It’s often said that time is money, but I don’t think that’s precise enough.
The way I see it, energy is money. The more you can accomplish in a certain amount of time, and the more “hustle” you have in general, the more you can get done and the more you’ll want to do.
You can create more, learn more, travel more, give more, and love more.
Whether you’re trying to improve your station at work, build your wealth, run your business, ace your schooling, improve your health, or be the best mom you can be, energy is essential.
How to Increase Your Energy
There are a lot of low quality “list posts” out there that say the obvious like, “drink enough water, consume less alcohol, and exercise regularly”, but this isn’t going to be one of those posts.
This is a 9,000 word beast of an article, with a hyperlinked table of contents for easy navigation, that gives you 12 actionable tactics to noticeably boost your energy, especially when combined together.
For each tactic, I’m going to go into detail with personal experiences, case studies, and well-cited evidence by doctors, scientists, and health experts for how it may boost your energy levels, and give you links to high quality sources for more information.
My Energy Boost
Until the last few years, I’ve never been a very energetic person.
In fact, I was prone to apathy and depression for most of my younger years. There are a lot of variables that can go into this, but by my mid twenties, I finally figured out a formula that works for me, that dramatically boosts my energy and productivity compared to the level it was at through most of my life.
These days, I work 60+ hour weeks, and love just about every minute of it. I work in a dual role as an engineer and the financial overseer for an aviation research facility, perform investment research and writing in the evenings that gets featured in major media, cook and exercise regularly, travel internationally, and spend time with my husband. I’ve built and sold a small business, and I’ve completed a graduate degree on the side.
If I didn’t use the tactics described in this article, I wouldn’t have enough focus and drive to do it all.
I can’t promise that these tips will work for you, but what I’m going to try to do is outline, as best I can, all of the tactics I use to boost my energy in a sustainable, long-term way. Some of them are highly practical at first sight. Others may seem a bit more vague or emotional, but I’ll explain the biology behind why those work too, and why they are just as practical as the rest.
For me, the combined effect of all of these tactics has been utterly life-changing for my energy, mood, health, and productivity.
Start here from the beginning for the full list, or use the links below to jump directly to the tactic you want:
- Try reducing your carbohydrates
- Increase your micronutrient intake
- Exercise regularly (and preferably outside)
- Measure your inflammation
- Check your hormones
- Drink less coffee, and more matcha
- Consume some MCT oil
- Sleep properly
- Create a greener home
- Pursue a passion
- Listen to Outrageously Epic Music
1) Try reducing your carbohydrates
Image courtesy of Dr. Andreas Einfeldt.
The average American consumes 100+ pounds of sugar and another 100+ pounds of flour each year, which is an astonishing amount.
In nature, carbs come with massive amounts of fiber, and are often only available seasonally.
By using technology to circumvent that and base our food pyramid on various grass seeds like wheat, and adding tons of potatoes, fruit juices, sodas, and other things all year round, we’ve dramatically shifted how we eat. Rates of obesity and diabetes have absolutely skyrocketed in recent decades.
Just 150 years ago in the U.S., people only ate a few pounds of added sugar in an entire year, and had access to only very small amounts of natural sugar, just from fruits for short parts of the year and some canned fruits for the rest of the year.
Source: Dr. Stephan Guyenet, using data from the US Department of Commerce and USDA
Over the ages, we’ve selectively bred our fruit to be bigger and more sugary, and we’ve changed our potatoes to be starchier and less fibrous, and then made these things available all year. We took the fruit juice out of the fruit, to get all the sugar and none of the fiber. So even these “natural” things aren’t remotely natural anymore.
Wheat, rice, and other grains are hard to harvest and process in large amounts by hand, which is why grains play, at best, a very small role in ancestral diets.
Only with agricultural technology has mankind been able to harvest enough of these grass seeds to base our food pyramid on them. Like most seeds, they contain mild toxins to protect them from digestion, which may be okay in small amounts for most people, but cause problems when eaten multiple times daily.
A lot of animals, as well as traditional human cultures in non-equatorial latitudes, go through periods of weight gain and weight loss. During winter when vegetation is scarce, they rely on high-fat food sources and their own body fat, and during summer when vegetation and fruits and all sorts of foods are abundant, they eat more carbs and put on weight for the upcoming winter.
But now, thanks to our technology and transportation, we live in an endless nutritional summer. We can eat anything we want all year. We can ship in apples from New Zealand, bananas from South America, and eat wheat and potatoes and sugar every day, 365 days a year.
And as a result, people put on weight and feel sluggish.
Here’s a good test: Can you comfortably go 16 hours without eating? Can you dip into an intermittent fast without much thought? Can you skip a meal or three without it being a big deal?
Most people can’t. In fact, that sounds like a scary thought to a lot of people. And the reason is that their blood sugar is a slave to their diet- they eat high carb, low fiber meals, which repeatedly spike blood sugar. And then it comes crashing back down a couple hours later, resulting in sudden hunger cravings that start the cycle over. But that’s not how we are supposed to be.
Here’s a case study of how a high-carb meal (red) affects blood sugar compared to a low-carb meal (green), courtesy again of Dr. Andreas Einfeldt:
Personally, mine used to look like the red line. I was never overweight, but my blood sugar was really sensitive. I would find myself with low blood sugar 3 hours after a meal, and I’d get shaky. My adrenaline would spike, I’d start to sweat a bit, and my body would demand food, blocking out all other productive work. I’d grab a Snickers bar or something.
I ended up planning my meals around this. Like, “I need to eat my granola bar exactly one hour before starting that bike ride, or I’ll get an energy crash.” And that’s no fun at all.
Now, I can easily skip a whole day of meals if I want to, although I rarely do. I’ve hiked mountains in Hong Kong while fasted. It’s amazing how stable the body can be when it’s able to tap into body fat for fuel rather than relying on sugar for energy.
By eating a low carbohydrate diet and keeping your insulin levels consistently low, you can train your body to burn fat for energy, and easily access body fat when needed. That frees you from the need to burn sugar constantly.
What amount of carbohydrates is ideal?
Short answer: everyone’s different.
The average American eats about 250 grams of carbs per day (1,000 calories), with a lot of it coming from sugar and flour.
When the U.S. Government released dietary guidelines in the 1970’s, telling people to reduce fat and eat carbs instead, this was the result:
Source: Healthline, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics
Rates of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome have surged ever upward.
Low or moderate carb diets typically range from 10-150 grams of carbs (40-600 calories), with very little sugar and flour, so somewhere in there is a good starting point for experimenting.
Three decades of living has shown me that I’m not very carb-tolerant. If I eat a lot of carbs at once, I’ll feel terrible for hours.
During much of the year, I eat perhaps 20-150 grams of carbs per day, with most of it coming from vegetables, berries, rice, legumes, and einkorn pasta.
I also practice intermittent fasting- I have multiple 16+ hour periods each week without eating, which gives my body a chance to reset and helps keep insulin levels low. And because I’m used to it, it’s those fasted periods where I feel the best and most energized. When a body is used to burning fat for energy, hunger tends to come in the form of a gentle reminder rather than a craving. Most of my articles on this site were written while intermittent fasting in the morning before my first meal.
During colder months, I eat a seasonal ketogenic diet, which is the lowest type of low-carb diet. For that period I eat under 20 net carbs a day, or about 40 total carbs per day including fiber, and my blood sugar looks like the straight green line in the chart above. (And I’ve measured it.)
The result is that my body burns fat instead of sugar for fuel, and my brain has switched over to running on ketones instead of glucose, which is a natural human adaptation to deal with periods of low carbohydrates. Many people report increased mental clarity and energy when they are in this state, and I’m no exception.
It’s the same state that people go into after 3 days on a fast. When people fast for religious, spiritual, or other reasons, they often report that the first day or two is hard, and then by the third day it suddenly gets easier and they feel mildly euphoric and focused, no longer hungry, and more connected to their deity. It feels like the sun finally coming out on a cloudy day.
This is because on about day 3 of not eating carbs, the body runs out of stored glucose and switches over to tapping into body fat to produce ketones for brain energy. Ketones are more efficient, and more powerful. Here’s a chart from Dr. Peter Attia’s website showing what happens to blood glucose and ketones during a fast:
Beta-hydroxybutyrate is the ketone I’m referring to, which you can see in that chart.
Usually, your ketone levels are near-zero. If you cut out the carbs and continue to eat other foods, your blood glucose level will decrease mildly, and your ketone levels will increase from zero to reach 1-3 mmol/L after a few days. If you go into a prolonged no-food fast, your ketone levels could hit 5-6 mmol/L.
Therefore, a ketogenic diet can take some of the benefits people experience during a fast (no food, just water), and let you maintain them indefinitely (by simply eliminating most carbs but still eating enough calories).
I’ve measured my ketones on a regular basis with a blood meter, and they average about 1.5 mmol/L, depending on the time of day.
A lot of diets claim to give certain benefits, but a ketogenic diet is the only one that literally runs your brain on a different fuel source.
Slipping into and out of ketosis on an occasional or seasonal basis would be a natural part of most human history, but today, most people have never gone a day without food, or a day without carbs, and have never taught their bodies how to rely on burning fat instead of sugar for energy.
The human body is not fragile, or picky. It is perfectly happy to burn fat (either dietary fat or body fat) for energy, and turn it into ketones for the brain, but if you give it carbs (which are just long chains of sugar, and get broken down into sugar when digested), it’ll burn that sugar for fuel instead.
The cool thing is that when your body is used to burning fat, it has a nearly endless supply that it can tap into whenever it wants, stored all around the body, even if you’re a lean person.
And you don’t have to go fully ketogenic to get some of the benefits.
Mark Sisson has a great carbohydrate curve visual that emphasizes the 50-150 gram range of carbs as being optimal from his perspective. You won’t get the benefits of ketones most of the time, but you’ll manage your blood sugar in a healthy range and still be able to burn a lot of fat and build muscle easily.
Steve Kamb has created what has become one of the Internet’s most-cited articles on the paleo diet, mainly because it’s written so well in plain English with case studies and expert references. Check it out here.
I’ve personally found that under 50 total grams (and under 20 net grams) of carbs works best for me, because it puts me into ketosis, where my body and brain run on fat and ketones instead of sugar, and I feel great.
However, I practice seasonal ketosis, so I reduce carbs in the colder months when vegetation is scarce, and go up to 20-150 grams in warmer months when vegetation is more abundant.
All I can say, is experiment. See what works for you. And if you are on medications, talk to your doctor first. Many doctors that incorporate modern research have promoted this way of eating, but it’s not necessarily right for everyone.
I grew up eating a standard American diet, high in junk food, and then eventually became a strict vegetarian for years, and nearly a vegan due to low consumption of dairy and eggs. Then I switched over to a pseudo-paleo diet, with most of my food volume coming from veggies and fruits, along with some meat and fish and healthy fats like olive oil, but with a bit of rice and beans. It was fairly low carb, at around 120 grams per day.
Then I decided to take the plunge and try a ketogenic experiment for a month, reducing my carbs to under 20 per day (or up to 40 including fiber).
It’s a diet that was originally used as far back as a century ago to treat kids with severe epilepsy (since it makes you virtually immune to seizures).
Now the ketogenic diet has applications for:
- Fighting cancer (since cancer cells often rely heavily on glucose, and a ketogenic diet mostly gets rid of glucose)
- Massive weight loss to a healthy body composition (since the body adapts to burning fat instead of sugar for energy)
- Fighting type 2 diabetes (since your blood sugar ends up looking like a brilliantly flat line all day and your insulin sensitivity improves)
- Endurance athletes (since they don’t need to carry packs of glucose on them as they run or bike)
- Navy Seals (so they can dive into deep water with high oxygen equipment without the increased risk of seizures)
- Reducing inflammation and chronic pain (since it removes grain and sugar, and ketones are an incredibly clean-burning fuel source)
- Improving cholesterol tests in many people (since it often raises good HDL cholesterol and reduces triglycerides)
- Improving neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (as the brain gets to run on an ideal fuel source)
- Potentially treating psychotic disorders (better than antipsychotic medication)
- Anyone who simply wants to feel the mental clarity and increased energy that is commonly associated with the diet
Experts say it takes the body a couple weeks to adapt to it, increase the volume of mitchondria in all your cells, optimize your enzymes for fat-burning, etc. So I gave it a shot for a full month, perfectly strict, and then kept going because it felt right.
I’m like a machine on this diet, focused and productive. I want to get things done from the moment I wake up until bedtime. I sleep more soundly and regularly, and I never, ever get hunger cravings or blood sugar crashes. I eat when I want, and am fully in control of it.
I don’t feel sluggish or tired after lunch. I just want to start doing things again right after eating, without missing a beat. But not in the jittery, wired way like someone who drank 3 cups of coffee. Just in a focused, clear way. Calm and ready to go.
Here are the types of foods I personally eat:
- Wild-caught fish, like sardines and sockeye salmon
- Limited meat, like grass-fed beef and pastured chicken
- Avocados, green beans, broccoli, bell peppers, etc.
- Leafy greens like romaine, arugula, kale, spinach, and more
- Olive oil, coconut milk, and MCT oil
- Butter and cream from grass-fed cows
- Nuts, berries, and dark chocolate
- Spices, herbs, and tea
During my higher-carb (50-150 gram) periods, I have some rice, black beans, einkorn pasta, and goat’s milk here and there.
During most days, I eat 2 meals per day within an 8-hour window. The other 16 hours (half of which is sleeping) is in a fasted state with just water and macha. For example, I often get up at 8am, eat my first meal at 12pm, my second meal at 7pm, and go to bed at 12am. But it’s not hardcore; whenever I’m hungry, I eat. I’m at my most productive and energized in the morning when I’m fasted.
Many meals traditionally come with a starch. A typical American plate often has a protein, starch, and vegetables, like for example steak, mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Often, I eat the same meal but replace the starch with more vegetables, either at home or at restaurants, like this:
Anyway, I recommend at least looking into reducing your carbs by some degree, or trying some intermittent fasting.
For the full benefits of increased mental focus, higher energy, immunity to hunger cravings, cancer-fighting potential, and a host of other benefits, a ketogenic diet (under 20 net grams of carbs, or under 50 grams total including fiber) might work for you. Otherwise, a pseudo-paleo diet (50-150 grams of carbs, and the removal of certain problematic foods) with some intermittent fasting sprinkled in should work great. See how you feel after a month.
If you’re on medication, check with your doctor. If you’re unsure of how it affects your blood tests, then test before and after you try it. I’m not a doctor, but there are many doctors that do recommend ketogenic or ancestral diets, and consider them ideal.
Ketosis isn’t right for everyone. Some people feel best when they have 50-150 grams of carbs, for example. And if you’re a professional sprinter or weight lifter, ketosis may not be the ideal state for you. It’s not a miracle cure, and it’s not universally right for everyone.
Overall, for me and many others, a low-carb and sometimes ketogenic diet has been an enormous improvement in so many areas. Even just a whole food diet, fairly low in carbs, can give significant and sustained energy.
2) Increase your micronutrient intake
By processing our food, and eating less whole foods in general, we’ve reduced our intake of the dozens of identified nutrients that we need in our diet, along with the hundreds of other diverse phytochemicals found in foods.
Even if you eat a diet that consists entirely of whole foods and plenty of vegetables, you’re probably still low in something, because our soil itself has been stripped of nutrients from harsh, factory-style farming practices in most places of the world.
And our foods have been selectively bred for convenience and desirability over nutrition, like sugary fruits with lower antioxidants, or plants with shallower roots that are easy to harvest but draw less nutrients from the soil.
To fix this, I eat a can of sardines a few times per week.
It tastes like tuna but it’s literally the most nutrient-packed food I’ve ever found, requires no cooking by me, and is sustainable and very low in environmental toxins like mercury. When I buy it in packs of 12 like that from Amazon, it’s really cheap, despite being a premium brand for purity and sustainability.
To show why I eat them, here are some charts showing the vitamins and minerals found in some of vegetables and fruits that we consider very healthy, that I put together based on information from the USDA database. Each vitamin or mineral is capped at 100% in the chart because it’s important to have diverse nutrients rather than just excessive amounts of one or two of them:
And now… here’s a can of sardines:
One can has all the omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) you need in a day, plus selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, B-vitamins, vitamin D (which is rare in food), modest amounts of just about everything, and calcium.
Considering that I don’t consume much dairy, a great natural dietary source of calcium like sardines is awesome. A can of sardines has more calcium than a cup of milk.
And if you notice on those charts, sardines and veggies compliment each other nutritionally. Sardines are low in Vitamin C and Vitamin K1, while veggies are off the charts for those vitamins. Veggies are low in a lot of other nutrients, while sardines are a nutritional powerhouse for nearly a dozen different nutrients.
Here are some overlooked nutrients in common diets:
Vitamin K2 is a fairly recently discovered nutrient. When you see “Vitamin K” on a label, it almost always refers to Vitamin K1. Vitamin K2 is hard to come by these days.
Vitamin K1 is produced by green plants, and plays an important role in the human body for blood-clotting. When animals eat grass and other veggies, their bodies convert K1 into K2, a longer version of the molecule, and store that Vitamin K2 in their fats, since its a fat-soluble vitamin.
Thus, Vitamin K2 is abundant in butter, ghee, and cream from grass-fed cows, as well as in emu oil and pastured egg yokes. Unfortunately, factory-farming means that most of the animal products that people consume, are not grass-fed or pastured, and are measured to have far less Vitamin K2 than their more natural counterparts.
Vitamin K2 helps transport calcium to where it should be in the body, meaning away from arteries and towards bones and teeth. Increasing evidence shows that it can play a major role in reducing arterial calcification and reducing the risk of osteoporosis and dental cavities.
These two sources are great for showing the peer-reviewed evidence for Vitamin K2:
- Vitamin K2, the Missing Nutrient, by Dr. Chris Kresser
- Vitamin K2 Overview, at Oregon State University
It’s important to note that there are two main types of Vitamin K2 molecules: the MK-4 form and the MK-7 form. The MK-4 form comes from animal fats. The MK-7 form is made from fermentation, and is particularly high in natto (fermented soybeans).
I make sure to get both types of Vitamin K2 in my diet daily; I get the MK-4 form from grass-fed butter, ghee, pastured egg yokes, and emu oil, and I get the MK-7 form from Nutrigold supplements.
True Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vegetables like carrots and kale don’t actually have Vitamin A.
Instead, they have beta-carotene, which is a substance that the body can turn into true Vitamin A (which is retinol). The problem is, different people have different rates of converting beta-carotene into retinol, so relying strictly on that biological pathway may be risky.
Vitamin A is found in the fats of healthy animals, like fish, dairy and beef fat from pastured cows, hunted game, etc. One of the best sources of it is cod liver oil, which also is high in long-chain omega 3 fatty acids.
I personally use Rosita cod liver oil, which I buy from Corganic. It’s harvested using the old-school technique without chemicals or heat, and it’s rigorously tested for contaminants like mercury and PCBs. It’s the same brand that Dr. Chris Kresser recommends.
I’m about the pickiest eater in the world, and the idea of cod liver oil sounded gross to me in initially. But this brand tastes totally fine to me; I can take a teaspoon or half-teaspoon with no problem at all, and just drink a sip of water afterwards.
The famous and controversial dentist, Weston A. Price, traveled the world in the mid-1900s to study the eating patterns and dental health of traditional cultures and found that their diets were up to 10x higher in fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, and K2) than modern civilizations, and that their teeth were virtually perfect despite not having access to modern dentistry.
He began successfully treating cavities in children in Ohio using a nutritional approach of giving them daily supplementation of cod liver oil (for Vitamin A) and butter oil from grass-fed cows (for Vitamin K2).
As a word of caution, Vitamin A is one of the few vitamins that is toxic if over-consumed, since the body cannot get rid of it quickly. As a 130 pound woman, I only have about a half teaspoon of cod liver oil a day. Larger adults may find that up to a full teaspoon or more is beneficial. But don’t guzzle this stuff by the bottle.
Between sardines, wild-caught salmon, and a few teaspoons of cod liver oil a week, I get plenty of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids and retinol in my diet without going overboard.
Collagen is the protein that makes up most of our bodies, including large portions of our bone, muscles, skin, blood vessels, tendons, and ligaments. It’s the “stuff” that holds our body together, and it’s deficient in modern diets.
Although our body can produce some collagen, we don’t get nearly as much as ancestral cultures did. When they killed an animal, they used the entire body, including the bones, connective tissue, skin, and so forth. In fact, in some cultures, the humans would eat the organs and fatty bits (where most of the nutrition is) and feed the lean muscle to their dogs. Today, we do the opposite, and consume a lot of lean muscle and little else.
Overall, evidence suggests that collagen strengthens hair and nails, keeps skin youthful, protects your joints, reduces pain, and improves your metabolism.
I personally take a few grams of collagen powder daily. I limit my consumption of muscle meat, and add a bit of this to peppermint tea or blackberry coconut smoothies. It’s tasteless, and serves as a useful protein source to complement and balance the rest of the protein types I eat throughout the day.
If you make home-made bone broth, you’ll get plenty of collagen from that, in the form of gelatin. If the broth turns to the consistency of jello when you refrigerate it, then it has plenty of gelatin.
Mild Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in developed countries, partly because we get less sun on our skin.
In addition to being important for bones and overall health, it can play a huge role for regulating your mood and energy. I personally take these vitamin D supplements in the morning, in line with Dr. Andrew Weil’s recommended intake.
Also, sardines and cod liver oil are both rich sources of naturally-occurring dietary Vitamin D.
Rather than taking a typical cheap multivitamin, filled with synthetic and isolated vitamins, I take a multi-vitamin derived from whole foods, like extracts from berries and veggies. This preserves them in their natural form, with all the accompanying phytochemicals.
I take this general whole food multivitamin. The daily serving is four capsules (because whole-food vitamins take up more volume), but because I get plenty of vitamins and minerals from my diet, I just take 1 capsule daily for insurance to make sure I’m not missing anything completely. That also helps keep the cost low.
Although I take supplements, I believe in using low doses in most cases, to keep things natural.
Most people unknowingly supplement with iodine, because it’s added to the salt that we eat every day, along with gross anti-caking agents and other chemicals.
Because I use Himalayan salt instead, it doesn’t come with iodine (or anything else) artificially added to it. To make sure I get some iodine in my diet, I take a kelp supplement a few days per week. Cheap and easy.
This article on Psychology Today takes a close look at magnesium deficiency, and this more recent one discusses its impact on mood. It’s a mineral that has been depleted in the soil of many parts in the world, and so we don’t consume much of it from our food.
Magnesium plays a big role in reducing stress and improving mood, and is involved in literally hundreds of chemical processes in the body. It makes one wonder, how many psychiatric problems in today’s population are actually due to micronutrient deficiencies? Why is depression almost totally absent in hunter-gatherers (less than 1%) but common in today’s wealthy world (10-30%)?
I take this type of magnesium supplement. You have to research which kind you take, because some forms of magnesium, like magnesium citrate, can have a laxative effect. If you don’t want that effect, then a chelated magnesium like that brand is ideal.
In summary, here’s my typical supplement intake:
- Vitamin D3
- Cod Liver Oil
- Vitamin K2
- Kelp (Iodine)
- Whole-food Multivitamin
- Collagen Powder or Bone Broth
If I skip any of this, and I often do, it’s not a big deal. These are for insurance, for rounding things out. Like I said, I try to get everything from nutrient-dense food, like sardines, shellfish, vegetables, berries, etc. But because we’ve depleted our soil so badly, and because I want my energy to be optimal rather than merely adequate, I invest in small numbers of high quality supplements.
I thoroughly research each one, and take only the ones that I consider to be the highest quality.
Talk to your doctor about what supplements, if any, might be right for you.
3) Exercise regularly (and preferably outside)
I took that picture while hiking on the Dragon’s Back Trail, in Hong Kong.
It consisted of four hours of hiking in 90 degree humid weather, but it didn’t feel like exercise. I just did it for fun, with no rush.
The way I see it, life is too short to spend even one minute doing an exercise that I don’t enjoy. Instead, I focus on what’s fun, and what makes me feel good.
Throughout my life, I’ve tried different types of exercise. I spent 12 years doing full-contact MMA fighting, including competing in tournaments and spending 10+ hours a week in hardcore training. In college, I started going to the gym a lot, with a focus on powerlifting and compound exercises. I could do 80 push-ups, 20 pull-ups, bench press 1.5x my bodyweight, and deadlift over 2x my bodyweight.
These days, I’m a lot more chill with my exercise. During the warmer eight months of the year, I ride my bike after work for about an hour around a local reservoir, and do some pull-ups. Or I bike at the marshlands about 20 minutes away.
During colder months, I do body-weight exercises like push-ups, squats, planks, stretches, and martial arts kicks. Just little micro-workouts for 10-20 minutes after work.
When I’m on vacation, I hike in mountains or walk on secluded beaches, enjoying the serenity of nature.
In other words, I treat exercise a lot differently than I used to.
This in-depth article is a great practical tutorial for how endorphins from exercise are beneficial, and how to maximize their effectiveness.
And I love these two articles from Mark Sisson, a former triathlete and marathon runner:
And Pete from Mr. Money Mustache has two great articles:
And here are some articles about how nature makes people feel good, biologically:
- 5 Ways Nature Boosts our Happiness, According to Science
- Infographic: Why Spending Time Outdoors Makes Us Happier
And for fun, here are some pics I’ve taken while “exercising”:
Walking for miles on a nearly-empty Florida beach:
Watching a gorgeous sunset:
Biking in the marshlands:
Biking around the reservoir:
Hiking on Lion’s Rock:
Exercise doesn’t need to be a chore.
You don’t have to do hours of cardio if you don’t want to, and you can gain benefits from simple movements, short high-intensity workouts, and long, enjoyable hikes and bike rides.
About three quarters of your body composition is determined by your diet, not by your amount of exercise.
If you eat a high-carb, high-sugar, low-fiber, low-nutrient, highly-processed diet, your blood sugar will be all over the place, giving you cravings. Your hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin will be yelling at you every couple of hours, making you feel bad if you don’t eat.
If keeping under a certain weight requires effort for you, then something is out of balance, and it’s probably more related to your diet than your activity level.
Since carbs get converted to sugar, and excess sugar gets converted to fat and stored on the body, a high carb diet can lead to weight gain. When you eat a diet that’s right for you, you get hungry less often, your body easily burns fat, and your metabolism stays high. For me, that means a very low carb diet; that’s what I feel wonderful on.
When your diet is optimized, the purpose of exercise becomes less about maintaining your body composition, and more about feeling good, increasing your energy, and getting the health benefits that come when you avoid sitting too much. You can get a lot of benefit out of shorter, simpler exercises when you have the right diet in place.
4) Measure your inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful stimuli.
And while it’s essential for our survival against diseases and acute injuries, far too many of us are walking around for decades with chronic, low-grade systemic inflammation. Our joints, our artery walls, our skin, and other tissues of our bodies, are on fire with a chronic buzz of unhealthy activity. It’s usually imperceptible, but it is measurable.
It’s an underlying problem that has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, chronic pain, arthritis, and just about every ailment out there. Our body should be nearly free of inflammation, except for when we’re sick or hurt.
The causes of this widespread chronic inflammation are debated. Evidence suggests it is caused by:
- Large amounts of sugar and grains
- Lack of exercise
- Too much exercise, damaging the body faster than it can recover
- Too many omega 6 fatty acids (from grains, nuts, and seed oils in processed foods)
- Not enough long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA, from seafood, algae, and wild or grass-fed animals)
- Not getting enough micronutrients
You can put some of the debate aside by testing. A basic test for inflammation is the C-Reactive Protein test, performed as a simple blood test. An ideal score, meaning low chronic inflammation, is considered to be well under 1.0 mg/L.
This test has been correlated with heart disease and just about every lifestyle-based disease on the planet. Oddly, some traditional doctors don’t perform the test, especially if you’re young. Holistic physicians and functional medicine practitioners tend to test it quite regularly.
The way I see it, having more information is a good thing. If I’m walking around with chronic inflammation, I want to know about it ASAP rather than wait until it produces symptoms in a decade. It makes sense to practice preventative wellness, and ensure that your lifestyle is one that results in a body free of chronic inflammation.
If you don’t feel great, see what your inflammation levels are. If they’re high, try to figure out how to get them lowered. The ketogenic diet is incredibly anti-inflammatory. Dr. Weil has a higher-carb version of an anti-inflammatory diet. Paleo diets tend to be anti-inflammatory. A variety of herbs and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and green tea are highly anti-inflammatory.
Further reading on inflammation and the C-Reactive Protein test:
- Testing for C-Reactive Protein May Save Your Life
- C-Reactive Protein Test: Overview
- Elevated C-Reactive Protein
- How Inflammation Makes You Fat and Diabetic
- What is Inflammation and Why is it Bad
For people with autoimmune diseases, their inflammation is typically off the charts. Their immune system is attacking their own body tissues, causing constant warfare.
The rates of autoimmune diseases have risen dramatically over the last few decades. Tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions of people around the world, now suffer from mild, moderate, or severe autoimmune diseases.
These can include psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, coeliac disease, crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and countless others.
If you suffer one of those diseases, in addition to talking to your doctor, I recommend the work of Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. She has a PhD in medical biophysics, and managed to cure four of her own severe autoimmune diseases with the autoimmune protocol.
It’s a temporary or in some cases permanent elimination diet that emphasizes micronutrient density, to help figure out what foods might be triggering chronic inflammation and autoimmune symptoms. Her body of work is impressive, thorough, and extremely well-cited, and if you have an autoimmune disease that is sapping your energy, I definitely recommend checking her out.
5) Check your hormones
Source: The Art of Manliness
These days, there a million things that can screw with our hormone levels.
Ten billion pounds of BPA are produced each year for use in consumer goods and industry. After its discovery, it was tested to see how well it mimics estrogen as a hormone replacement drug, but wasn’t quite strong enough for that pharmaceutical application, so instead they just spread it to the entire population in plastics, food coverings, water bottles, receipts, and everything else.
Because what could go wrong?
And that’s just one of dozens of things that could be lowering the hormones you need, or increasing the ones that you shouldn’t have too much of.
Both men and women need enough testosterone. Obviously men need far more, but testosterone is a critical hormone for experiencing a happy mood and enough energy, and strong bones, in both genders.
Fat cells produce estrogen, so obese people are often hormonally imbalanced, which can lead to lethargy and weak bones in men, and increased rates of breast cancer in women.
Estrogen is important for the mood of women, but so is progesterone, and in today’s world, many of us have too much estrogen and not enough progesterone.
Years ago, I had my hormones tested by my doctor and found out there were definitely not where they should be. Since then, I check my hormones annually, and stick to well-evidenced lifestyle behaviors that promote an optimal hormone profile.
Fortunately, we can often make lifestyle changes to regulate our hormones properly. My favorite case study is by Brett McKay. He doubled his testosterone levels from being too-low to ideal, just by changing his lifestyle in a way that matches this massive energy-boosting list you’re reading now.
This is what Brett did:
- Ate a clean, fairly low-carb diet
- Took Vitamin D3
- Got enough Omega 3’s
- Reduced exposure to plastic, pesticides, and chemicals of all kinds
- Worked out with compound exercises
- Had more sex
- Tried cold baths (I’ll pass on that one!)
- Got more sleep
- Meditated, and practiced other stress-reducing changes
The result? After 3 months, he doubled his testosterone levels from 383 ng/dL to 778 ng/dL.
He was a young, healthy, successful man, but nonetheless still had low testosterone before doing this experiment. You may be reading this, feeling “okay”, while your hormone levels are terrible.
If you suffer from low energy, or just feel “meh”, all the time, why not get a hormone test? Again, it’s something that a fairly simple blood test can give you knowledge on.
If your hormones aren’t right, talk to a doctor or try this natural approach, and get tested again in a few months. You might feel way more energetic!
6) Replace coffee with matcha
More often than not, coffee creates a jittery high, followed by an energy crash that leaves you needing more and feeling hungry.
Matcha green tea, on the other hand, gives you a smoother boost of energy that lasts for hours, and has no crash whatsoever.
This is the best visual I’ve seen for how different it feels, by Matcha Zen:
Each gram of matcha powder has 35-40 milligrams of caffeine. You use a gram or two for a typical serving of matcha, so each serving ends up being about a third or a half of what coffee gives you.
If you consume a few small cups of matcha throughout your morning, it can give you a sustained energy boost that lasts gently into the afternoon. The reason is, matcha contains L-Theanine, which slows down your body’s absorption of caffeine. It gives you all of the upsides without the downsides.
Plus, matcha has far more health benefits than normal green tea, because you consume the entire leaf in the form of finely ground powder. It has catechins, flavinoids, and polyphenols that may have various health benefits, and three grams of matcha contains about as much antioxidant capacity as 100 grams of blueberries.
I personally drink Kenko Matcha. You can buy the ceremonial grade (and I’ve tried it), but I actually enjoy the culinary grade just as much, even though it’s a third of the price.
You should be careful about tea from China, especially matcha, because tea can absorb a lot of pollutants from the ground, and China has a lot of pollution currently. Really good matcha usually comes from Japan. One reason I like Kenko, besides the taste and freshness, is that it’s regularly tested with the results publicly available to ensure that it’s pure.
Caffeine is a drug, and too much of it (especially in quickly absorbed forms like coffee), can create an addiction. When that happens, you feel worse than normal without it due to withdraw symptoms, and don’t get as much benefit from it. If you are the type of person that can’t skip a day without coffee, and you want to boost your energy, then this is a really important thing to fix. That coffee addiction is sapping your energy.
If that’s the case, try cutting down a cup of coffee each day until you can eliminate it, and then maybe try some matcha instead. Ideally, you want to get your relationship with caffeine to the point where if you go without it, it’s not a problem at all.
7) Try MCT oil
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides, and commercially available MCT oil is made from coconut oil or palm oil. Although it’s not great for high-heat cooking, you can put it on food just like any other type of oil.
The benefit of MCT oil is that the body turns it into energy far more quickly and through a totally different pathway, compared to other types of fats. For longer-chain fats, the body has to use bile salts and the lymphatic system to turn them into usable energy. MCT oil, however, gets converted in just three steps to usable energy via the body’s portal system, and raises your body’s ketone levels.
The result is that it gives you pure energy and an uplifted mood, especially if you’re using it alongside a low-carbohydrate diet. Almost a tingly, energetic feeling. And it has no crash afterward, because it’s not a drug. It’s a food.
Coconut oil consists mainly of a variety of medium-chain triglycerides, including caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), and lauric acid (C12).
Lauric acid (C12) makes up most of the coconut, and the human body treats it like a long-chain triglyceride, meaning you don’t get the MCT benefits. Caproic acid (C6) is found in small amounts in coconuts, and although it can boost your energy, it tastes bad and can give you an upset stomach. Capric acid (C10) is inexpensive, but isn’t the best.
The real beauty from coconuts is caprylic acid (C8). It’s a tasteless oil that boosts your energy quickly, with basically no downsides. High-end brands of MCT oil consist purely of this type of fat, and so in other words they’re like coconut isolates that can give you far, far more of this specific molecule than you can get from regular coconut oil.
The best way I can describe it, is that it’s like filling your car with a higher grade gasoline. It runs more efficiently and more cleanly. Pure C8 MCT oil is basically premium gasoline for your body.
Unlike caffeine, you can consume MCT oil any time in the day without impacting your sleep. And if you don’t consume it for a day or a week or whatever, that’s fine. There are no withdraws or downsides from going without it, other than not getting the added benefits.
My only warning is to start slow; try a teaspoon first and make sure your digestion is okay. Some people need to increase their serving size in small amounts up to about one tablespoon per serving to avoid digestive issues.
I like to drizzle Brain Octane Oil (one of the leading brands of pure C8 MCT oil) on my lunch salad. After lunch I always feel like I want to kick ass; it creates a very specific, focused feeling. Like being slightly buzzed with none of the downsides, simply because the body is running on an awesome source of energy.
Here is Mark Hyman, MD, talking about the benefits of MCT oil. He’s the director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine:
And Katie, owner of the Wellness Mama website, has an informative article on MCT oil here.
One last thing worth mentioning is that if you eat a really high carb diet, you won’t get the full benefits of MCT oil, because your body won’t be able to have sufficient ketones. If you drizzle MCT oil all over a giant plate of mashed potatoes, you’ll just be wondering what all the hype is about because you won’t feel much.
If you eat a low or moderately-low carb diet, however, you’ll have enough ketones in your blood to make a big difference and help you feel great.
8) Sleep properly
Not getting enough sleep can increase your stress hormones by about 40%.
I don’t need to tell you the downsides of sleep deprivation; you feel achey, slow, unfocused, and tired, and your risk for a variety of health problems increases over time.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of people are walking around in a constant state of mild sleep deprivation, getting 6 or less hours per night. Or, for many people, they’re sleeping for long periods, but not getting enough of the deep, restorative sleep that is what the body really needs.
To get better sleep:
- Try to avoid screens after sunset. Blue light reduces your brain’s production of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. If you need to be on a computer (like I often am), then install a program like f.lux that will reduce the blue-spectrum light from your monitor, and make it more yellowish.
- Don’t eat a big meal for 3 hours before bed.
- Rather than turning on bright lights at night, get some red or amber nightlights, and try to rely on them when possible after dark.
- Do relaxing things before sleeping. Rather than focusing on a problem or on work, try reading a novel, for example. Help the brain relax, so that by the time you close your eyes, you’re not being kept awake by specific thoughts.
- Get some exercise daily, whether it’s a full workout, or a walk, or some bodyweight exercises, etc.
- Sleep in a pitch black room. Totally dark. No little light sources or light coming from around the shades.
- Reduce the temperature. I find that about 68 degrees Fahrenheit works best for me. Your body temperature decreases by a couple degrees at night, and if you’re too hot, it can keep you awake. Make it a little chilly and snuggle under the covers!
Here are two comprehensive articles if you want more info:
There is probably not a specific amount of sleep that everyone needs. It depends on your body and your lifestyle. I’ve seen the case made that healthy people need a bit less sleep than unhealthy people, because some studies show that large amounts of sleep are correlated with health issues.
Although there’s no definitive science on the topic, it makes intuitive sense that healthy people would need less sleep, because sleep is the time where the body does most of its repair and regeneration. If your lifestyle results in less oxidative stress, and less inflammation and bodily damage in general, then it would make sense that you’d need less sleep.
9) Create a green home
I wrote earlier in the tactic about hormones that we are bombarded every day by so many chemicals.
They alter our hormones, increase our risk of cancer, aggravate our immune system, and just attack our bodies in general. Our bodies have trouble functioning in a high level state if it has to use energy to fight off chemicals.
If you haven’t done it already, do an audit of all your cleaning supplies at home. Replace harsh chemicals with natural plant-based cleaners that make use of essential oils. And add some plants to your home that are proven to improve air quality.
Having clutter around your home or work space decreases your ability to focus.
And statistically for women but not men, having a home with a lot of clutter is linked to higher cortisol levels.
If you look around and you see surfaces covered with items, stuff shoved under couches, and papers sitting on the kitchen table, then chances are, your levels of stress hormones are more elevated than they need to be.
When you look around and see things that you have to do eventually, it creates mild stress.
Ideally, you want your environment to be such that when you look around, there is absolutely nothing you have to do. This can give you a lighter, more energetic feeling.
I keep a very minimalist home, with simple furniture and empty surfaces, accented by subtle decorations like a candle or two. Nothing is under the bed. The closets are half empty. I can pack a bag and fly to Hong Kong for two weeks without much thought. I could move out of this place in a weekend if I wanted to, and if a hurricane came and blew all my stuff away, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
I’m not perfect, though. I have more shoes than I should have, at about 14 pairs. But at least they are out of sight, tucked away in a closet.
Keeping a very tight home lets me focus on what I want to do when I get home from work- exercise, write, cook, game, learn, travel, and relax.
It creates a tremendous sense of freedom to just not have much physical stuff to think about.
For further reading on how to declutter your home and simplify your life, check out the work of Leo Babauta.
Bonus question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how annoyed would you be if someone dented or scratched your car?
People buy expensive cars, hoping it will make them happier. And in some cases, it might. You know better what will make you happy than I do. But ironically, people with nice cars often feel stressed about it, like feeling worried about where to park it or becoming furious if someone backs into it.
I love the freedom of having a car I don’t care about, even though I could afford a better one. If something happens to it, I’ll fix it or get another one. It’s cheap and simple.
Last year, a neighbor backed into it, and when I came out to see what happened, she was crying and apologizing. I just gave her a hug and told her not to worry about it, and honestly didn’t feel even the slightest bit of agitation.
I just wanted to get back to what I was working on.
In many areas, it’s good to invest in quality. I buy premium food, I use fancy soap and put expensive moisturizer on my face, and I’m willing to pay a little extra for high quality clothes and shoes. And I’m happy to spend money on travel. Those things do make me happy. But a car? I don’t care about it. It’s not a status symbol.
Many people treat a nice car as “having arrived”, and use it to display their success. But if it doesn’t make you happy, especially a year after the new car smell wears off, and it starts to become a source of stress, then stick with a simple one.
11) Pursue a Passion
Depression is mostly a disease of civilization.
When researchers go out and survey hunter-gatherers, they have a tough time finding anyone who’s depressed. It’s kind of sad that all of our technology, and all of our comforts, have made us less happy than them.
Their children have far higher mortality rates, their lifespans are shorter, but somehow they’re not as sad.
It’s probably due to most of the factors on this list. They get more exercise, they eat nutrient-dense diets, their lifestyle naturally keeps inflammation low and hormones balanced, they have less exposure to chemicals, they have fewer possessions to stress them out, and they don’t have computer screens or TPS reports or eight bosses keeping them awake at night. Most of them actually work less than we do, so they have plenty of free time. They don’t have mirrors and pictures everywhere to worry about how they look.
But I think there’s another huge factor:
They’re all entrepreneurs and artists.
They own their work. When they go out to hunt or gather, they do it to feed themselves, their families, and their friends. When they build a hut, it’s to put a roof over their own head, or a roof over the heads of another family. They can constantly see the rewards of their work, and they get constant feedback on how they’re doing. It’s not necessarily glamorous, but it’s theirs.
They don’t go work for a 100,000 employee company and get paid by the clock.
I would imagine that they’re in a frequent state of flow. That is the psychological term to describe a situation where a person is performing a challenging task with constant feedback, and they have enough expertise to match it.
Video games, computer programming, performing music, writing, or creating and marketing a new device or idea, are all examples of flow.
It’s really important to identify something that you get excited about, and schedule time to do it. I’m nerdy enough that for me, the answer is “finance”. Seriously.
For you, it’s probably something different. And you need to go out and do it.
Derek Sivers has a short but perfect article about how to balance your passion with your job.
And what if you don’t already have a passion? Try this article by Ramit Sethi and Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” is bad advice. Do this instead.
In that piece, they reverse the approach, and say rather than trying to find a passion and a dream job, become an expert at something, and passion will usually follow. Whether you’re creating things as a hobby, or writing, or freelancing, or building a business, I think that’s great advice if you’re stuck.
What I’ve personally found, is that focusing on creating makes me want to consume less. I’m less interested in buying “stuff”, because I just view objects as using up valuable time that I could spend writing or researching.
Pursuing a passion and simplifying your life go hand in hand, because one frequently leads to the other.
12) Listen to Outrageously Epic Music
This tactic is a simple add-on, but it can give you a quick boost. We all know that music can make us feel better.
But if you’re working on something that you need a ton of focus for, then regular music might not cut it.
You need like, a soundtrack fit for a final boss battle.
For example, hours of orchestral, inspiring music:
Or crazy electronic music. I put together this initial website listening to this:
Whatever you pick, it’s gotta feel like the world will end if you don’t finish what you’re doing. Your project has to feel like it’s directed by Zack Snyder, with too many lens flares and over-the-top epic imagery as you complete your epic task. And preferably with few or no vocals to disrupt your focus.
If I need to get pumped for something but don’t really need to focus, then something like hard rock could cover it:
Putting it all together
Some of these tactics by themselves could literally double your feeling of energy and productivity. Optimizing your nutrition, for example, can have an enormous effect on how you feel every day.
Other tactics might give you a small boost. Maybe not even noticeable on its own, and so you may be tempted to skip some of them.
But consider this. If you do 12 things that each increase your energy by just 5%, the result would be a full 60% increase in energy if they are added together, or a nearly 80% increase in energy if they compound with each other.
Try just one at a time, and see how it helps. Then try another, and another. I think if you go down this list, and experiment with some of the things you haven’t tried before, it’ll improve how you feel and perform.
If you do everything and it doesn’t work, then meet with a doctor, because there could be other, subtle problems that need to be dealt with as well.
And if you like this article, then share it with your friends. 🙂