Updated: Apr 23, 2019
by Rebecca Jones
No amount of coaxing, pleading, or pedal pumping could get the engine in the rental car to turn over. It was going nowhere. The travelers had filled the car with unleaded fuel, but it had a diesel engine. It had been able to run a little way on the wrong fuel, but not far. And when it finally stopped, it stopped for good.
Sometimes cars and humans aren't so different. Both need the right fuel to run at maximum efficiency. Put too much of the wrong stuff in, and a breakdown may be unavoidable.
Here are some tips to keep your body humming along like a well-tuned engine, full of energy.
Be Snack Smart Strategic snacking can be a good way to smooth out dips in your energy level and avoid hunger cravings that can lead you to overeat when you finally do sit down to a full meal. So go ahead and snack. Just be as choosey in your snack selection as you are in meal planning.
Don't fall for the fiction that all so-called "energy bars" are unpalatable but good for you, while candy bars are delicious but bad. Many energy bars are filled with sugar, so read labels, and look for high fiber, high protein, and limited carbs.
Nuts are among the best choices for healthy, pick-me-up snacks, nutritionists say. Nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, and hazelnuts are all loaded with magnesium, a mineral whose health benefits include improving heart health, decreasing the risk of diabetes, reducing stress, improving muscle functioning, and reducing insomnia.
Another super snack food is dark chocolate, which is rich in heart-protecting antioxidants and can improve blood flow, which will energize flagging muscles. Even milk chocolate gets a thumbs up because it provides calcium for the bones. So enjoy it--in moderation.
Stay Hydrated Just because you're not thirsty does not mean you aren't dehydrated, and even slight dehydration can leave you tired and lethargic. The answer is, of course, to drink plenty of water. If the taste of plain water doesn't excite you, consider some of the flavored varieties, keeping in mind that loads of extra sugar should be avoided.
One increasingly popular healthy hydration alternative is coconut water, which studies suggest may hydrate more quickly than plain H2O and which contains more potassium and less sodium than other energy drinks.
Massage and More The inherent demands of your life may lead to muscle strains, stress, and other conditions that can affect your energy levels. One of the best strategies is to get into a regular pattern of receiving massage. If you feel the need for some quick bodywork between sessions, consider self-massage possibilities.
One option is to use a foam roller, a firm foam log that comes in varying thicknesses--think of them as comfy rolling pins. You can use your own body weight to generate direct pressure as you roll over the roller, working out muscle knots.
Aromatherapy is also a great way to get a quick energy boost, as certain scents are able to fight fatigue. Queen among them is peppermint, and other lethargy busters include eucalyptus, citrus, cardamom, and even cinnamon and black pepper.
Get Some Rest The number one myth about sleep is that you can get by on six hours a night. The truth is that the further away you deviate from getting eight hours sleep a night--and some people get too much, not too little--the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, obesity, and a host of other maladies.
Make sleep a priority. Get on a regular schedule, stick to it, and stop allotting to sleep only whatever time is left over after everything else gets accomplished. Once you've gone to bed, though, you have to actually go to sleep, and for many people that's no easy feat.
Caffeine is often the culprit. Caffeine is a great pick-me-up first thing in the morning, but it has a six- to seven-hour "half-life," meaning that half the caffeine in that cup of coffee you consumed to ward off the 3:00 p.m. doldrums will still be lingering in your bloodstream after the 10:00 p.m. news.
Another stimulant many people don't often consider is light--particularly light from a computer or television screen. Dim light from a soft reading lamp is fine, but the bright blue light of electronic devices sears itself into our minds and fools them into thinking it's still daylight outside, which makes falling asleep seem unnatural. Heat, whether internal or external, will also disrupt sleep. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees. The cool air then wicks away heat from your body, which allows you to fall asleep. Anything you do to increase your body's core temperature, like exercising or eating a big meal right before bedtime, makes it harder for your body to cool down to a comfortable sleeping temperature.
Naps are tricky luxuries. Taken wisely and in moderation, they'll restore mental alertness and fuel you through a long afternoon. But too long a nap or a poorly-timed nap will leave you feeling drained after you get up, and will make it harder to fall asleep come bedtime. Timing also matters. Grab a morning nap to boost your creativity and mental alertness or a late-afternoon nap to restore lost physical energy and boost your immune system--a nap around noon provides a little of both.
Rebecca Jones is a Denver-based freelance writer.