The days are getting shorter, the nights longer, and before long, many of us may be dealing with a touch of the “blahs” - that “can’t-put-my-finger-on-it” downturn in energy and mood that occurs when skies turn gray. There is a clinical term for this sort of thing; it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder. (Yes, “SAD.” Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor?)
While this may be good news for energy drink makers, who are in a stretch of “monster” sales (sorry, bad pun), the rest of us would just as soon do without Mother Nature depriving us of Vitamin D. And that means turning to something beyond the traditional morning coffee to bring about an edge. Of course, for the on-the-go types, this is hardly anything new: Anyone who balances a demanding job with an active lifestyle and a robust personal calendar is likely familiar with the bevy of products out there purporting to deliver a sustained energy boost.
What is less-known, however, is that not all of these products are created equal. The best energy supplements for fighting fatigue during your workday are not necessarily the best for delivering an extra punch during your workout. Here are some general rules for what works best for each, and one surprising crossover that can work for both.
The Best Energy Enhancers for Your Workday
Improving mental focus and mood is a function of providing the brain with the right building blocks to produce the chemicals responsible for those traits. You’ve no doubt heard of the benefits of ginseng, though searching for proof of its effectiveness in enhancing mood and concentration yields varied conclusions, depending on the type of supplement and amount used. Several years ago, a very promising study extolled its virtues in fighting fatigue in cancer patients.
Guarana, a plant grown primarily in South America, is an especially potent stimulant. Believe it or not, its seeds pack about twice as much caffeine as a coffee bean, in a similarly sized package. Caffeine, of course, essentially jolts the brain into telling itself it’s not tired. It may not be a long-term solution, but for a quick fix, this plant packs the punch you need.
But for helping your brain produce more of the stuff that perks you up, take a look at B vitamins. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, cannot be produced without Vitamin B6, for example. Same with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is actively involved in the “pleasure center” of the brain. Relatedly, Vitamin B12 helps to regulate the nervous system, allowing for those positive vibes to keep flowing. These are two powerful vitamins that can help with any “case of the Mondays.”
The Best Energy Supplements for Workouts
Finding the best pre-workout supplements depends on the type of exercise you’re taking on, of course.
For running, the body uses two main fuel sources: fat and carbohydrates. While it would be great if the body naturally chose to burn the fat first, turns out it’s a remarkably inefficient fuel source for running, made more so the faster you run. Carbs (as glycogen), then, are the primary fuel source. Energy gels tend to be a common source for distance runners to take on carbs during their race. However, be sure to read up on proper timing for consumption: The body usually slows down its digestive tract during extended periods of running, which means the benefits of these products may vary depending on your pace and your own body makeup.
Similarly, weight training can be aided by taking carbs for much the same reason - delivering energy to working muscles. However, there’s another unexpected pre-lift supplement that you probably have in the house: fruit. Fruit, especially oranges and bananas, help dilate blood vessels, speeding blood to working muscles and removing waste.
The Crossover: Coffee
Turns out, there’s an energy boost to be found in your cup of coffee, whether you’re heading to the office or to the gym. It’s commonly known that coffee provides that mental perk-up that cubicle dwellers have relied on for decades. But the caffeine charge in your cup of joe also aids in your body’s recovery after workouts, and its ability to burn fat when consumed before workouts.
There’s not much we can do about the amount of daylight hours during the day, but at least there are ways to find energy no matter where our waking hours take us.