The food you eat can have a profound impact on how you feel, from your mood to your energy production pathways to the way your nervous system functions, your hormones, and the quality of your sleep. All of these physical processes require vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to function optimally, and they can all impact how energised (or fatigued) you will feel.
Getting the right information and support to make good food choices, support your blood sugar levels, curb cravings, and reduce your reliance on stimulants will set you up for the best possible chance of feeling resilient as you navigate the early months of broken sleep with you baby.
This article will cover:
- Blood sugar regulation
- Nutrients needed for energy
- Building an energising meal or snack
- Ideal foods for supporting energy
- Energising meal & snack ideas
Blood sugar regulation
One of the most common food-related issues I see in tired mothers is blood sugar dysregulation. Our blood sugar is normally tightly regulated to allow ample supply of glucose to cells for energy but also to control the amount of sugar in the blood at any one time, as high blood sugar levels are associated with negative health outcomes.
For many mothers, blood sugar levels are spiking too high after eating, based on the types of food consumed at each meal, and then crashing down again, leaving them feeling tired, depleted, and, more than likely, looking for their next sugar fix. It’s the classic case of what goes up must come down. The faster our blood sugar levels rise, the faster they crash and the more fatigued we feel after we hit the bottom.
Ideally, our blood sugar levels would gently rise after meals and gradually return to baseline after a few hours, resulting in stable energy levels throughout the day.
Foods that impact our blood sugar
The foods that are most likely to cause these sugar spikes and crashes are high carbohydrate foods, and sweet and sugary foods, especially when these foods are eaten ‘naked’ (a term coined by dietician Lily Nichols) – that is, eaten on their own without a source of protein, fat, and/or fibre. It’s foods rich in protein, fat, and/or fibre that help to keep our blood sugar levels stable after eating.
Blood sugar levels & sleep deprivation
Complicating the matter further is the fact that broken sleep can negatively impact our blood sugar regulation. When we are sleep deprived, we are more resistant to the mechanisms that control our blood sugar levels, leaving us more susceptible to these spikes and crashes, and to the rollercoaster of fluctuating energy levels throughout the day.
For all of these reasons, being mindful of blood sugar regulation is absolutely essential for all mothers, particularly those who are sleep deprived.
When you are tired and run down, your body will naturally crave foods that can give you a quick burst of energy. Typically, this means sugary foods and sweets, and simple carbohydrate foods like bread, crackers, pasta, etc., as they raise our blood sugar levels rapidly for easy energy.
As outlined above, spiking our blood sugar quickly with high carbohydrate foods is a recipe for trouble when it comes to our energy levels. It’s also more likely to leave us craving another sugar hit not long after eating, as our body will be looking for the quickest way to raise blood sugar levels again. It a cycle that is very easy to fall into and hard to get out of.
While leaning into these cravings may initially feel satisfying, in the long run they end up depleting us further and crowd out the opportunity for us to nourish our body with something more satisfying.
Cravings & sleep deprivation
Again, sleep deprivation complicates things here – those who are subject to broken sleep are more likely to crave carbohydrate foods and have their inhibition mechanisms in the brain lowered, meaning they are more likely to ‘give in’ to temptation and have excessive food intake. This happens via the release of cannibinoids.
Awareness is a useful step
Being aware that your cravings are a normal reaction to being exhausted and sleep deprived can be useful. When they arise, you can name them to reduce their grip – ‘ahh, there’s that craving for chocolate because I’m so tired today’. Having some ideas for alternatives to reach for instead can help too (see the section on meal ideas below). Make a list and stick it on your fridge so you’re not caught out.
Relying on stimulants like caffeine when you’re exhausted is like withdrawing money from your bank account when it’s empty. Sure, it feels good to have a little cash in your wallet, but you’re only stealing from yourself and it’s you who has to repay the bank with money (or energy) you don’t have.
It’s common to crave stimulants when you’re exhausted, and while there is definitely a time and a place for a helping hand like a morning cup of coffee, it’s when we over consume stimulants or rely on them too much that it becomes a problem.
Instead of reaching for that 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) cup of coffee, or soda or energy drink, try reaching for something with gentle stimulation like black tea, cacao or green tea, which have much lower levels of caffeine relative to those other options or opt for caffeine free options like decaffeinated coffee (Swiss water method), herbal tea, caffeine-free chai, or a turmeric latte.
Where is caffeine found?
Caffeine is found in coffee, black and green tea, cacao & chocolate, Guarana, Yerba mate, some soft drinks, and energy drinks.
Nutrients for energy
While most nutrients have a role to play in supporting your energy production pathways, some key vitamins and minerals are crucial for powering these pathways along, including:
- B-vitamins*: meat, leafy greens, dairy, eggs, wholegrains, nuts, seeds
- Magnesium: leafy greens, avocado, cacao, wholegrains, quinoa, bananas
- Copper: fish, seafood, beef, nuts, olives
- CoQ10: meat, organs
- Iron: meat, chicken thigh, organ meats especially liver, eggs, fish & seafood
- Fat: olive oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters, tallow, lard, sesame oil, oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), fatty cuts of meat, coconut millk & cream
- Protein: meat, eggs, dairy, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy, quinoa
*B-vitamins are a group of vitamins that are found in different foods, the foods listed above are the best sources to cover all your B-vitamin bases.
Building an energising meal or snack
Using some of these principles, we can piece together the foundation for an energising meal or snack.
- Aim for it to include a good source of protein and fat, plus fibre
- Choose fibre rich complex carbohydrates over simple carbs, i.e. choose sweet potato, lentils or chickpeas, or pulse pasta over grains, especially ‘white’ foods like white pasta or bread, white rice
- Avoid ‘naked’ carbs – eating carbohydrates, especially simple carbs, on their own without protein or fat
- Opt for foods without added sugar, then add sweetness yourself if you need so you can control the sugar content. Over time you will crave less sweetness overall in your food as your palate adjusts to these other nourishing nutrients and your blood sugar is stabilised.
- Include at least one serve of veggies or fruit (aiming for one cupped handful or more) – this provides lots of valuable nutrition in the form of micronutrients as well as fibre to slow the rise of blood sugar
Food for energy
This list is by no means exhaustive, however, these are some of my favourite foods helping mothers with stable energy throughout the day
Meat: rich source of iron and CoQ10
Eggs: mother nature’s multivitamin that contains the energy combo of protein + fat, with B-vitamins and iron
Avocado: rich source of B-vitamins and magnesium for energy production, high in fat to keep you full and provide energy stable for long periods
Full fat dairy: rich in fat + protein, with iron and B-vitamins
Cacao: gentle stimulant for a small energy boost, high in magnesium and copper
Nuts & seeds: the perfect combo of fat + protein to stabilise blood sugar levels, rich source of B-vitamins and magnesium, good source of copper
Green leafy vegetables: rich source of B-vitamins and magnesium, plant source of iron
Quinoa: rich in protein, B-vitamins and magnesium
Liver: best food source of iron, B-vitamins, CoQ10
Cinnamon: stabilises blood sugar levels, provides natural sweetness to food
Eating for energy – snacks ideas
- Trail mix with raw nuts + seeds
- Guacamole or smashed avo with seedy crackers (I love the Marys Gone Crackers crackers)
- Wholegrain sourdough toast + avo + eggs
- Dark chocolate with nut butter
- Boiled eggs
- Cacao chia pudding
- Celery sticks or sliced apple with nut butter
- Choc-berry smoothie with avocado, yoghurt + nut butter
- Bliss balls made with nuts + cacao
- Hot cacao made with milk of your choice, tspn ghee, cinnamon, honey
- Kale chips
- Chocolate avocado mousse
- Liver pate + butter & wholegrain crackers
- Broccoli bites
Eating for energy – meals ideas
- Vegetable frittata
- Slow cooked meat & veggie casseroles
- Oven roasted salmon & broccoli
- Eggs any way + avocado + handful of fresh rocket
- Salads made with wholegrains + leafy greens, e.g. quinoa + kale, or brown rice + broccoli
- Beef stir fry with bok choy and cashews
- Chicken coconut curry
- Silverbeet egg cup muffins
- Beef chilli with guacamole + sour cream
- Steak + garlic sautéed kale
- Beef or chicken meatballs with hidden liver
Need more help?
Making food changes can be really challenging and often requires a bit of extra support. Whether you want a full meal plan or some specific food advice based on your dietary preferences, I can help you on your journey to eating for more energy.
We can also understand whats going on at the level of your biochemistry, particularly around blood sugar regulation, by testing for markers like fasting glucose and fasting insulin.