If you’re lucky enough to have a job, odds are you’re overworked. A survey conducted by Good Technology found that 80% of participants fielded calls, answered emails, and did other miscellaneous work-type stuff at home after leaving the office. All of that “bonus” time added up to roughly seven extra hours per week—or 30 hours a month. Go ahead and cry. We did.
Factor in other stresses like relationship squabbles and money woes, and it’s no surprise why you’re too emotionally and physically drained to exercise.
And since you’re unlikely to take a vacation to recharge—an estimated 577,212,000 available vacation days went unused nationwide last year—you’re going to need to rethink other areas in your life to find the energy to train. Here are four ways you can do that.
#1. Eat More, More Often
Fueling up on caffeine and Tic Tacs may give you the stamina to power through the workday with mocha-colored teeth and minty fresh breath, but you’ll need to feast on more than that to keep your engine running efficiently.
“You’ll run out of steam when you run out of fuel,” says Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM, the author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great. “Eating three meals and three snacks can help you maintain blood sugar levels that prevent huge ups and downs in energy levels.”
Many of us aren’t following that advice. Data from 2011 compiled by Right Management noted that one in three U.S. employees worked through lunch, while 65% took their lunch “break” at their desks. Last year, CareerBuilder polled 3,600 workers and found that 8% dined on delicious and not-so-nutritious food from their company’s vending machine at lunchtime.4
Point is, as busy as you might be, you need to make time to eat well to improve energy levels. If you need a reminder, the technology you use to work all of that unpaid OT can also be programmed to alert you when it’s time for a snack.
#2. Carb Up
Despite what you’ve heard, carbohydrates are not hellish calorie ghouls responsible for turning skinny people fat and fat people into morbidly obese planets. In fact, they’re a necessity.
“Our brains rely on carbs, and they’re a major element to maintaining blood sugar levels,” Dr. Stoler says. “Eating only fats and protein won’t make you feel more energetic. A basic rule of thumb is to eat carbs with some protein and fat.”
Consuming too many simple carbs—foods high on the Glycemic Index (GI)—can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can lead to additional body fat storage, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber-rich whole foods—veggies, whole grains, and fruit—metabolize slower to provide you with lasting energy
According to Dr. Stoler (and depending on what your goals are), you’re looking to eat about 50% carbs, 20% protein, and between 25–30% fat per day. And for crying out loud, listen to Mom and eat more fruits and veggies. They’re packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytonutrients.
#3. Stay Hydrated
Caffeine is a diuretic. In more scientific terms, it makes you go potty more often. So if that’s all you’re drinking from 9 to 5, you’re going to get dehydrated. Along with impeding metabolism and making you feel sluggish, dehydration can also go all Criss Angel on your brain and trick it into feeling hungry when it’s really not.
Adequate hydration benefits you in a whole host of ways, including lubricating joints, regulating body temperature, assisting the body with excreting waste, and keeping your immune system strong.
The old standbys to shaking off tension are to meditate and become one with your body. If that doesn’t work for you, find a different healthy distraction to pull your brain away from what’s stressing you out. If it slows your heart rate and reduces tension, you’re golden. If your schedule is too packed to take a walk, read for pleasure, or binge watch season two of House of Cards, give yourself a couple minutes to brew a cup of herbal tea.
The great thing about this option is that you get the benefits of the herb you’re brewing in addition to the ritual of slowing down and enjoying a hot drink. Three herbs backed by years of scientific and/or anecdotal evidence are chamomile, kava, and valerian root—but be careful with those last two because they can make you drowsy.
Which leads us to…
#5. Snooze More
An ideal target is seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But most of us aren’t getting that, and it’s negatively affecting our performance everywhere. Lack of sleep can also do a number on your innards.
“Not getting a good night’s sleep impacts things like heart health and metabolism,” Dr. Stoler says. “It’s important to adopt good sleep hygiene and make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep.”
That includes powering down smartphones and shutting off the TV. The blue light those devices emit can mess with melatonin levels, and those late night texts are interfering with your REM cycles. Seriously. A 2011 survey from the National Sleep Foundation found that 20% of people ages 19–29 get woken up multiple times a week by calls, texts, or emails.