Many women ask me “why am I always tired at 2pm, even if I’ve eaten lunch?” My answer is nearly always the same, so I thought I would write it down and help more of you to understand why spending time on breakfast is an investment in your energy levels through the day and how well you sleep over night. Our bodies are so amazing, complex and flexible. But they also love it when we have a rhythm to our day and the way we fuel up.
How do our bodies make and use energy?
Every cell (except red blood cells) inside your body contain hundreds to thousands of tiny little energy factories, called mitochondria. Each day these mitochondria convert glucose and oxygen to produce our body weight in energy molecules (adenosine tri-phosphate, or ATP). The cells then use these energy molecules, ATP, to fuel their activities, tasks and function. How incredible is that?!
When our mitochondria don’t have sufficient glucose or the other nutrients that they need to work, less and less energy is produced and we feel symptoms like brain fog, memory loss, irritability, and FATIGUE.
Did you know that fatigue is the most common, unexplained complaint people talk to their doctors about?
WHERE DO WE GET GLUCOSE FROM?
Glucose is a simple sugar. When we eat food, our digestive system (gastrointestinal tract) works to break the food down in to smaller molecules. Carbohydrate-rich foods like sugar, refined cereals, breads, and pasta, rice, starchy vegetables are quickly and easily broken down in to glucose. Carbs aren’t all the same, and we’ll talk about how to work out what carbs are better for you in another blog.
The glucose is absorbed by the intestines and passes in to the bloodstream where it circulates around the body for the cells to take up in to the mitochondria. So how do our cells get the glucose in to their mitochondria? And what does this have to do with feeling tired at 2pm?
INSULIN’S ROLE IN ENERGY PRODUCTION
When our digestive system is breaking down carbohydrates in to glucose, it also releases hormones that stimulate the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that signals for the cells to open the channels or chutes so glucose can get inside. If there’s excess glucose to what the cells need, it is converted to fat which is most often stored around the abdomen.
In people with diabetes, insulin resistance, HPA-dysfunction (adrenal fatigue, burnout) or other metabolic dysfunction, this process is altered. For now I’m discussing people without any metabolic issue.
Let’s explore what happens when you skip breakfast, eat a high carb or unbalanced breakfast or eat a balanced breakfast. This will help you understand how breakfast can help you feel energised rather than feeling tired at 2pm.
But what about fasting or if I don’t feel hungry when I wake?
There’s lots of info around encouraging fasting or skipping breakfast. I’m not going to go in to fasting today -that’s probably a whole other blog. Just remember that many of the studies on fasting are not done on women. Fasting is not suitable for people with any kind of metabolic dysfunction and/or who are stressed, pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you don’t feel hungry when you wake up in the morning, this is a sign that there may be some underlying issues relating to digestion and your liver function. If this is you, then please talk to a naturopath or your chosen health professional before making any changes to the way you eat.
After sleeping, our blood glucose levels are low because it’s been a long time between meals. When we wake up, our body drives us to find and make food. Sometimes you might feel lethargic or get cravings (especially for simple or refined carbs) as your body urges you to quickly refuel it. Eventually when you eat, especially if its refined, simple carbohydrates, your blood glucose levels quickly rise. Insulin levels follow quickly and can go higher than they need to.
The end result, as you can see in the illustration, is that blood glucose levels drop lower than what is ideal for you, and the cycle continues… Feeling tired, hangry, irritated, brain fog, cravings for simple carbs. This is when we end up eating too quickly, making less optimal food choices, or eating too much.
High carb or unbalanced breakfast
Eating a meal rich in refined or simple carbohydrates, especially without a balance of healthy fats and protein, quickly increases your blood glucose levels. Insulin levels quickly follow, and similar to when you skip breakfast, they can go too high, causing a crash in blood glucose. The cycle starts again with hunger, feeling tired, cravings, and irritability.
Eating high carb meals can leave you feeling tired and sleepy afterwards, as your body works hard to deal with the sharp increase and decrease in glucose.
A breakfast containing protein, healthy fats and a small amount of complex carbohydrates supplies your body with lots of nutrients for energy production…without increasing blood glucose and insulin levels sharply, or excessively. It helps reduce cravings for simple, refined carbs, snacks, and junk foods and dependence on carbs through the day. Energy levels stay more consistent and you’re less likely to get hangry, irritable or cranky.
Unhealthy blood glucose levels contribute to poor health by increasing insulin and cortisol levels, fat storage, mood swings, brain fog, and fatigue. Insulin and cortisol contribute to inflammation in the body, which increases the risk of cell, tissue and organ damage. Research tells us that fat cells alter our hormones, particularly those relating to hunger and feeling full.
Being hungry is stressful for your body. In our already busy world, we don’t need any more stress in our lives! So please practice self care and eat when you first feel hungry. Don’t wait until you feel hangry, or woozy in the head or exhausted.
PRIORITY ONE IS YOU: FUEL UP SO YOU CAN SHOW UP
I hear from so many women that they are busy looking after everyone else, they forget to eat, or fell like they don’t have time to look after themselves and eat. I like to remind them of when you’re on a plane and they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help anyone else. You can’t support and look after others when you are out of energy.
How about this analogy? You wouldn’t let your phone battery get down to 1, 2 or 10%! So why is it ok to do this to your energy levels?! You are 100% worth every bit of time, food and money that you invest in your self and your well-being. Can your family afford for you to be out of action?
5 BENEFITS OF BREAKFAST
- Your body has the nutrients it needs for making energy. You’ll have more energy to do what you want (and even what you don’t!) through the day.
- Breakfast supports your mood, memory, and concentration. You’re less likely to get tired, cranky and irritated.
- Your blood sugar levels will be more stable, which means your mood and energy levels are too. Plus, less stress on your body and nervous system.
- Eating breakfast helps you sleep better at night.
- You’re less likely to have cravings for sugary foods or drinks, caffeine, or refined carbs (chips and lollies!) later in the day.
WHAT WILL YOU EAT?
If you’d like some ideas on what to eat for breakfast, then check out this blog I wrote: ‘Busy Mums: 5 Simple, Healthy Breakfast Ideas for You’. You will also find other recipes and food ideas on my blog and social media.
My favourite tip for you is to make breakfast the night before. You don’t have to think about it in the morning then when you’re rushing to get everyone else ready.
- Parfaits, chia puddings, bircher muesli or hard boiled eggs can all be prepped the night before for instant gratification in the morning.
- Smoothie bags are another great way to have everything you need ready to go. Put the non-liquid ingredients in a ziplock bag or freezer proof container. Make a whole bunch up at once, keep in the freezer and just pick one in the morning to tip in to the blender. Add liquid and you’re done.
Need more help working out what food works for you and what doesn’t?
Maybe you feel like there’s something else going on, even if you’ve been told that your blood tests are ‘normal’ or ‘fine’ for a Mum.
I love helping Mums like you go from feeling tired, irritable, and anxious, to more like you did before you had kids by working out the underlying cause for how you’re feeling. To find out more about how I do this, please check out the ‘Services’ page or use the calendar to make a time to talk to me and ask me all your questions. In the meantime, please let me know in the comments or on social media what your favourite balance breakfast is.