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Foods to Help Fight Fatigue

Thu 08 Feb 2024 | 08:27 AM
 Dr. Magdy Badran
Dr. Magdy Badran
Dr Magdy Badran

Fatigue is a very common complaint. Fatigue can be caused by various factors working in combination (such as medical conditions, illnesses, unhealthy lifestyle choices, workplace problems, grief, and stress). Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include sleep problems, lack of regular exercise and sedentary behavior, drugs, and poor diet.

Fatigue often gets worse gradually. Fatigue can impact your daily living, and your mental and emotional state.

Dehydration and Fatigue

Dehydration commonly causes fatigue. Even mild cases of dehydration can cause feelings of tiredness and impact your body's ability to perform essential functions.

Staying hydrated is important for maintaining energy levels. The many biochemical reactions that take place in your body everyday result in a loss of water that needs to be replaced. Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough liquid to replace the water lost in your urine, stools, sweat, and breath. Being dehydrated leads to lower energy levels and decreased concentration ability.

Hydration needs depend on several factors, including your weight, age, sex, and activity levels. The key is drinking enough to maintain good hydration.

Caffeine and Fatigue

Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages are known to boost energy levels. However, they can also have the opposite effect by leading to rebound fatigue after the caffeine leaves your system. One review of 41 studies found that although caffeinated energy drinks increased alertness and improved mood for several hours, participants were often more tired than usual the following day.

Be careful with caffeine – anyone feeling tired should cut out caffeine. The best way to do this is to gradually stop having all caffeine drinks over a three-week period. Try to stay off caffeine completely for a month to see if you feel less tired without it.


Breakfast eaters tend to be more physically active in the morning than those who don’t eat until later in the day.

In the morning, after you have gone without food for as long as 12 hours, your glycogen stores are low. Once all of the energy from your glycogen stores is used up, your body starts to break down fatty acids to produce the energy it needs. But without carbohydrate, fatty acids are only partially oxidized, which can reduce your energy levels. Eating breakfast boosts your energy levels and restores your glycogen levels ready to keep your metabolism up for the day. Choose carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods such as cereals or wholegrain bread.

Skipping Meals

Don’t skip meals – going without food for too long allows blood sugar levels to dip. Skipping meals causes the body to lower its metabolism (how much energy it needs to function), causes us to burn less energy (fewer calories), can lead us to gain weight when we eat our usual amount of food, leaves us with little energy because the body has run out of the fuel we get from food, leaves us tired, and causes headaches. Try to eat regularly to maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

Poor Diet

Your diet significantly affects the way you feel. To maintain energy and get the nutrients your body needs to perform critical processes, it’s important to consume a balanced diet high in nutrient-dense foods.

When you don’t obtain enough calories and nutrients like protein, your body breaks down fat and muscle to meet energy demands. This leads to losing body fat and muscle mass, which may trigger fatigue.

Additionally, diets high in ultra-processed foods impair energy levels. For example, a diet high in added sugar may harm sleep and lead to chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels, resulting in fatigue.

Following a diet low in ultra-processed food and added sugar but rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, legumes, and healthy protein sources may help reduce fatigue and support healthy sleep while providing your body with optimal nutrition.

Fatigue and Overeating Go Hand in Hand

Feeling tired after lunch, or post meals in general, is known as postprandial somnolence. When humans eat, most of our blood goes to the digestive organs to process the food.

After a person eats, the body might produce more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and mood — especially if the food was high in the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is found in proteins such as chicken, cheese, and fish. Some people overeat instead of stopping when they feel comfortably satiated, especially if they’re distracted by multitasking. Not eating breakfast can also lead to overindulging later in the day if excessive hunger makes controlling your appetite difficult.

When it comes to why you feel overly tired after eating, a common cause is consuming meals that are heavy in terms of quantity or quality. If you eat a lot more than what your body is designed to handle, your body’s going to spend a long time digesting that food.

A meal high in fat such as fried foods or pizza could make you feel tired. Meals high in added sugar or refined or highly processed carbohydrates can have the same effect because of how the body metabolizes these items versus sugar or carbs in natural or minimally processed foods.

The fiber in so-called whole foods slows the absorption of sugar into the body, which means they don’t cause blood sugar or insulin spikes and instead give you more stability.

Large meals can drain your energy. Instead of eating three big meals per day, try eating six mini meals to spread your kilojoule intake more evenly. This will result in more constant blood sugar and insulin levels. You’ll also find it easier to lose excess body fat if you eat this way.

Iron Rich Foods

Fatigue is considered the cardinal symptom of anemia. Iron helps make red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. Sufficient iron is key for normal energy. Iron is necessary for forming hemoglobin and myoglobin, the oxygen carriers in red blood cells and muscles, respectively. Make sure your diet includes iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, legumes — such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, and dark leafy green vegetables — such as spinach, and broccoli.

Sugar and Fatigue

Two common reasons for tiredness are having too high or too low blood sugar levels. In both cases, tiredness is the result of having an imbalance between one's level of blood glucose and the amount or effectiveness of circulating insulin.

A diet high in added sugar may harm sleep and lead to chronically high blood sugar and insulin levels, resulting in fatigue.

People with high blood sugar commonly feel tired. Studies show that 61% of those diagnosed with diabetes often feel tired and sluggish.

People with normal to prediabetic blood sugar levels can also feel tired when they experience significant spikes in blood sugar.

There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring sugar and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are in foods like fruit, vegetables, and dairy -- and these aren't the types of sugars you need to be super watchful of unless you have a condition like diabetes.

Added sugars are the ones that you find in desserts like cookies and cake, but they can even show up in surprising foods like baked beans and canned fruit. These added sugars can give you a sugar spike of energy and then zap your energy after that spike.

Another reason why sugar makes you feel crummy is because overeating it can cause inflammation in the body. Sugar definitely can make you feel sick, especially if you eat something that's straight added sugar and that doesn't have any protein, fiber, or fat to help balance out how quickly that sugar will have an effect on you. Protein, fat, and fiber are key nutrients to keeping your blood sugar balanced and can help even out the spiking effect that sugar has on your blood sugar.