As most of us have experienced, energy levels can make or break your progress.
We’ve all dealt with low-energy weeks, with the side effect typically being minimal progress (or even none at all), and while taking a week off here and there to re-calibrate is a good thing, dealing with low energy levels consistently isn’t “normal,” no matter the societal standard.
There are of course layers of reasons as to why someone could lack energy (a bad diet, abnormal sleep patterns, overtraining, stress, etc…), BUT if you’ve felt a lack of energy despite doing everything “right,” you might want to take a closer look at your digestion.
How Digestion Affects Energy Levels
While we like to look at digestion simply (eat, digest, repeat), sometimes, it isn’t the case. Digestion involves many, many complex variables that are influenced by many other complex variables … and some of these can directly affect your energy levels.
One of my favorite quotes (I can’t remember directly who said it) isn’t “You are what you eat,” but “You are what you digest.“
So with that being said, we’re going to look at some common factors that could be limiting efficient digestion, because if you aren’t digesting certain foods properly, you also won’t be absorbing the nutrients you need to function, much less be fully energized.
Digestive enzymes are compounds that are found in your saliva, certain organs, and in the lining of your intestines. They are crucial for breaking down every type of food; and in fact, each nutrient has a corresponding enzyme that is responsible for breaking it down:
- Amylase breaks down carbs and starches
- Protease breaks down proteins
- Lipase breaks down fats
Without sufficient production of these enzymes, the nutrients you’re consuming, no matter how amazing, can go unused, simply because there is nothing available to break them down. This can then result in getting less nutrients overall … which then results in “low energy” (after all, nutrients are your fuel for life!). This is especially true if you’re working out and not getting the nutrients you need to fuel and recover.
Other symptoms of not having enough enzymes include:
• Extra tired after eating
• Trouble sleeping
• Irritability/mood issues
The good news is, increasing your enzyme production is pretty straightforward! Digestive enzymes are readily available, and all you have to do is take the recommended dose before eating to encourage production and nutrient absorption.
You can also try supplementing with apple cider vinegar (1-3 tsp in a glass of water in the morning), ginger tea, and eating more bitter foods, like dandelion greens, to stimulate enzyme production.
The key here isn’t to remain on enzyme supplements forever, but to simply encourage your body to increase production over time. Try them out for a couple months before every meal, then start easing off and see how you feel.
HCL, or hydrochloric acid, is commonly referred to as “stomach acid.” It is extremely important in breaking down nutrients (same level of importance as enzymes, with the additional role of protecting your body from infection from bacteria and viruses).
Low levels of HCL can not only cause low energy levels, but can also result in serious side effects, including:
• Hair loss
• Weak, brittle fingernails
• GI infections
• Iron deficiency anemia
• Deficiencies of other minerals, such as vitamin B-12, calcium, and magnesium
• Protein deficiency
• Neurological issues, such as numbness, tingling, and vision changes
The good news is that supplementing with HCL is similar to supplementing with enzymes, with some key differences.
First off, you want to look for Betaine HCL with pepsin, as pepsin helps the utilization process.
Secondly, you want to start with a low dose of HCL roughly 30 minutes before you eat protein. If you feel a light burning sensation with just one pill, your stomach acid levels are likely adequate! If you don’t, it is recommended to increase you dose slowly, but just one pill a day, until you feel a slight warming, tingling sensation, then lower the dosage by one pill. You’ll then stay at the dosage until your body begins to increase it’s natural production (you start feeling the warmth with lower and lower doses).
Finally, make sure you’ve checked for and are addressing any food sensitivities you may have. Keep in mind that most people aren’t even aware certain foods they’ve been eating forever are actually giving them problems, so get a sensitivity test if possible!
Food sensitivities are different from allergic reactions, as in you won’t have a full-blown reaction in the short term. Food sensitivities usually create low-level symptoms over the long term like fatigue, skin issues, and autoimmune/digestive problems.
You’ll be shocked at how good you can feel when you get rid of a food your body is sensitive to!
The Bottom Line
• Nutrient absorption plays a huge role in our energy levels, since nutrients fuel our existence
• Digestive enzymes and HCL can drastically improve nutrient absorption, while lack of them can cause chronic fatigue and health issues
• Supplements and natural foods and compounds can help increase production
• Food sensitivities can also create fatigue, so get tested