Get More Energy: The Best Supplements to Fight Fatigue
Written by Dr Spencer Nadolsky on March 20, 2014
Being fatigued sucks. You stumble through the day, your brain slow, your body aching; you’re tired, you’re groggy, and everything feels awful. Fatigue isn’t just tiredness—it’s a generalized lack of energy and motivation that can sometimes be a symptom of serious issues like depression, anemia, or thyroid problems (which is why chronic, pervasive fatigue definitely warrants a visit to the doctor). In some cases, however, fatigue is simply the result of poor—but fixable!—habits.
When you’ve ruled out any medical issues and developed positive habits but are still struggling with fatigue, it may be time to turn to supplementation. We took a look at the most common causes of fatigue—sleep, stress, and exercise—and put together a list of simple, supplemental fixes to address each one. Check out the list to eliminate fatigue and get back in the game.
Note: The contents of this article are not intended to serve as medical advice. If you have questions about incorporating supplements into your life, it’s always smart to consult a medical professional.
It’s not uncommon to want five more minutes of sleep in the morning (guilty!), but if rolling out of bed feels like torture every single day—or if your love for the afternoon nap is bordering on obsessive—it may be time to add some new supplements to your routines.
1. Whole Foods (Iron and Magnesium)
The right foods can go a long way toward managing fatigue. If you’re always low on energy, try increasing the amount of iron and magnesium in your diet. These two minerals don’t just help with energy levels; they’ll also help you maintain healthy blood pressure, keep the blood well oxygenated, and ensure the muscles function properly.
Before heading to the supplement aisle, try these “natural” fixes to improve melatonin production: Keep the lights low, avoid fluorescent sources like TV screens (Ta-ta, Real Housewives marathons!), and, if you absolutely have to use your computer, try to add a red tint to the screen—red light is more friendly to melatonin synthesis, possibly because of its similarity to the sunsetMelatonin as a principal component of red light therapy. Yeager RL, Oleske DA, et al. Medical Hypotheses, 2007;69(2):372-6.. You can also check out F.lux, a program that can make your computer screen adapt its luminescence to the time of day.
If these changes don’t cut it, melatonin is also available in supplement formMeta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. Ferracioli-Oda E, Qawasmi A, et al. PLoS One. 2013 May 17;8(5):e63773.. Start experimenting with a low dose of 500 micrograms (0.5 milligrams), then slowly increase your dosage until you find your minimum effective dose. Bonus: Melatonin is pretty cheap; a month’s supply can cost only about five bucks.
Theanine is another amino acid that can help with sleep. It’s not sedative; rather, it improves sleep quality and should help you feel more rested in the morning.
The best source of theanine is tea, but there’s a Catch-22: Since most teas also contain caffeine, a steaming cup probably won’t improve sleep qualityL-Theanine: properties, synthesis and isolation from tea. Vuong QV, Bowyer MC, et al. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2011 Aug 30;91(11):1931-9.. White tea tends to have less caffeine than green or black tea, so if you’re a coffee drinker with a high caffeine tolerance, white tea could be a relaxing way to get some theanine before bed. Or just try decaf!
Another way to take theanine is in pill form. The optimal dosage for improving sleep is between 150 to 200 milligrams, taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. You can get a month’s supply for a little less than 10 bucks.
Metabolic burnout is a form of fatigue which builds up over a long period of time as a result of chronic stressBiomarkers in burnout: a systematic review. Danhof-Pont MB, van Veen T, et al. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2011 Jun;70(6):505-24.. Yep, one more reason why stress isn’t good for us! While there are scores of non-pharmaceutical ways to relieve anxiety, from meditation to exercise, there are also some proven stress-fighting supplements.
We’re not talking about the well-earned muscle fatigue that sets in after a few sets of an exercise. Here, we’re referring to the involuntary reduction in workout intensity and motivation that can set in after 45 minutes of heavy lifting, running, or competitive sports. While it may be tempting to turn to pre-workout stimulants, many of them are a double-edged sword: While some can reliably increase energy and performance, habitual use can lead to reliance and some—like 1,3-DMAA—can lead to high blood pressureEffects of 1,3-dimethylamylamine and caffeine alone or in combination on heart rate and blood pressure in healthy men and women. Bloomer RJ, Harvey IC, et al. Physician and Sportsmedicine, 2011 Sep;39(3):111-20.. Here are a few safer and non-stimulatory alternatives for keeping up with longer (45 minutes or more) workouts.
Why? Well, one of the factors that leads to fatigue during exercise is extra serotonin in the brain, which is caused by an increase in L-tryptophan, another amino acidExercise and fatigue. Ament W, Verkerke GJ. Sports Medicine, 2009;39(5):389-422.. BCAAs compete with L-tryptophan and prevent its uptake into the blood, thereby preventing the fatiguing effects of serotoninA role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue. Blomstrand E. Journal of Nutrition. 2006 Feb;136(2):544S-547S.. Like creatine, they have the added benefit of increasing muscle size and strength. The price is a bit steep: a month’s supply can run you up to 40 dollars. A typical daily dose of BCAAs varies depending on bodyweight, but is around 20 grams of the three amino acids combined, taken 1-3 times throughout the day.
On the other end of the stimulant spectrum is the body’s primary energy source: Glucose. Whip up a simple solution of water (it doesn’t matter how much) and 20 to 40 grams of glucose and sip it during your 45-minute (or longer) workout to keep a small stream of glucose in the blood and enjoy a subtle (but still noticeable) increase in performance. As a bonus, it may increase muscle synthesis over the long term (and if you really want bigger muscles, try spiking your glucose drink with some BCAAs)Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2004 Jan;22(1):15-30.Glycemic carbohydrates consumed with amino acids or protein right after exercise enhance muscle formation. Suzuki M. Nutrition Reviews, 2003 May;61(5 Pt 2):S88-94.. Glucose is often sold at supplement stores as “dextrose,” and you can buy a pound for around two dollars.
If you feel like your life is being hampered by fatigue, supplements shouldn’t be the first step. It’s most important to analyze your stress management skills, nutrition, and sleeping habits—with the help of a medical professional, if necessary—and then make the appropriate lifestyle changes (Doing so is probably also cheaper than supplementation!). But if you’ve eliminated unhealthy habits, ruled out underlying disorders, and are still struggling with fatigue, then these supplements may be effective in helping you get back up on the horse so you can keep on truckin’.
This post was written by Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, Director of Examine.com, an independent encyclopedia on supplements and nutrition that aggregates the latest scientific research on a multitude of supplements. Dr. Nadolsky is an osteopathic family physician and former wrestler with a B.A. in exercise science. To learn more, visit Examine’s website.