to eat slow release, complex carbohydrates, proteins and food fats with every meal.
The Glycemic Index (GI) diet, where the food consumed should be of low glycemic index is very good for maintaining energy levels and as a side effect, reducing weight. Example of high GI foods that should be avoided are simple carbohydrates, such as refined (white) grains and anything that is made of them, i. e. white bread, simple starches, like white potatoes, bananas and simple sugars, which includes pretty much all sweeteners. For the slow and steady energy release, consume low GI carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, lean protein and good fats, such as Omega 3, 6 and 9 and medium chain triglycerides (coconut oil). Try to eat smaller meals three to four times a day. The transition to such diet is not instant and some people might experience cravings and hunger pangs. In these situation, have a high fibre snack, such as sugar free oat flapjack, rough oatcake with pure peanut butter or any other nut butter, or a protein bar or shake (sugar free). “Mediterranean diet” is rich in good fats and protein, plenty of fibre from vegetables and wholegrains and not too sweet fruits. This is a good diet to follow to keep the energy levels high and heart healthy.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee. Although caffeine is a stimulant, it mimics adenosine and binds to adenosine receptors in brain. Adenosine is necessary for a good night sleep and relaxation. The caffeine “impostor” does not slow down cell’s activity like adenosine would and as a result of caffeine binding to adenosine receptors, they do not recognise adenosine any longer. Caffeine also stimulate the production of dopamine and adrenaline which temporary makes you feel good and alert, but as this effect wears off, one needs more to fill the buzz again. Thus, long term frequent consumption of coffee is a downward spiral, that disrupts adenosine binding, and contributes to fatigue, inadequate blood sugar levels, anxiety, stress and even depression.
Supplements For Energy.
Research shows that B vitamins, CoQ10, magnesium, L-Glutamine and L-Carnitine are all required for the regeneration of energy and can be effectively used to enhance energy release from food and boost energy throughout the day.
Most good multivitamins would provide up to 100mg of each B and 400mcg of folic acid, which is very good. Multivitamin tablets generally provide a decent amount of magnesium, vitamin C and Iron, so there’s no need to take a dozen of pills, but do search around for a good quality multi, because this is the base.
Apart of multivitamin, supplements to consider would be:
Acetyl-L-Carnitine 500-1000 mg
CoQ10 with MCT – 30-60 mg
L-Glutamine – capsules: 1000-5000 mg or powder 2-5 g per day. It is not recommended to exceed 5 g per day without prior consultation with nutritionally oriented doctor.
B12 can be taken in larger doses to top up multivitamin – up to 1000mcg and in cases of anaemia 2000mcg.
Chromium picolinate is not exactly useful for energy production, but it is well know for its blood sugar balancing qualities. Chromium is great supplement for those who have hunger shakes and severe carbohydrate cravings, causes by sugar crash. A good multivitamin should contain enough Chromium, but for those with cravings, up to 200 mcg for 6 weeks is recommended.
Vitamin C is needed for Cantinine synthesis and can be taken up to 2000 mcg per day on top of multivitamin.
Those who prefer herbal remedies, might find Ginseng very stimulating. It increases mental alertness, stamina and resistance to every day stress. Siberian Ginseng is milder than Korean and has fewer contraindications. Take 1000-1500mg daily. Care should be taken with ginseng as it is not suitable for people with breast disease, high blood pressure, nervous tension or nervous headache. Women suffering from PMT are advised to take Siberian ginseng.
All of the above is yet another proof that a good, well-balanced diet, exercise and supplements are all very important for general health and well-being, free of fatigue, extra weight, bad mood and diseases.