Even when you have a solid workout schedule – a habit that you've worked hard to cultivate and reinforce – finding the energy to make it through those intense workouts can still be a very real challenge.
After all, you also need to work and take care of your family and fulfil all of your other daily obligations. And then go kill it at the gym.
So, how can you do it? How can you maintain your energy levels for those intense workouts? Here are just a few tips.
Overall Diet Design
While there is a huge number of things that can help you keep your energy levels up (which we'll get into later) the absolute most important aspect to consider is your diet.
Don't forget, food is fuel. If your diet is properly designed, your muscles will have the raw materials that they need to keep up.
But, what does “properly designed” actually mean? Although people tend to place them in a pretty negative light, calories are absolutely vital to your survival.
In reality, calories are just units of energy. When talking about food specifically, each gram of macronutrients that you take in grants you a set amount of calories.
Broken into the three main macro categories, it looks like this:
- Fat – 9cal/g
- Protein – 4cal/g
- Carbs – 4cal/g
Don't let these numbers fool you, however. Even though fat has far more calories – and therefore more energy to offer – it's a fairly difficult process for your body to break them down into glucose, which is your main source of fuel.
Carbohydrates, however, are very quickly turned into glucose and are therefore your body's first choice when it goes looking for energy. Proteins, because of their complex chemical structure, are not any easy source of fuel.
Plus, the amino acids found in proteins are needed to repair and rebuild countless types of tissues, cells and even hormones.
So, how does all this relate to keeping your energy up?
The Pre-Workout Snack
Now that we understand (basically) the roles that the different macronutrients play, we can construct an energy-boosting snack designed to give you all the fuel you need for your workout.
Ideally, you'll want to provide your body with enough carbohydrates so that it can quickly process and burn the calories that it's looking for.
But, put down the brownies. Refined and processed sugars are very quickly absorbed, causing a massive rise and fall in your blood sugar. Ultimately, this is going to leave you feeling tired, mentally cloudy, and hungry. Not a good state to be in before your workout.
Instead, opt for slow carbohydrates that will give you a steady flow of energy. Stick with fruits, vegetables and whole grains here.
Of course, you'll also need protein to ensure that your muscles have rapid, easy access to the amino acids that they need to start the repair processes that help you get bigger, faster and stronger.
At this stage, it's usually better to avoid fats, which can cause some pretty significant digestive stress when you start exercising.
Of course, there are tons of stimulants and other supplements out there that claim to support your workouts.
Stimulants, through a variety of mechanisms, amps up your cardiovascular and nervous systems which gives you short bursts of energy and increased reaction time.
Caffeine is the most commonly used stimulant in most areas, generally coming from either coffee or tea. If you're looking for a fast, obvious boost of energy, this'll do it. It's important to realize, though, that stimulants put stress on your body and even have the potential for overdose.
Other supplements, known as ergogenics, claim to have to ability to increase your strength of endurance without any stimulatory effects. Of these, creatine is the most thoroughly studied and well-supported.
By supplying your muscles with the raw material that they need to create more fuel, creatine allows you to work harder and longer than you might otherwise be able to.
As mentioned, creatine is not a stimulant so you won't get any surge of energy here.