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Best sources of energy aren't from a can or a cup

Published May 2, 2007


The energy drink Red Bull hit the U.S. market in 1997 and created a craze among consumers who were looking for that extra edge, be it a quick fix for a workout, a night on the town or even a day at the office.

In the last couple of years Red Bull has sold upwards of 700-million cans per year in the United States alone. In 2004, 1.9-billion cans were sold worldwide. That same year, the Starbucks coffee chain totaled $5.3-billion in sales, up roughly 30 percent from the year before - and growing.

Today there are more than 250 different types of energy drinks available and even caffeinated chewing gum. If that doesn't wake you up to the fact that we are a society driven by the need for moxie and vigor, perhaps you fall into the humble percentage of Earth's inhabitants who live life at a different pace.

So how do we keep up, in the gym, at the nightclubs or in the rat race? Energy has become a publicly traded commodity, it would seem, one which comes packaged in ounces with a significant price tag.

But are there other options?

Certified nutritional consultant Paul O' Rourke says it might help to think of caffeine, energy drinks and other "quick fix" products in the same way you would a high-interest loan. They grant us the energy we crave. But there could be a greater price to pay down the road in the body's drained minerals and adrenals.

"When someone comes to me and says, 'I need energy, ' it's going to be a long conversation because there are so many reasons we lack it and so many ways to get it, " O'Rourke said. "As a nutritional consultant, I'd rather see people start focusing on long-term solutions, getting the body to run on its own, rather than a quick fix."

O'Rourke does not bash coffee or Red Bull. He allows that people may want to use such drinks, or even fat burners, to ramp up and begin a more energetic life or workout program. But he warns against their use as a crutch in the quest for daily energy, prescribing a more positive, organic therapy for his clients.

As a personal trainer, I recently found myself a bit addicted to energy drinks and coffee; that was the inspiration behind this article. In doing my research, I uncovered healthier and longer-lasting solutions to my own needs that I hope will help you.

O'Rourke and I agree that there can be endless reasons behind a person's lack of energy. If you have an issue with fatigue, you may want to get specific information or supplements from a nutritionist or doctor, as the cause could be a physiological issue, such as high blood sugar or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Eat more leafy greens

Closer to home, consider your diet. Our parents were right to push vegetables; getting our daily allowance of greens is essential to cellular restoration and an energy-efficient body. O'Rourke says the secret to longevity is maintaining a healthy acid-alkaline balance.

Well, what does that mean?

The body is naturally acidic so that it can digest anything, as our predecessors were scavengers.

When we lack green vegetables, our bodies sway toward an acid-rich environment that produces more free radicals, or things that cause interruptions at an atomic level. The antioxidants in greens lower those free radicals and give our bodies an acid-alkaline balance better suited for digestion and cellular rejuvenation.

In simpler terms, if you can help your cells regenerate more efficiently, to a greater degree your body will be less stressed to do so and in turn free up more energy for consumption.

Plus, green foods have gotten their energy from the sun and are more easily digested, with nutrients that go directly into the bloodstream. Nobody expects you to wake up and start your day with a hot plate of Brussels sprouts. But O'Rourke recommends adding or mixing a green supplement to a morning protein shake to start your day right.

Super green supplements include spirulina, barley and wheatgrass. Eating them first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, assures that your body soaks up the nutrients. Nutrition powders with scoops that equal eight to 10 servings of vegetables are abundant in health food stores and don't taste as bad as you might imagine.

If you feel your diet is adequate in greens, carbohydrates and proteins but you still lack energy, you could try adding a digestive enzyme supplement, as you may not be breaking down the nutrients well enough.

In other words, if you're putting the top-quality gas in your car but the engine is still sputtering, maybe it's time to clean out the lines and check the valves. Just because you've invited nutrients to the party doesn't mean they are getting in the door.

Take multivitamins

Multivitamins are one of the best things you can take for your body and your health. Think of them as an insurance policy. B-complex vitamins, in particular, aid in energy.

They are found in whole-grain cereals, rice, nuts, milk, eggs, meats, fish, fruits and, once again, leafy green vegetables. B vitamins play an essential role in the body's metabolism, and are primarily responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into usable forms such as glucose.

What makes them so crucial is that they are water-soluble, which means instantly usable by the body.

Plus they break down and transfer fats and other nutrients to where they need to go. Think of them as an extra construction crew of foremen on your job site.

They get things moving in the right direction, especially to your most important organ, the brain. If the brain is functioning better, the entire body is functioning better and we're not losing that energy.

Next week's column will cover another important component: that good night's sleep.

[Last modified May 1, 2007, 19:34:46]

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