What causes lack of energy?
Low energy is characterised by feelings of exhaustion, but it can also cause problems concentrating and may even reduce motivation to carry out regular day-to-day tasks.
There are a few things that can lead to lack of energy amongst men, including:
- Time spent exercising
- Low testosterone levels
- Sleep problems
- Digestive problems
Read on to discover exactly why these things contribute to low energy levels.
According to a recent A.Vogel poll, 65% of people felt most tired between the hours of 1.30pm and 3pm. It is very likely the body will be processing lunch at this time which suggests a close connection between diet and energy levels.
There are a few different reasons as to why diet is frequently to blame for low energy levels.
One of the biggest problems is our reliance on pre-packaged and processed foods which don't often provide nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, vitamin B12 and iron and these are essential for maintaining steady energy levels. Although ready-meals are probably the most obvious example of a processed meal, we mustn't forget that kitchen staples including margarine, and even some breakfast cereals, are heavily processed too.
Another problem is sugar, as too much of it can cause a sharp rise and then a rapid fall in energy levels. Basically, sugar will not sustain energy levels for any significant period of time and, hence, we may experience an 'afternoon slump' or a 'sugar crash'. Again, there are lots of less obvious sources of sugar that we should be aware of including 'low-fat' products and white bread. These are foods that most of us rely on but, unfortunately, they could be playing havoc with our energy levels.
Finally, simply not eating enough can result in a lack of energy. This is perhaps most common amongst men who exercise regularly as they need to eat more in order to replace lost calories. Failing to increase calorie consumption after intense exercise will cause tiredness.
2. Time spent exercising
We are big advocates of exercise here at A.Vogel – it keeps the heart healthy, it can improve mood and it can help to manage weight, plus it keeps energy levels up. That's because exercise produces feel-good hormones known as endorphins which can make us feel invigorated. Remaining inactive means we won't get these benefits and low energy can develop as a result.
That being said, doing lots of intense exercise may also lead to fatigue so it is important to strike a balance between the two. It is generally recommended that we do 150 minutes of moderate level exercise a week (that's things like jogging, swimming and cycling) or 75 minutes of intense exercise (which could be anything from sprints to a gym workout).
3. Low testosterone
Testosterone, a hormone naturally present in males, influences things like sex drive. Testosterone naturally declines with age but usually this change happens so slowly that it goes unnoticed. For some males, however, this decline will be more obvious with symptoms such as low libido, mood swings, loss of body hair, muscle weakness and skin problems developing.
One of the other key symptoms of low testosterone is poor energy levels. This can be exacerbated by the fact that falling testosterone can contribute to sleep problems.
Being overweight can play havoc with testosterone levels as the hormone is converted into the hormone oestradiol via an enzyme synthesised by fat cells. So, being overweight can put men more at risk of symptoms like low energy and low libido.
Research also suggests that endurance training can lower testosterone, which can then contribute to tiredness. Interestingly, it was found that resistance training will not have the same effect.1
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, not just low energy, it is well worth speaking to your doctor as low testosterone can be managed with medication and small lifestyle changes.
4. Sleep problems
Now, any kind of sleep problem is likely to make you feel more tired during the day time and, unfortunately, there are a number of things that can keep us awake at night.
Sleep apnoea, for one, is more prevalent amongst men than women, particularly if you are holding excess weight.2 This is when the throat relaxes and narrows during sleep, thus restricting breathing. The body literally has to wake you up to clear the airways and restore normal breathing. Other symptoms of sleep apnoea include irritability, anxiety, snoring and restless sleep.
Snoring, whether it is coming from yourself or your partner, may also disrupt sleep. This occurs when the tongue, mouth, throat or airways in the nose vibrate as you breathe. Congestion, be it the result of an allergy, hayfever or the common cold, may also lead to snoring as it becomes harder for air to pass through the nose comfortably.
Research shows that testosterone levels are raised in the REM stage of sleep, a deep stage of sleep where dreams occur and the brain is more active.3 If sleep problems mean we are unable to reach this crucial stage, it could contribute to low testosterone which, as I have explained, is a common cause of low energy amongst men.
To find out more about some common sleep problems and how to address them, take a look at our Sleep hub.
Anaemia occurs when the body lacks iron. Symptoms include low energy, dizziness and difficulty concentrating.
Although anaemia is not as likely in men as it is in women, it can be influenced by poor diet, too much wheat and antacid medication. Vitamin B12, which is essential for energy production, relies upon low stomach acid. If low stomach acid isn't therefore provided, levels of vitamin B12 may decline and low energy can develop.
Excess caffeine is also a factor to consider when it comes to anaemia as this can drain stores of iron, plus it counters the absorption of this essential mineral.
6. Digestive problems
It's also important to note that digestive problems can affect how well nutrients are absorbed by the body. If you are a sufferer of IBS, for example, and regularly experience symptoms like diarrhoea, nutrients like potassium and zinc (which I've already explained are important for maintaining steady energy levels) will not be properly absorbed by the body.
Dehydration is a perhaps one of the more surprising causes of low energy. Without sufficient water, the blood becomes more concentrated and, as a result, it flows less comfortably around the body. Blood is rich in oxygen, and if this fails to reach the muscles and brain, then low energy is often the result.4
On top of this, dehydration can hinder production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This means you are less likely to get deep, restorative sleep, and are more likely to wake up feeling groggy and tired.
Another thing to be aware of here is caffeine as, despite the initial high it provides, in the long term it can also drain energy. Caffeine is a stimulant that can linger in our system for hours. This means it may be responsible for keeping us awake at night, which can then make us feel lethargic during the day.
There's also the issue that caffeine could block the absorption of potassium. This essential nutrient is involved in a wide range of functions, and is present in the cells and tissues. Therefore, when potassium levels fall, unexplained fatigue is often the result.
Stress is a very common problem amongst men – according to a survey by mentalhealth.org.uk conducted in 2018, 67% per cent of men felt overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point in the past year.5
Stress can obviously make it harder to sleep - as our worries occupy headspace, it becomes difficult to relax. Moreover, stress drains the body of essential nutrients including magnesium and B vitamins. B vitamins help metabolise protein for energy, whilst a lack of magnesium may contribute to more pain and less sleep. We can, therefore, see how both of these things could further contribute to lack of energy in men.
Other issues that can cause low energy
Diabetes – tiredness is frequently experienced by sufferers of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Other symptoms include weight loss, thirst and frequent urination. If you are concerned about any of these problems, arrange to have a discussion with your doctor.
Chronic fatigue syndrome – this long-term condition causes symptoms including fatigue, muscle pains and sleep problems.
Coeliac disease – this occurs when the immune system reacts to gluten. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, bloating, anaemia and weight loss.
Glandular fever – this is a viral infection that leads to issues including fatigue, a sore throat, swollen glands and a temperature.
Fibromyalgia – this condition is characterised by chronic pain in the muscles and body tissues. It can also be accompanied by fatigue, headaches and, amongst other things, mood swings.
Depression and anxiety – these can cause problems getting to sleep, plus people generally feel low in energy.
Restless legs – this is an uncontrollable urge to move your limbs. It can also cause aching and an uncomfortable sensation in the legs. These things may keep a person awake at night thus leading to low energy during the day.
Medication – some medications, including those for diabetes and heart disease, have fatigue as a known side effect. Please see your doctor to discuss your medication, should you be worried about these symptoms. At no point should you stop taking the medication without consultation first.
Underactive thyroid – this occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxine, a type of hormone. Tiredness, weight gain, fatigue, changes in appetite and brain fog are all common symptoms.
How can I increase my energy?
Sufficient potassium, zinc and magnesium levels are needed to keep energy at an optimum, so that's why we often recommend Balance Mineral Drink to anyone feeling tired or fatigued. As well as these nutrients, Balance contains calcium and vitamin D meaning it can help to support normal muscle function and bone maintenance at the same time.
As well as using supplements to get more energy-boosting nutrients into your body, I'd always recommend looking at your diet too. Fresh food, including fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, are always going to offer more than processed foods. Plus, it's a good idea to cut out produce with a high sugar and salt intake – again, processed foods like fizzy juice and biscuits are big culprits here.
My top energy-boosting foods:
- Bananas – take a look at our recipe hub for various banana-based recipes
- Oily fish – try our Grilled Trout with Fresh Dill recipe
- Porridge – after something different? Take a look at this recipe for Spiced Porridge two ways
- Brown rice, pasta and bread – these three ingredients should make up just over a third of what you eat.
- Beans - this flavoursome 'Mexican Beanie Rice' is just delicious!
- Eggs – our healthy eggy bread makes the ultimate energy boosting breakfast – what better way is there to start the day?
- Potatoes – incorporate potatoes into soup for a filling and healthy lunch
Quite often, lack of sleep is to blame for low energy levels so we should always be aiming for 7-9 hours a night.
To achieve this, try to keep a regular bed time, whilst ensuring that you go to bed at a time that will mean you get this recommended 7-9 hours. Avoiding television and phone screens in the hour or so before bed will make it easier to drift off so ditch these in favour of more relaxing activities like reading.
Our sleep hub provides loads of advice and tips for dealing with sleep-related problems.
Exercise is a good way to boost energy levels, plus it can help you get more sleep at night, which might make you feel more rested the next day.
Aim for around 150 minutes of moderate level exercise each week to keep energy levels at an optimum. Don't be tempted to do a lot more than this, though, as it is likely to make you feel more tired than when you started!
For some ideas on how to begin exercising, see our Get Active hub. Generally speaking, people find it easier to start with gentle exercises like walking which they can then build upon as the weeks go by.
Drink more water
Water is very important for maintaining steady energy levels. The recommended daily amount is 1.5-2 litres, but more if you are in a hot climate or are doing lots of exercise.
To help increase your water intake, keep a bottle handy at all times and add fresh fruit and herbs if you find the taste to be a little dull.
Nutritionist Emma Thornton recently wrote a blog '12 tips to help you drink more water' which is well worth a look too.
There is no 'one size fits all' method when it comes to managing stress, though there are a few things that can be helpful. For some, just talking to a close friend, colleague or family member about their concerns will help to relieve stress. A gentle remedy such as Stress Relief Daytime, which is made with Valerian and Hops, can help with mild stress and anxiety.
Other than that, it can be helpful to make more time for the activities you enjoy, be it running or a hobby like photography, in order to manage stress. This gives you something else to focus on, plus sport comes with the benefit that it can boost mood.
When should I see a doctor about low energy levels?
Whilst lifestyle and dietary changes can often improve energy levels, in some instances it will be necessary to visit a doctor about your symptoms, for example:
- If some of the simple lifestyle changes listed above don't bring about any improvement
- If symptoms continue long term
- If you notice that symptoms get worse
- If you experience other symptoms in addition to low energy.
For further information on the causes of low energy, as well as tips on how to address the problem, head over to our energy hub now.