Learn four strategies to prevent fatigue, tiredness, and burnout from ever developing.
Benjamin Franklin said:
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
And when it comes to fatigue, Benjamin is right on the money. It is far easier to prevent chronic fatigue than it is to recover from it. CFS develops slowly. Recovering from it can be an arduous process. You’re much better off ensuring you never develop it in the first place!
If you have a family member diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, you are at an increased risk for the development of the illness. Pay close attention to the strategies below; they’ll ensure you never go on to develop a positive diagnosis.
If you’re noticing a decrease in your energy levels and/or ability to concentrate, these strategies will help you. Put them into practice right away. Remember, prevention is far easier than curing.
Below, I detail five strategies you can implement today to ensure your mitochondrial function is optimized. Remember, happy and healthy mitochondria equates to high energy levels.
1. Adopt a ketogenic diet and practice intermittent fasting
Your mitochondria love to run on fat. They also love when you restrict calories. Restricting calories could be the single best way to improve mitochondrial function, increase your body’s energy production, and slow the aging process. (1, 2, 3, 4) A ketogenic diet combined with intermittent fasting will help you run on fat and restrict calories.
The ketogenic diet is called such because your body uses ketone bodies (ketones) as its fuel of choice. Ketones are produced when your body digests fat. If you want to get super nerdy, the ketones your body produces are known as acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid.
Have you ever experienced brain fog or difficulties concentrating?
This is often a sign that your brain is running low on fuel. You can usually combat the brain fog by grabbing a quick bite to eat. This increases glucose levels, allowing more fuel to be utilized by your brain. While your brain only weighs two pounds, it utilizes nearly twenty percent of all the energy you consume through food each day.
When you move to a ketogenic diet, your brain becomes less dependent on glucose for fuel. Instead, it runs on ketones. And since ketones come about through fat (something all of us have a little extra of) your brain always has a fuel source available.
No time to grab a bite?
No problem. When in ketosis, your body will simply utilize your body fat stores for energy. The best feature of the ketogenic diet (as far as energy production goes) – the fact that your mitochondria produce nearly 6x as much ATP as they would on a standard glucose-fueled diet. If you want more energy, you need to optimize ATP production. The ketogenic diet does just that.
Intermittent fasting is an easy way to bring about calorie restriction. And its this restriction in calories that reduce your risk of illness, slows aging, and even increases your energy. To avoid developing fatigue, you need to practice calorie restriction – a definite challenge for those in the developed world where excess calories are everywhere! Just make sure your intermittent fasting isn’t a hidden cause of fatigue!
A 25-year long study done on monkeys found that the group that was allowed to eat as much as they wanted had 2.9 times the risk of disease and 3 times the risk of premature death compared to the other group of monkeys that consumed a diet with 30% fewer calories. (5) Other animal studies confirmed that calories restriction can extend the lifespan of the animal by up to 60%! (6)
How does intermittent fasting/calorie restriction prolong life and decrease illness?
It all comes back to your mitochondria. The more food/fuel you take in, the more ATP/energy your mitochondria produce. If this was a perfect process, there wouldn’t be any issues – eating more would benefit you. But this isn’t a perfect process. The more ATP you force your mitochondria to produce the more free radicals develop as a byproduct of ATP production. More free radicals result in the aging of your cells. And less efficient mitochondria. The net result of this is fatigue.
Just remember that the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting is not for everyone. If your energy levels decrease while following a keto diet, don’t force yourself to stick with it. Search out a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner that can help you identify the root cause of your fatigue.
2. Regular massages & cold water therapy
Did you know you have different types of fat?
You have brown adipose tissue (brown fat) and white adipose tissue (white fat). And these two are not as similar as you may think. Brown fat is typically found in newborn babies and hibernating mammals (think of grizzly bears). As you age, your brown fat decreases. And, if you’re like most in the developed world, your white fat increases. (7)
Brown fat contains iron-containing mitochondria. It is the iron that gives this fat its brown color. If you’re wanting to prevent or overcome fatigue, increasing your mitochondrial population and efficiency is of paramount importance. One way to do this is to develop more brown fat cells. Heck, brown fat even helps to regulate your blood sugar and lower obesity! (8, 9)
One study found that regular therapeutic massage increases mitochondrial development in fat cells. (10) If you’re keen on ensuring you never experience fatigue, schedule yourself bi-weekly or monthly visits with a skilled massage therapist.
Another way to help transform white fat (bad) into brown fat (good) is through cold water therapy. (11) Populations exposed to cold climates have higher levels of brown fat. Brown fat is an incredible insulator – it keeps you warm in the cold.
To encourage your body to develop more brown fat, you’re going to need to expose it to cold. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to involve a move to the Arctic. The simple act of turning your thermostat down at night to 19 degrees (instead of 24 degrees) increase brown fat deposits in adult populations.
Another way to increase brown fat deposits is to end your showers with 30-60 seconds of cold water. Combining massage therapy and cold exposure will help you amp up your mitochondrial population and therefore better prepare you to combat fatigue!
3. Engage in regular physical activity
If you want to optimize your mitochondrial function, you likely won’t be surprised to learn that regular exercise and physical activity is essential. Essential. There’s no way around this fact. Your body is made to move. Your Netflix viewing needs to decrease and your body movement will need to increase.
Be forewarned that exercise has a point of diminishing return. Running ultramarathons or competing in regular, intense/strenuous exercise is not what your mitochondria want. Appropriate rest/recovery is absolutely essential. I’d argue that rest is more important than the exercise itself.
One study showed that a lack of exercise is more damaging to your heart health than smoking, obesity, and even high blood pressure. If you’re a physically active smoker, your heart is likely in better health than a sedentary non-smoker! (13, 14, 15)
Exercise creates an increase in free radical production. Which I just said is something you want to avoid. If exercise increases something you want to avoid, how can it be beneficial? This is the exercise paradox.
The increase in free radical production caused by exercise is a positive stress on your body. It encourages the production of more mitochondria. More mitochondria = more energy. If you stick to a regular exercise program, you force your body to develop more mitochondria in order to better maintain the demand for your workouts. (16)
If you elect to lead a sedentary life, your mitochondria create more ATP than your cells can utilize. This backlog of ATP increases free radical damage to your cells. When you exercise, you use up this ATP. Ideally, you’ll want to balance your ATP consumption (through movement) with ATP production (through eating). This minimizes free-radical production, increases your mitochondrial population, and results in more energy. (17)
If you want to prevent fatigue, there’s no way around regular exercise. It has to be done.
4. Fill in common nutritional deficiencies
You’re not going to be able to fulfill all of your vitamin and mineral needs through diet alone. This is the unfortunate fact about mineral levels in today’s soil. But this is not to say that your diet is unimportant. A well-formulated ketogenic diet is absolutely essential for overcoming fatigue. You just need to take some additional steps to ensure your cover the most common vitamin/mineral deficiencies. And as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, these supplements are all about improving the function of your mitochondria.
As a basic starting place, add a magnesium glycinate supplement to your daily routine. It is estimated that 40-70% of you are deficient in this mineral. (18) Start with 200-400mg daily.
The other baseline supplement I recommend you take is vitamin B12. B12 levels decrease as you age. (19) So, if you’re over the age of 50, regular supplementation is essential. Start with 1000mcg of methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin dissolved underneath your tongue each day.
Both magnesium and vitamin B12 will help with your mitochondrial function. To find out exactly how they help, check out my previous post on the best supplements for chronic fatigue.
Ok, there you have it, 4 research-backed strategies to ensure you prevent fatigue from ever occurring.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What strategies increase your energy levels? Share them in the comments section below!
Want to know more than your doctor about fatigue?
Also published on Medium.