Sluggish days — we've all had them. The quick solution is often downing a cup of coffee — and then another — with the hope of making it through the day. According to dietitian Ashley Koff, this is exactly what we shouldn't be doing. At this year's espnW Women + Sports Summit (which I attended as a guest of Lexus), Koff put forth the idea of better energy vs. more energy: better meaning the energy is long-lasting and efficient, and more being a quick fix that forces the body to keep pushing even when tired. "Better energy is like rolling hills, and more energy is like spikes that cause the body to burn out," says Koff.
In order to achieve the right kind of energy to power through the day, Koff stresses how and what we eat plays a major role.
- Quantity: Portion control matters when it comes to maintaining energy throughout the day, but Koff warns against thinking that this means having less: "Once you know the right amounts you should be eating, you'll find that all food is still available to you." Koff has a simple way to figure out portion sizes when putting together a meal: use the fist as a way to measure carbs, the palm (no fingers) to measure protein, and the thumb should be the visual cue for fats (except for nuts, which should equal a small handful). Go ahead and eat all the veggies you want — no limits there!
- Quality: Koff says there's no right diet plan. "Forget the low-carb, no-carb, Paleo, and all that other stuff. Instead become a qualitarian." Choosing quality means striving to eat food that is found in nature, but it doesn't always have to be in its raw state, says Koff. For instance, wheat is OK. "Though processed, its foundation is natural." What you're looking to do is eliminate artificial foods, refined carbs and sugars, partially hydrogenated oil, and high-fructose corn syrup in favor of organic, sustainable, and whole food items.
See how what you're eating can affect energy levels and lead to weight gain after the break!
- Balance: If you want to get through the day on peak performance, Koff says that it's important to not eliminate any food groups; in the long run "it creates fat storage and drops energy levels." When it comes to meal planning, balance yours with a carbohydrate, protein, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables. And making sure you achieve this balance on your plate is essential, says Koff. In the same way that eliminating a food group can be detrimental, so can eating too much of one thing.
- Frequency: Avoid running on empty by making sure to eat every three hours. "The body is designed to be simple. It's a race car, not a street car. It pit stops and puts in what it needs. The body is not a back loader; don't eat all your calories at once, and make sure to fuel often."