So much has been written about sugar recently, it’s certainly replaced saturated fat as the ‘big bad’ of the nutrition world and for good reason. Generally I don’t like to put ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels on food (is sugar really that evil?) but that is a hard one when it comes to refined sugar! Ultimately for me, it comes down to how much you choose to eat it.
There’s loads of issues with eating too much sugar, one of which is the crazy things it does to your energy levels.
This is a really personal topic for me. For years before I ‘got healthy’ I would eat a lot of sugary foods, including some like ordinary muesli that I thought were pretty healthy. Apart from being overweight, I didn’t feel that bad at the time. Fast forward to after I’d started to eat better, when I did have a sugary treat, I would really feel like total crap. My body couldn’t tolerate the sugar any more and even now my version of healthy has become more balanced, I really feel the impact when I’ve been eating too much sugar, including naturally sweet things.
Now when I say I feel like crap, what I’m talking about is the huge impact these foods have on my energy levels. As I’m still up several times a night with Finley, I just can’t take that hit and function very well! I did a vlog about how I started to tackle the sugar cravings I was having in response to that energy rollercoaster and it’s worked really well.
Now when I work with 1-2-1 clients, the biggest negative impact of sugar is the impact it has on energy levels and the inevitable vicious circle that follows. The only way to tackle it is to break that sugar / energy cycle, and here are my top tips for doing it.
Breaking the sugar / energy cycle
1. Start your day with protein – this is my number 1 tip for a reason, it absolutely works! Starting your day off the right way with a protein-rich breakfast will help to get your energy levels balanced right away and that will have a positive impact for the rest of the day. When you eat a muffin, pastry or even that bowl of muesli I mentioned, you aren’t getting enough protein or fat to balance your energy levels from the get-go. For me, you just can’t beat eggs for a breakfast that will get you going in the right way.
2. Never eat sugar or carbs on their own – this means no single pieces of fruit, no fruit juice and even no bowls of porridge without something added to it (if you just can’t face giving up porridge for breakfast!) Make sure you eat them with a source of protein or fat. That might be adding some nut butter to your porridge (or even an egg for super creamy protein-rich porridge), a handful of nuts to your apple and skipping the fruit juice for water to skip the sugar altogether.
3. Have some protein-rich, low sugar snack options available – snacking is often where it all goes wrong! Having some snacking options available will prevent you heading for the vending machine or biscuit barrel! Great ideas are veggie sticks with hummus or nut butter, greek yoghurt, nuts, plain popcorn or rice or corn cakes with avocado.
4. Try some sweet tea – ok I know that a herbal tea is not a replacement for a chocolate bar… but they can really help give you that sweet hit when you need it. My favourite teas for this are Tea Pigs Peppermint and Liquorice and Pukka Vanilla Chai tea. Both are caffeine-free and delicious!
5. Review how often you eat – if you currently have several snacks during the day, try out eating larger main meals and see if that has a positive impact on your energy levels. If you currently eat large main meals then try adding in some smaller snacks. The idea here is to experiment with how often you eat and find out what works for your body in terms of maximising energy and reducing hunger. There is no right or wrong, just what works for you!
Let me just reiterate that I don’t believe that naturally sweet foods like fruit, or carbs like wholegrains, are ‘bad’ – with all forms of sugar and, like everything else, it really depends on what works for your body. If your energy levels are slumping at 10am after having porridge for breakfast, that might mean for you porridge isn’t the best option. Even if porridge isn’t the best thing for you, that also doesn’t mean you can never have it. This is where common sense and balance come in. Think about what you eat and how you feel across a whole week and make adjustments.
If you try these tips out and still find your energy levels are up and down and you crave a lot of sugar, it might be that going cold turkey with a full on sugar detox is what you need. For that, I totally recommend the I Quit Sugar 8 Week Programme or the 21 Day Sugar Detox.
Now I almost always have eggs in some shape or form for breakfast because what I eat first thing has a tremendous impact on how I feel for the rest of the day. I’m currently experimenting with a different eating pattern too.
How are your energy levels? Do you find that sugar has a big impact on how you feel?