AUTHORITY NUTRITION

7 Foods That Drain Your Energy

Written by Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA) on February 5, 2018

It’s normal for your energy levels to rise and fall slightly during the day.

A variety of factors can affect this natural ebb and flow. These include sleep and stress levels, your level of physical activity and the foods you eat.

Generally, having a meal or snack tends to refuel your tank, helping you feel more energetic. However, some foods may actually zap your energy.

This article lists seven foods that have the potential to drain your energy.

Friends Eating Pizza and Beer

Grains are rich in carbs, which provide the body with a good source of energy.

However, processed grains such as those found in white bread, white pasta and white rice may actually cause more harm than good when it comes to your energy levels.

That’s partly because the fiber-containing outer layer of the grain, known as the bran, is removed during processing. Because of this, processed grains contain lower levels of fiber and tend to be digested and absorbed more quickly than whole grains (1).

For this reason, a meal or snack rich in processed grains generally creates a quick rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, followed by a drop in energy.

In contrast, whole grains help you regulate your blood sugar levels and help keep your energy constant throughout the day (2).

Processed grains also lack another important part of the grain: the germ. The germ contains many important nutrients that can also play a role in maintaining your energy levels.

For instance, the germ is especially rich in B vitamins, which your body can use to create energy (3).

Therefore, avoiding processed grains or replacing them with whole-grain alternatives can provide your body with more nutrients and prevent energy peaks and crashes.

Summary Processed grains are found in foods such as white bread, white pasta and white rice. They contain fewer nutrients and may spike blood sugar levels, both of which can drain your energy levels.

Many foods on the market are loaded with added sugars, which, when consumed too frequently, can take a toll on your energy levels.

For instance, many people consider breakfast cereals an important part of a healthy and energizing breakfast routine. However, many varieties actually fail to deliver the expected energy-sustaining start to the day.

That’s because most breakfast cereals contain very little fiber yet significant amounts of added sugars. In fact, sugars make up as much as 50% of the total carbs found in many popular breakfast cereals (4, 5, 6, 7).

This combination of high sugar and low fiber content can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to a rise in energy, followed by a crash.

What’s more, some research suggests that eating foods high in added sugars may increase the likelihood you’ll crave other sugary foods, potentially creating an energy-depleting cycle (8).

To avoid the energy-zapping effect of sugar-filled cereals, opt for varieties without added sugar that contain at least 4–5 grams of fiber per serving.

Other popular breakfast foods that tend to contain high levels of added sugars include flavored yogurts, juices, muffins, granola bars and even some types of bread.

If you’re looking to keep your energy levels high, you’ll likely benefit from avoiding them or finding less sugary alternatives.

Summary Foods containing high amounts of added sugars can zap your energy levels rather than boost them. They may also increase your cravings for other sugary foods, which can create a vicious, energy-draining cycle.

Alcohol is known for its relaxing effect.

In fact, many people report that having a little alcohol with dinner or in the evening tends to help them fall asleep more easily.

Although this may sound positive, it’s not necessarily so.

That’s because alcohol may actually reduce the quality and duration of your sleep, leading to an overall less restful sleep (9).

Therefore, although alcohol may help you feel more relaxed or fall asleep more easily, depending on the quantity you consume it may actually drain your energy by causing you to wake up the next morning feeling less rested.

Low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption do not appear to have much influence on your sleep quality or duration. Only large amounts of alcohol appear to drain energy this way (10).

Therefore, to avoid the energy-draining effects of alcohol, make sure to keep your consumption within low to moderate levels.

This is defined as one or fewer standard drinks per day for women, and two or fewer drinks for men. One standard drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces (355 ml) of beer, 5 ounces (148 ml) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 ml) of spirits.

Summary Consuming too much alcohol, especially around bedtime, may reduce the quality and duration of your sleep, likely causing you to feel more tired the next day.

When consumed in moderation, coffee can have positive physical and mental effects.

For instance, studies show that coffee may help reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by 26–34% (11, 12).

A review of 18 studies further reported that each cup of coffee a person consumes per day may reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 7% (13).

Caffeine, the stimulant in coffee, has also been reported to create a short-term boost in energy and brain function, which many people rely on when they’re feeling tired (14, 15).

That said, regularly drinking coffee will cause your body to build up a tolerance, which will reduce the power of its effects. More importantly, regularly relying on coffee instead of getting proper nutrition or sleep can drain your energy over time (16).

Too much caffeine can also negatively affect the quality of your sleep, which can reduce your energy levels over the long term (17, 18).

Those who consume coffee should limit their intake to around four cups per day (19).

Summary When consumed in moderation, coffee can boost energy levels and provide a slew of additional benefits. However, regularly relying on coffee to boost your energy levels, rather than on proper nutrition and sleep, can backfire over the long term.

There’s no denying that energy drinks can provide you with a short-term energy boost.

In fact, several studies show that energy drinks may boost concentration and memory by about 24%, in addition to reducing sleepiness (20, 21, 22).

Energy drink manufacturers include a cocktail of stimulating ingredients in their formulations. However, researchers attribute most energy-boosting effects to the sugar and caffeine these drinks contain (23).

When it comes to sugar, many energy drinks contain ridiculously high amounts — sometimes as much as 10 teaspoons (52 grams) per container.

As mentioned previously, consuming large quantities of added sugars can cause your energy to spike, then drop sharply, potentially causing you to feel more tired than you did before consuming the drink.

Moreover, as is the case with coffee, those who regularly consume energy drinks may build up a tolerance to the caffeine they contain. This means the drinker needs to consume increasingly larger amounts to experience the same energy-boosting effects (24).

In addition, some research shows that energy drinks may reduce sleep duration and quality. If this happens too frequently, expect it to reduce your energy levels (25).

It’s also worth mentioning that energy drinks sometimes contain significantly more caffeine than the same quantity of coffee.

For instance, the brand 5-Hour Energy contains 200 mg of caffeine per 1.93 ounces (57 ml). This is about four times as much caffeine as you’d find in the same quantity of coffee.

This can cause some energy drink consumers to exceed the recommended daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine, which can cause jitteriness, anxiety and heart palpitations. It can also worsen panic attacks (17, 18, 19).

Summary Energy drinks can provide a short-term boost in energy levels. However, their high sugar and caffeine content can reduce the duration and quality of your sleep and cause your energy levels to crash, leaving you feeling drained.

Fried and fast foods can also drain your energy. That’s because they are generally high in fat and low in fiber, two factors that can slow down your digestion.

Slower digestion can reduce the speed at which energy-boosting nutrients enter the body, delaying the increase in energy you might generally expect following a meal (26).

Moreover, fried and fast foods tend to be low in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Nutrient-rich foods help boost and maintain your energy levels, but eating fried and fast foods too frequently can displace these from your diet.

Consuming too many fatty foods at once may also cause you to feel overly full. In some cases, this can zap your energy or desire to do anything for the next couple of hours.

Summary Fried and fast foods are often low in nutrients, high in fat and low in fiber. They can slow down your digestion and displace energy-boosting nutrients from your diet, potentially draining your energy levels over the long term.

When snack time rolls around, some people opt for low-calorie versions of their favorite foods, believing they’re the healthier choice.

However, including too many of these foods in your diet may lead you to eat an insufficient number of calories throughout the day, which can severely reduce your energy levels.

Calories are a unit of measurement used to estimate how much energy a food will provide your body once it is digested. Your body uses calories to sustain basic functions such as breathing, thinking and heartbeat.

The calories you consume also cover the energy you spend moving throughout the day, including the calories you burn through exercise.

Regularly providing your body substantially fewer calories than it requires can create hormonal imbalances and slow down your metabolism, leaving you feeling drained (27, 28).

Eating too few calories at meals or snacks may also increase cravings. This can lead you to overeat at the next meal, leaving you feeling overly full and sluggish (29, 30, 31).

Summary Low-calorie foods are not effective at boosting your energy levels. They can also cause you to consume fewer calories per day than your body needs, disturbing your hormone balance and metabolism, and leaving you feeling drained.

Eating and drinking are generally considered effective ways to boost your energy levels.

However, what you eat does matter. More specifically, the seven foods and beverages listed above are more likely to drain your energy tank than fuel it back up.

Consuming such foods infrequently or in moderation is unlikely to have long-lasting negative effects. However, if you have constantly low energy levels, you may benefit from avoiding these foods completely.

Instead, try one of these 27 foods that can give you more energy.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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