Feelings of tiredness or low energy are a common complaint during exam time, low energy can impact how well our kids perform. So what can we do to support energy production?
The brain relies on a steady supply of fuel, primarily in the form of glucose and skipping meals can drastically alter attention and concentration span. Adolescents who eat breakfast have better attention span, concentration, memory and academic achievement than those who don’t. It’s important to ensure a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in all meals to maintain more balanced blood sugar. Unlike the quick uptick and subsequent “sugar crash” from eating refined sugars, balanced blood sugar means more stable energy levels all day long.
If your energy is a fire, you can think of carbohydrates as twigs, they will give a short burst of flame/energy. If we follow this analogy through, your protein and fats are the bigger branches and logs giving you slow burning, longer lasting fuel.
As is often the case in nutrition, the sweet spot is generally somewhere in the middle, i.e. balanced! All meals and snacks should contain protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. Aim for around ¼ of the plate of starchy carbohydrates, ¼ protein and half plants. For example, pair some nuts and seeds or natural yogurt with fruit and peanut butter with an apple. These are super simple, delicious and nutritious ways of upping your nutrient intake, whilst supporting blood sugar balance to ensure more stable energy levels.
Choosing wholegrains and eating the skins of starchy vegetables like potatoes can provide a boost of fibre. Extra fibre will not only slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream but also provide fuel for your friendly gut bacteria and help with regular bowel movements. Switch up your rice and pastas, and try to incorporate a wider variety of wholegrains such as quinoa and buckwheat.
There are some key nutrients you might like to give more focus to if you are wanting to prioritise energy.
In cells, mitochondria convert the energy contained in the foods we eat to ATP. This is a usable form of cellular energy. Eating to support optimal energy requires plates that are filled with sufficient fuel in the form of macronutrients for your individual needs. Your cells need glucose from carbohydrates, amino acids from proteins and fatty acids from fat.
In addition to this, we also need enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Micronutrients support your body’s physiological processes so cells can produce energy, transport it to where it is needed and use it.
B vitamins are crucial for mental performance, and supplementing with folic acid, B5, B6 and B12 can have positive effects on some measures of cognition. B5 alongside choline and acetyl L-carnitine may also be useful for supporting levels of acetylcholine - a vital neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Eating a healthy diet which includes wholegrains, leafy greens, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, dairy, fish, poultry and lean meat will stand you in good stead as far as the B vitamins go, but they can easily become depleted during times of physiological and psychological stress. B vitamins work together as a team, so supplementing with a high strength B complex can be a great way to make sure they are all covered.
This mineral is essential for over 600 reactions in the body, including enzymes involved in the production of energy, but we use up more of this nutrient when we are stressed, so it can easily become depleted.
The best food sources are dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Many of us can find it challenging to eat enough of these daily. Try adding them to smoothies for a delicious way to get a good serving of these nutrient dense foods. Alternatively look for a high strength supplement such as our Super magnesium to boost levels.
Teenage girls are particularly prone to low iron levels. Struggling with energy is a key symptom of iron deficiency. Iron is required for haemoglobin to carry oxygen to every cell. It also helps numerous enzymes involved in both energy production and thyroid hormone function.
Animal based sources are the most bioavailable, with organ meats like liver and kidney coming in at the top, red meats, and to a lesser extent poultry, fish and eggs.
Although less easily absorbed, good plant-based sources include pulses and legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts and seeds. Cooking and combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C containing foods helps increase the bioavailability of iron.
Supplementing can be a great way (and sometimes essential) to increase iron and feel improvements if this is a cause for low energy. Remember to ask your doctor to test levels to assess as both too much and too little can have negative effects.
Correcting a vitamin D deficiency may also be key to supporting cognition and energy. Vitamin D is known to influence the growth, development and survival of neurons - primary components of the brain and nervous system. It also plays a role in the function of the mitochondria to aid energy production. Most people in the UK need to take a vitamin D supplement over winter when levels are naturally lower due to lack of sunshine. In summer it is possible to obtain vitamin D from up to 20 minutes of daily sun exposure. Those with pale skin that turns red or burns easily should take a vitamin D supplement all year round and protect their skin.
Some of the newest research focuses on the role that sleep and exercise play. Studies show children's attention and memory improve following physical exercise, enhancing their ability to learn. Others show that sleep allows the brain to update knowledge and adapt memories for future experiences.
As muscle cells require quick and easy access to energy, they are particularly high in mitochondria. So one way to increase production of these little energy factories is to build and maintain muscle by incorporating some resistance exercise into their routine. They may need to spend lots of time sitting at a desk during revision, however they will feel better and work better if they take regular breaks, a quick walk or even a few stretches while sitting is better then nothing.
Quality AND quantity are important here!
Research consistently shows the importance of sleep for health and wellbeing. Although it may seem an obvious factor for energy levels, getting enough quality sleep is something many struggle with. This can be due to stress, busy schedules and demands. Difficulty falling and staying asleep is also very common. Teenagers need between 8-10 hours of shut eye nightly. A strict bedtime routine is essential and yes screen time too close to bedtime will negatively effect sleep.
When we are stressed, our bodies use more and lose more B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc.
These nutrients are all essential for reactions involved in the stress response which can lead to fewer resources being available for your body to produce energy. Stress can really leave you feeling worn out and less vibrant. Make sure your teen is having regular revision breaks and not feeling overwhelmed, a proper lunchbreak, then a relaxing bath before bedtime can make all the difference.
There are pros and cons when it comes to a cup of coffee or caffeinated drinks to give you a boost. Coffee can have positive effects on working memory and focus. However for sensitive individuals it can upset blood sugar control and cause stress hormones to be produced so can be counter-productive in the long run. Students who increase coffee intake before an exam can actually increase anxiety and even headaches.
If your teen regularly has a cup of coffee with breakfast and feels good then stick with it on exam days as our body’s get used to a certain level, having more or less than usual is a mistake! If you feel caffeine is having a negative impact, start to reduce slowly over the course of 2-3 weeks so they have adjusted well before exam day. Remember try to encourage them to curb consumption later in the afternoon as it will have a negative impact on sleep.
Water makes up the majority of your body (even bones are approximately 25% water) Mild dehydration may impact brain function. Keeping the brain hydrated may help to increase memory and attention span.
Research currently supports recommendations of 33ml of water per kilogram of body weight, however individual requirements depend on many factors such as water content of foods eaten (plant foods are particularly high!) as well as sweat loss from exercise, environmental temperature and humidity. As a rough guide, you are well hydrated when your urine is the colour of light straw.
Our new improved energy and focus dissolves to make a pleasant tasting fizzy drink and is a great healthy alternative to the usual sugary drinks or energy drinks adolescents love. Formulated to improve concentration and to give a boost without caffeine, containing good levels of all-important B vitamins to support both energy production and the nervous system. Including vitamin B5 to support normal mental performance. Great to have the morning of an exam or during revision.
Improve concentration and give yourself a boost without caffeine in our all newly improved Energy & Focus effervescent drink.
A great healthy alternative to the usual sugary drinks or energy drinks adolescents love, containing good levels of all-important B vitamins to support both energy production and the nervous system. Including vitamin B5 to support normal mental performance.
Great to have the morning of an exam or during revision.