Written by Zoe Bingley-Pullin, chef, nutritionist and SunRice spokesperson

Do you ever wake up from 7-8hrs of sleep and STILL feel low in energy? We all know how important sleep is, but sometimes no matter how many hours you get, you just drag through the day. So what other factors might be at play?

What you eat and drink during the day can in fact have a bigger role to play in your energy levels than you thought – and we’re not talking about ‘quick-fixing’ with a sugar hit either…

There is power in your pantry but with the quieter, cooler months coming, it can be easy to lose energy and head home after a busy work day rather than out for a run.

Here are my top tips on what you need to know about eating for energy NOW!

DO

…COMBINE PROTEIN WITH GOOD CARBS
We all know that eating foods high in protein is great for muscle building (especially after a workout), but when it comes to giving you energy, carbs are hands-down the winner! A rich source of protein combined with minimally processed carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel and therefore keeping you moving for longer. Rice is a great example – it’s a seed from a plant that’s simply had its husk removed.

Good carbs to try are brown rice, quinoa, pure oats, teff, wholegrain pasta and cereals – SunRice actually has a tasty range of blends such as Brown Rice & Quinoa, Brown Rice & Chia, and SuperBrown, brown and red rice that just give your meals a little hint of flavour.

Try a simple combination, such as tuna and brown rice, and quinoa teamed with chopped cherry tomatoes and a quarter of an avocado – it’s delicious, easy and filled with protein and carbohydrates. Depending on which rice product you use, it’s also a source of fibre and protein, making it great for digestion and feeling full. Plus, it contains essential nutrients such magnesium, potassium and niacin!

…EAT MORE IRON FROM PLANT-BASED FOODS
There is no doubt that overall we’d benefit from steering clear of overly processed foods and swapping to a diet rich in natural foods from the earth, with plenty of vegetables and plants… but why? Real food means food closer to nature that will enhance certain nutrients, especially iron. What’s really interesting is that iron is absorbed differently, depending on your diet. For instance, iron isn’t absorbed as easily from plant-based sources as it is from animal sources. I recommend you consider combining plant foods with those high in vitamin C (like kiwifruit, capsicum, citrus fruit and strawberries) to help your body absorb iron more simply.

A lot of women are deficient in iron which can cause exhaustion and impair mental and physical endurance. By incorporating real foods such as spinach, leafy greens, lentils and beans into your diet, you can enhance iron absorption and reap the benefits in energy dividends!

…AVOID ENERGY PLOYS
Feeling lethargic? We all know how tempting it is to go for the quick fix, which in the long run will leave you feeling zapped! Stay clear of foods, which are artificial, highly processed, laden with saturated fat or full of refined sugar. Also, it’s important to be wary of drinking too much caffeine, sugary and carbonated drinks (or worse, filled with nasties), and overdoing it on alcohol consumption. Habitual drinking can lead to unnecessary dependency and potentially poor sleeping patterns, quality of sleep and dental hygiene. My advice if you’re in need of a pick-me-up is to opt for a camomile or flavoured tea which will give you a boost of antioxidants instead!

DON’T

…GO HUNGRY
We’re all busy women with crazy schedules, so it’s really important that we’re fuelling our bodies with the best nutrition possible (no matter how busy we are) to ensure we stay on our toes. It’s very easy to skip a meal when rushing out the door or on a tight deadline, however we need to prioritise our nutrition as a means for productivity and feeling our best! The last thing we need is opting for a ‘quick fix’ that is full of nasties to suppress sugar cravings or overeating, which will leave you feeling worse as your body works tirelessly to digest it.

Don’t start the day on the back foot. Make sure you commit to eating a nutrient-dense breakfast – especially if you’re training. Eat minimally processed carbohydrates, (in particular, wholegrains), as they won’t leave you starving in an hour. Add some high-antioxidant fruit, a good fat like unflavoured yoghurt or oats to mix it up. My favourites are a slice of wholegrain toast with a slither of avocado, sprinkled with salt and pepper – a perfect way to start the day!

…DON’T GO THIRSTY
Having energy is crucial to ensure you’re at the top of your game. Many people forget to stay on top of their fluid intake in the hustle and bustle of a busy day’s work. People don’t realise that dehydration can impact your productivity which can leave you feeling light-headed, dizzy, confused and clouded – all of which are extremely frustrating when you need to perform at your best!

My advice is not to go slow on the H20 – I always carry a vacuum insulated bottle (they have extensive ranges with amazing, funky prints available), to remind me to stay hydrated at all times. Also, try avoiding too many cups of coffee as caffeine is highly addictive and the energy we get is short-lived, leaving us with up-and-down mood swings!

…ELIMINATE FAT
If you need an extra boost why not try incorporating small amounts of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats into your diet. Don’t be scared, these fats are a nutritious alternative to trans fats and refined polysaturated fats you will find in most processed food – however it’s important to eat good quality saturated fats and plant saturated fats (e.g. virgin coconut oil) in small amounts. Omega-3 fats found in fish, especially oily fish, such as salmon, as well as soybeans, walnuts and chia seeds – they are great for your skin, hair and nails also. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oil, avocados and some nuts, such as cashews and almonds can be eaten alone or make great additions to salads!

Fat is essential to the body as, of all the nutrients, it provides us with the highest concentration of energy. Fat is also slow to digest – it takes time convert into usable form of energy, which is a perfect choice for those who are into endurance or low to moderate exercise!

As with any dietary or wellbeing changes however, always speak to your medical professional and work together to find what’s best for you. The health and wellbeing journey is not one size fits all, nor is it a quick change, so be persistent and see where you can take your goals!