Top 12 Ways to Maximize Energy and Minimize
by Max Wettstein, copyright 2005
- Drink a glass of warm
water upon waking. Squeeze half of
a lemon in it. This begins hydration after not drinking all night. It may
also cause a mild laxative effect. The pH of the lemon juice will help
maintain the stomach’s natural acidity so you will be ready to properly digest
breakfast. Cold water first thing in the morning can be a bit harsh, and
warmer temperature causes more G.I. track stimulation.
- Stay hydrated. Since you’re off to a good start, be sure to keep the water
flowing all day. Sodas don’t cut it. They are loaded with sugar and
chemicals. Diet soda is better than regular, but some artificial sweeteners
are somewhat controversial. Stick with water and your body will thank you in
so many ways. After all, we are composed of 70% water. In our zero-humidity
cockpit environment this is especially important, and you’ll be lowering your
risk of blood clot formation, (DVT). (Bonus tip: Did you know that the number
one cause of bad breath is dehydration?)
- Eat breakfast! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially after
fasting all night. A balanced breakfast will provide you with sustained
energy and blood-sugar levels through out the morning. This also kick-starts
your metabolism. Breakfast means actual food, not just coffee and/or a ciggy.
- Take a good
multi-vitamin daily. This is a very
easy and inexpensive way to make sure you’re getting all of the vitamins and
minerals you need to function at your optimum. Supplements have come a long
way in quality and absorption. When you’re on the go, it is almost impossible
to get all the recommended vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat.
Worst case, you’ll pee out the extra vitamins you don’t require. Take your
multi in the morning with breakfast. Taken on an empty stomach can cause
upset or nausea.
- Don’t overdo your
morning cup of coffee. Some of us
are so addicted to caffeine that we can’t even feel normal until after that
first cup. A warm cup of freshly ground brew certainly does hit the spot in
the morning and is a ritual we all grew up with. The irony of coffee for
breakfast is that in the morning our energy levels are highest, (assuming we
had a good night’s sleep), and don’t require any boosting. In fact, the
brain-inhibitory neurotransmitter known as Adenosine, which induces mental
fatigue and grogginess, is at it the lowest levels when we first wake up, (Not
to be confused with melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone). Adenosine then
accumulates throughout the day, just as the buzz of your morning coffee is
fading. Caffeine blocks our adenosine receptors and literally staves off
mental fatigue. A cup of coffee in the morning is certainly okay, but if your
cup is ‘bottomless’ and next thing you know you’ve consumed half a pot, then
you are setting yourself up for dehydration and an afternoon energy ‘crash’,
and you're stressing your adrenal glands by over-stimulating them.
- Consume caffeinated
beverages strategically. A
post-lunch or afternoon cup of coffee would serve us better than a cup at
breakfast, if we follow are normal energy patterns more closely. So why not
have two cups of coffee then? One with breakfast and then another cup
post-lunch? Sure, but if you drink much more than 2 to 3 servings a day of
coffee you will build up a tolerance to it and it will lose its efficacy.
Instead, the only mental effect you’ll notice is when you don’t have any
coffee and headache sets in. Too much caffeine in one serving can cause us to
feel jittery, irritable, nervous, and even panic attacks in some. Caffeine is
also a diuretic and too much contributes to dehydration, and chronic
over-consumption can contribute to adrenal fatigue. Everyone has their own
tolerance, but a normal cup of coffee, as in a Starbuck’s Regular, or standard
mug at home, contains about 100 to 150 mg. One espresso shot contains about
80 mg. One dose of ‘No-Doz’ pills contains about 200 mg. A cup of black tea
has about 75 to 100 mg. Green tea has less caffeine. Tea is healthier than
coffee because all types are full of antioxidants and Polyphenols, that fight
cancer. Tea also fights halitosis, as it kills bacteria in the mouth. Diet
Coke has only about 40 mg of caffeine. And don’t forget to consider all of the
caffeine you may be consuming in other areas of your diet, unknowingly.
Chocolate/cocoa, energy-drinks and bars, diet pills and supplements, and most
non-herbal teas, may contain caffeine.
- Eat well-balanced,
smaller meals, frequently throughout the day.
If you’ve read any of my postings up to this point, you’re probably sick of
hearing this line. But it is so valuable and so helpful in many ways. The
bottom line here is sustained and consistent blood-sugar levels and therefore
consistent mental energy levels. Sustained energy comes from meals combining
complex carbs, protein and some fat, resulting in a slow and steady insulin
secretion during digestion. High-carb meals promote serotonin increase in the
brain, causing us to feel pleasant, but somewhat sleepy. This is because
carbs allow the amino acid tryptophan to pass through the blood/brain barrier,
where it is a precursor to serotonin. At the other extreme end of the
spectrum is that a no-carb diet leaves you in a constant state of low
blood-sugar, and mental focus is almost impossible in this state. BALANCED
EATING is the key. Small, frequent meals won’t inundate your digestive
system. Digesting a large meal requires a great deal of effort from your
body. Granted there are times when we feel a blood-sugar crash, (‘bonking’),
and need a quick sugar snack. For times like these reach for whole fruit
first. The fructose-sugar in fruit is sweeter than cane sugar, and fruit is
packed with nutrients and fiber. And surprisingly, semi or bitter-sweet dark
chocolate is very mentally energizing providing sugar, caffeine, dopamine
increase, and even anti-oxidants. Be forewarned however, that these fun sugar
buzzes are usually followed by a low.
- Take a post-lunch
power nap, or meditation. Not all
of us our nappers, or are in a work-environment that permits napping, but a
power nap can work wonders in restoring your mental energy. A power nap, by
definition means 25 minutes or less so that you do not enter into a deep stage
of sleep. Ideally, you drift off into a light REM stage of sleep within 5
minutes of closing your eyes, and should wake before deep sleep. If you enter
deep sleep, then it is better to nap for a full sleep cycle lasting up to 1.5
hours, otherwise you will wake up groggier than when you started. Meditation
and relaxation-breathing can be substituted in place of a nap, and for those
experienced in this sort of technique, it can be just as restorative if not
more. The latter is also an excellent de-stressing method. During meditation
you can recite a positive mantra to empower your subconscious. (Stop
laughing…it works if you believe!)
- Exercise for at least
30 minutes per day. As you have
already heard from me so many times before, exercise boosts your metabolism,
allows you to vent negative emotions, is an outlet for stress-relief, and when
not overdone, resets your mental energy. You will also feel good about
yourself for the rest of the day. It is preferable to exercise in the morning
when your energy and hormone levels are highest, but can be a great way to
de-stress after work. Try to avoid exercising 4 hours before bed-time,
because this can make it hard to fall asleep. If you absolutely do not have
time to exercise, a brisk 10 minute walk can wake up your mind and stimulate
circulation. Especially if you can walk outside in the sun and fresh air. If
you don’t even have time for that, get up out of your chair and stretch for 5
- Get a 5 minute head,
neck and shoulder massage. Okay, I
realize this is wishful thinking, but perhaps you happen to be in the crew
lounge on one of those lucky days when the free chair-massages are offered.
Or, maybe a fellow crewmember can give you a quick rub-down…just be tactful
and politically correct when asking. A massage will re-store you in so many
ways but primarily by stimulating circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid,
and easing muscle tension at trigger points.
- Get a good night of
sleep. The busier we get it seems
the first thing to be compromised is sleep. However, nothing is more
critical to restoring your mind and body than a good night of sleep. In
fact, continued sleep deprivation leads to a compromised immune system and in
the long term can worsen into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFIDS, and/or
Fibromyalgia, FMS. A good night of sleep is literally the equivalent of
drinking from the Fountain-of-Youth. This is because many restoration
hormones are primarily secreted during the deepest phase of the sleep cycle,
including Growth Hormone. Sleep requirements vary but 7 to 9 hours is
recommended...an impossible goal for most of us I know. The irony of sleep
is, sometimes when we are the most tired and badly in need of sleep we don’t
sleep well or experience insomnia. You can combat this with proper sleep
hygiene. You heard me correctly. You can’t just blow off sleep and take it
for granted by staying up all night and trying to sleep during the day, or by
consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, etc. If you experience insomnia, stay
tuned for future health postings because I will present you with a
sleep-hygiene checklist that you can use to fall asleep and sleep well. As
pilots a checklist is something we know how to use. For now, just try to
stick with consistent bed-times and wake-times that match the natural
circadian rhythm for you time zone. I realize many of us deal with a redeye
once or twice a week, but this can be dealt with too. Avoid caffeine,
excessive alcohol, and intense exercise, 5 hours prior to your bed-time.
Avoid mentally stimulating activities while in bed, (get your mind out of the
gutter!). In other words, don’t do work in bed.
- Proactively cope with
stress. Carrying stress around uses
up valuable mental energy that you could be able to channel more
productively. Mental/emotional stress can manifest itself physically in
muscle-trigger points, hypertension and even disease in extreme situations.
We can’t always control the challenges that come our way in life, but you do
have the power to choose how you deal with them and the associated stress.
I’m not trying to sound like Tony Robbins or some other ‘self-help’
chuckle-head, but take charge of your life and life’s stressors and come up
with a plan of action to deal with them. Easier said than done, because some
of us have some heavy burdens to carry. On a daily basis though, try some of
the preceding suggestions, such as exercise, massage, or meditation, to ease
your anxiety and stress. Stress and anxiety can be the biggest energy
consumers of all.
Safe, (Not banned by the FDA), Mental Energy
Stimulates central nervous system, causes secretion of gastric acid, releases
free-fatty acids, increases basal metabolic rate, enhances endurance and
improves reaction time, increases Dopamine levels and blocks Adenosine
levels. Clearly when used strategically and not abused, caffeine is
An amino acid that is a precursor to norepinephrine and enhances mental
function and clarity.
Look for the Chinese herbal form. All-around increase in energy and improved
- Gingko Biloba. Thought to help oxygenate the brain and improve memory.
- All B vitamins. Especially B6, B12, Pantothenic Acid, and Niacin. B
vitamins are for adrenal support.
sure to take these in the appropriate doses. More is not better. Consider that
a nap works better than all these put together, and is free.
Substances That May Reduce Mental Clarity or
Sleep inducing hormone that is secreted based on natural circadian rhythm, and
can be bought in supplement form. Take too much and you’ll feel groggy all
night and all the next day, and experience vivid dreams.
This amino acid is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes us
feel pleasant and happy, but sometimes drowsy. Can be bought in supplement
form as ‘5-HTP’.
- Valerian Root. A soothing and calming herb.
- Many types of
anti-histamine, such as Benedryll.
This list is by no means all inclusive. Obviously never fly under the influence
of any medication or herbal supplement without knowing what to expect or
consulting a medical professional if in doubt. Consider that vitamin and herbal
supplements are not regulated by the FDA.
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