Feel like you hit a brick wall of tiredness at 3pm? It may be worth looking at your diet, because flagging energy levels could be caused by a lack of certain vitamins and minerals.
Whether you’re puzzling over a spreadsheet or running for the bus, the energy we call upon to get us through the day is derived from the food we eat. But to actually transform the carbs, fats and proteins on our plates into the kind of energy our cells can use involves certain vitamins.
Vitamins are essential nutrients that perform hundreds of roles in the body, from helping to heal wounds to improving our immune systems. But another one of their vital functions is to help convert food into energy.
But how do they work, and which vitamins for energy are worth taking? And are there any lifestyle changes you can make to raise your energy levels even more? Our guide has all the answers.
How vitamins help boost energy levels
When the food you eat is digested, it has to be broken down by enzymes. These special proteins act as catalysts to turn digested food into really small particles that can be absorbed by our cells. Once inside the cells, the tiny particles are funneled into sub-compartments called mitochondria. These little powerhouses convert the particles into energy molecules called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.
But the enzymes that start this important bodily process don’t work alone. Enzymes can’t work without coenzymes, because these either enhance their action or are necessary for enzymes to work altogether.
So where do vitamins fit into all this? Certain vitamins and minerals are key components of the coenzymes needed to release energy from food, while others help the mitochondria generate ATP. If you’re deficient in any of these important micronutrients, the energy-releasing chain reaction won’t work as efficiently. The result? You’re probably not going to feel like leaping out of bed in the morning.
The best vitamins to boost energy
So which vitamins help us the most when it comes to releasing energy from food? Let’s take a look at the list of usual suspects when it comes to vitamins for tiredness and find out how you can make sure you’re getting enough.
There are eight types of B-vitamins and all of them have a role to play in converting the food we eat into the kind of energy that gets you through a spin class. But the best known of them all in relation to energy has to be vitamin B12.
One of nature’s best energy boosters, symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, faintness, headaches and loss of appetite.
Found in meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified breakfast cereals, vitamin B12 is often called the ‘energy vitamin’ because it’s essential for cellular energy production. It helps your body metabolise the fats and carbohydrates you eat, and aids in the synthesis of proteins, too.
Should you take a vitamin B12 supplement?
In an ideal world, your diet would provide all the energy-boosting vitamin B12 you need. But because it’s found mainly in animal foods like meat and dairy, both vegetarians and vegans could be at risk of B12 deficiency - and suffer from fatigue and low energy levels as a result.
Some vegan sources of the energy vitamin include breakfast cereals, soya drinks that have been fortified with B12, or a yeast extract. But if you don’t fancy marmite on toast with a soya shake every day, the NHS advises that vegans take a supplement to get their vitamin B12 boost.
Even if you’re not a vegan, you may still not be consuming enough B12 in your daily diet. Recent figures showed one in 12 women aged between 19 and 39 were B12 deficient, despite consuming the UK’s recommended daily intake for adults of 1.5 micrograms per day.
The problem might be that our recommended basic daily intake of B12 is set too low. Other national recommended amounts are far higher, with the US government advising 2.4mcg while the well-respected European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggest we need 4mcg per day.
Older people may also benefit from taking a B12 supplement as the vitamin becomes more difficult to absorb as you get older. A blood test from your GP can determine if you’re at risk.
What are the best B12 supplements?
The best way to get any vitamin is always through a healthy diet, but sometimes even healthy people can feel better when they take a B-complex supplement, which combines all eight of the B-complex vitamins into a single dose.
It’s important to remember that although B12 is best known for its involvement in energy production, B-group vitamins as a whole are all involved in this process which is why a B-complex supplement is usually preferential to just B12 on its own.
What happens if you take too much vitamin B12?
Some people take large amounts of vitamin B12 supplements in the hope they’ll see an instant boost in their energy levels. But if your levels of B12 are adequate to start off with, you may not notice much of a difference.
Taking too much could potentially be harmful, particularly if you suffer from kidney problems because these organs will have to work hard to flush out any excess.
A standard dose in a normal vitamin B12 supplement is safe to take.
Next on our list of vitamins to boost energy are the other seven types of B-vitamins. These also have an important role to play in converting the food we eat into energy, but are easier to come by in our diets.
Thiamine (B1) Found in peas, seeds, nuts, fresh and dried fruits and wholemeal bread, thiamin helps turn carbohydrates into energy. You may be deficient or have extra requirements if you drink excessive amounts of alcohol or eat a poor diet.
Riboflavin (B2) Found in dairy sources like milk, yoghurt and eggs, as well as leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals, riboflavin helps the mitochondria produce ATP from food. You may be deficient or have extra requirements if you don’t drink milk or eat meat.
Niacin (B3) Found in high amounts in animal-based foods such as beef, poultry and salmon as well as peanuts, potatoes and sunflower seeds, niacin is a precursor to the coenzyme NAD which converts to NADH, the primary carrier of electrons in the transfer of food into energy. You could be at risk of deficiency if your body doesn’t metabolise niacin properly.
Pantothenic acid (B5) Found in a huge variety of foods including meat, milk, peanuts and legumes, pantothenic acid metabolises carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol.
Pyridoxine (B6) Found in grains, green and leafy vegetables, meat, nuts, and fruit, pyridoxine helps in the release of energy from foods. The elderly and women on the contraceptive pill are at particular risk of deficiency.
Biotin (B7) Found in meat, oily fish, avocado and nuts, we use B7 for energy metabolism,amino acid metabolism and fat and glycogen synthesis.
Folic acid (folate or B9) Found in green leafy vegetables, peas, chickpeas, poultry, eggs, and citrus fruits, folic acid regulates mitochondrial enzymes and helps the body use fats and protein.
Should you take a supplement of B-vitamins?
It’s worth pointing out that if your diet is varied and balanced it should be providing you with all the B-vitamins you need, because this group is found in so many common foods. But because B-vitamins are water soluble and delicate, they’re easily destroyed, particularly by processing or cooking.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re getting a healthy supply every day, because most of the B-vitamins (with the exception of B12 and folate) can’t be stored with the body. A few months of eating a poor diet can seriously deplete your body’s vitamin B levels. You may also be deficient if you have excessive alcohol intake.
According to Public Health England’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), most at risk of a vitamin B-complex deficiency were young adults and women. Women were found to have intakes of riboflavin, folic acid and vitamin B6 much lower than men, while young adults had significantly lower intakes of riboflavin and folic acid.
What happens if you take too many B-vitamins?
Taking too much of any vitamin can be harmful, but the amounts found in supplements aren’t considered high enough to be toxic, provided you stick to the recommended dose. Be careful if taking folic acid as you get older, as having too much in your body can mask the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency, something that gets more common as you age.
You may not have linked vitamin D and energy levels, but deficiency in this hormone is often found in people presenting with fatigue. Supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to improve energy levels in people who were already lacking an adequate store.
Vitamin D improves both muscle function and enhances the activity of the mitochondria. But while vitamin D is produced naturally by the skin using the energy from sunlight, alarm over skin cancer or accelerated ageing have lead many of us to hide from the sun’s rays. So if you’re looking to get a sun-free vitamin D energy boost, try eating more fish, fish liver oils or egg yolks.
Should you take a vitamin D supplement?
That depends both on the time of year, and how much time you spend outdoors. You should be able to get the vitamin D you need from sunlight from early April to the end of September, as long as you go out daily, ideally between 11am to 3pm. You shouldn’t stay out long enough to burn, but you’ll need to keep your forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and sunscreen-free.
But when it comes to the rest of the year, most of us are not getting enough vitamin D. According to government surveys, one in five people in the UK are now deficient in the energy boosting hormone, leaving the government concerned enough to change its advice on supplementation.
The new advice is that everyone over the age of five (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D, at least during the winter months.
Current UK guidelines suggest that taking 10iu of vitamin D is sufficient, but many experts working in the field believe this is far too low to reach blood levels linked to better health outcomes. In the US, for example, the general population is advised to take 400 to 800iu of vitamin D.
Based on current research, it’s believed that consuming 1,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily is the only way for most people to achieve healthy vitamin D blood levels.
What happens if you take too much vitamin D?
You would have to take huge amounts of vitamin D daily to reach toxicity levels. In fact, nutritional researchers specialising in this field suggest taking 2,000iu daily.
Other supplements for energy
So are there any other supplements you should be considering to keep you feeling energetic? Here’s a list of the most important….
Co-enzyme Q10 is found in the cells of almost all animals and bacteria. It works like a vitamin and helps generate energy in your cells. Our bodies produce CoQ10 naturally, but levels decrease with age and can be depleted by the use of certain medications, such as statins.
Although it’s found in foods like meat (most concentrated in organ meats), oily fish and sesame seeds, adequate amounts of CoQ10 can be hard to come by in the diet, particularly if you’re vegetarian. Supplementing can be very beneficial and also has the added benefit of supporting cardiovascular health.
Iron transports and stores oxygen in the muscle, releasing it when needed during a contraction. Fatigue is a common symptom of an iron deficiency (otherwise known as anaemia).
A simple blood test from your doctor can tell you whether you are anaemic or have extra iron requirements. It’s worth getting checked before you start on any iron supplements because this nutrient can be dangerous taken in excessive amounts.
Boost your intake by consuming dietary sources daily including dark-green leafy vegetables, meat and pulses, while avoiding foods such as tea, coffee, milk and dairy, as these could stop your body from absorbing iron as efficiently.
Iodine is found in small amounts in the thyroid gland where it helps make thyroid hormones. These play a huge part in how the body uses energy in virtually every cell in the body. If your body is iodine deficient, fatigue may soon follow.
Although it’s found in fish and seafood, many of us aren’t eating enough. Recent research has revealed that many UK populations are now mild to moderately iodine deficient, with school girls and young women particularly at risk. An iodine supplement can be useful if you suspect you’re not getting enough iodine through your diet.
Zinc, magnesium and chromium
If you’re physically active, making sure you have adequate amounts of zinc, magnesium and chromium is important. All three make sure that your body has the capacity for increased energy expenditure when you need it most.
Eating for energy
Hoping eating for energy meant downing an espresso with two digestive biscuits? If you want long-lasting energy throughout the day, it’s time to trade in the coffee and cookies for a healthy, balanced diet.
Besides making sure you’re getting enough vitamins to fight fatigue, the balance of the foods you eat can also optimise how energetic you feel. Including enough vegetables, complex carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and fibre-rich fruits and eating at regular intervals will ensure you’re getting sustained energy levels throughout the day.
How else can you eat to optimise your energy?
- Drink lots of water. As the main component of blood, water is essential for carrying nutrients to the cells where they can be turned into energy. If your body is short on fluids, one of the first signs is a feeling of fatigue.
- Go for complex, not simple carbs. Baked goods are not your friend. That chocolate croissant you have in the morning can leave you feeling weak and shaky by 11am because of the effect it has on your blood sugar levels. While it’s true that your body converts all food into energy, foods such as wholegrains or sweet potatoes will produce feelings of more long-lasting energy than others, without the big blood sugar swings.
- Keep lunch healthy to avoid the 3pm slump. Ever wondered why you crave something sweet in the afternoon? Unbalanced meals comprised of refined starchy foods are quickly digested, making your blood sugar soar not long after eating. This glucose spike is followed by a drop, causing the inevitable sweet cravings.
- Ditch the diet Whether you’re low-carbing or fasting, dieting to lose weight can often leave you feeling lethargic. Restrictive diets may see you cutting out whole food groups meaning you’ll be missing out on vital micronutrients. Besides this, we all need a certain amount of calories to function at our best. For a man, that’s around 2,500kcal or 2,000kcal for a woman. Regularly go below that and your energy levels may suffer.
Exercising for energy
When you’re totally drained after a long day at work, the last thing you feel like doing is heading out for a run. However, regular exercise has been found to boost energy levels in the long-term. But how?
It’s all down to the way exercise affects our mitochondria, those tiny powerhouses in our cells responsible for creating energy. As we age, the capacity of our mitochondria to generate ATP (the energy molecules) slowly decreases, so the older we are, the less energy we have.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. In a study looking at the effects of different types of exercise on ageing, interval training was found to have an extraordinary effect on our mitochondria. Young adults showed a 49 percent increase in mitochondrial capacity after 12 weeks of training, while the older group saw a massive 69 percent increase. Need a better reason to hit the gym?
Sleep for energy
If you often feel wiped out during the day, it’s worth prioritising how much good-quality sleep you get at night. While it’s tempting to stay up into the early hours if there’s something good on Netflix, not getting enough shut-eye is a major cause of flagging energy levels during the day.
When we sleep, our bodies are hard at work, repairing and restoring many of the functions it uses during the day, things like temperature regulation, steady hormone levels and a healthy appetite. All of these factors play a role in how much energy you have to play with during the day.
For high-quality sleep night after night, the National Sleep Foundation suggests daily exercise, having a regular bedtime routine and updating your mattress and bedding as needed.
Taking the best supplements for energy levels is a great start in the war against fatigue. Inessa Advanced Multivitamin contains the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help optimise the body’s energy levels, as long as an underlying medical condition is not the cause. If you experience prolonged tiredness, you need to see your GP.
But while improving your levels of vitamin B12 or vitamin D could turn out to be just the energy-boosting secret weapons you need, they shouldn’t be the only ones in your arsenal.
You’ll also need to look at your lifestyle holistically. Eating a balanced diet can provide long-lasting energy throughout the day, as well as address many underlying vitamin deficiencies without the need for extra supplements.
Getting enough sleep, exercise, water and calories each day will help too, as will trying to slow down and banish stress throughout the day.
Then, with all these energy-boosters on your side, your body will be armed with everything it needs to win in the battle against the 3pm slump.
Tiredness is one of the UK’s biggest (and most expensive) health complaints. A survey reported on in the Independent found that 97 percent of us feel tired most of the time, and fatigue is thought to cost the UK economy £40 billion a year.
Our energy crisis is also putting a strain on the NHS. Unexplained tiredness is one of the most common reasons for people to see their GP with nearly a third of patients mentioning it when they see the doctor.
But if you feel lethargic all the time, you’d be right to make an appointment. Medical causes of a profound lack of energy are wide-ranging, with conditions such as depression, diabetes, anaemia, fibromyalgia and an underactive thyroid all being common causes of fatigue.
If serious causes have been ruled out, It may be worth looking at your. According to a review of medical studies looking at the role of diet in fatigue, most at risk of energy-sapping vitamin deficiencies (besides the elderly and pregnant women) were physically active young adults, in particular women.
The researchers found this particular group were much more likely to lead stressful, demanding lives. On top of this, they were also more likely to have a poor diet, either because they were restricting food to lose weight or were too busy to make healthy dietary choices. The same research found that vitamin supplementation could help.