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It's easy to blame an energy slump on bad habits, but what about those times when you do almost everything right -- yet you can barely stay awake? Some of the moves you think are good for you can actually make you more exhausted. But perk up: These simple tweaks will turn yawn inducers into stamina boosters.You sleep in on weekends.
Your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. all week, so snoozing until nine on Saturday and Sunday sounds like a dream come true. The trouble is, this plan often backfires. You get up feeling groggy, which can last for hours -- a phenomenon called sleep inertia, says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, director of the Northside Hospital Sleep Medicine Institute in Atlanta. It's likely that when you rise at your normal time during the week, your body has moved into a lighter phase of sleep and you can awaken more quickly. But Rosenberg believes that too many extra z's may send you back into a deeper stage of sleep, so you wake up feeling sluggish rather than alert.
So how do you catch up on much-needed rest? "Spread it out over the weekend," Rosenberg advises. "To avoid grogginess, snooze 30 to 60 minutes later each day, and take no more than a 45-minute nap." Not only will you feel sharp, you'll also be much more likely to drift off at your normal time at night.
Why does the most important meal of the day cause a midmorning lull? You may be eating too much -- or choosing the wrong foods. For instance, the average deli-size bagel is big enough to count as four servings of bread. Add a generous amount of cream cheese and you're looking at about 567 calories and 22 grams of fat. "When you eat a meal with a lot of calories and fat, some of the blood that normally provides energy to the brain and muscles is diverted to the stomach to help with digestion," says Sue Moores, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Instead, try two eggs and toast with fruit spread. A study shows that people who ate this felt satisfied (and thus energized) longer -- and consumed 420 fewer calories a day -- than those who had nonfat yogurt and a bagel with cream cheese.
It may seem like a smart weight-control technique, but if you go more than four hours without food, your blood sugar may drop, which drains your energy and leaves you cranky and ravenous. Munching on a portion-controlled snack that's a combo of protein, carbs, and fat can help stabilize your blood sugar, mood, and energy levels. Smart choices include one ounce of string cheese with one-quarter cup of soy nuts, one-fourth cup of dried fruit and 20 almonds, or a mini whole wheat pita pocket stuffed with one-quarter cup of low-fat cottage cheese and carrots. If you're worried about consuming extra calories in your meals, include foods with a high water content, such as soup, salad, and veggies, so you'll feel full faster and eat less.
You're forgetting one crucial step: drinking water before you exercise. "If you don't, it's like heading out on a trip with three-quarters of a tank versus a full one. You simply won't go as far," says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Water is crucial to regulating body temperature and maintaining blood circulation. A loss of fluids equal to just 2 percent of your body weight can tire you out and significantly impair your performance, he adds. To stay energized, drink 16 ounces of water or a noncaffeinated beverage spaced out over one to two hours before you exercise and another 6 to 8 ounces within 15 minutes of working out.
You're missing an important chance to help your muscles recover. "Stretching expedites recovery and improves circulation, making you feel more energetic and possibly reducing muscle soreness after your workout," says Comana. To get a bigger boost, do full-body stretching for at least five minutes after exercising.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2006.