Whether you’re gearing up to seize the day, power through an afternoon slump, or hit the gym, caffeine is a time-tested source of energy. Caffeine is one of the most commonly used psychoactive substances in the world. (Worried what a psychoactive substance is? It’s the scientific term for any substance that affects the mind--even if only slightly.)
Don’t get us wrong: sometimes coffee is the answer, and we can’t deny its health benefits when used in moderation. Unfortunately, when used excessively, caffeine is associated with potential unpleasant side effects, including heart palpitations, disrupted sleep, and indigestion. While there is no shortage of caffeinated drinks and products promising to amp up your energy and increase your focus, you should know that there are alternatives available.
Although caffeine might offer a short-term solution for a lack of energy, it can actually make you feel more exhausted in the long-run. Reach for caffeine too often, and you might develop a dependence, needing increasing amounts to achieve the same effect. Additionally, while you may be treating the symptoms of fatigue, the underlying cause may still remain.
Fatigue is a complicated and diverse set of symptoms with many possible causes, including poor sleep or nutrient deficiencies. Identifying the reason you feel sluggish is key. Choosing which vitamins and supplements will help you feel more energized will also help you feel more motivated to achieve those health goals like exercise that reinforce quality sleep and better energy.
Even if your coffee habit is under control, it is helpful to know that there are also vitamins and supplements that can help you feel better energized over the course of the day. Clinical research has shown that vitamins, minerals, and botanical supplements can offer an energy boost without the risk of dependence or side effects associated with caffeine. Here are the 12 best supplements to fight fatigue and increase energy.
Vitamin B12 is responsible for forming red blood cells, which transport oxygen in the blood throughout the body. Once the oxygen arrives to your body’s cells, it is utilized for energy production. This vitamin also plays an important role in neurological function. According to guidance published by the National Institute of Health in 2016, if you don’t consume enough vitamin B12 in your diet, you will be at a greater risk of fatigue, weakness, or weight loss.
Vegetarians and vegans are likely to be low in vitamin B12, since it is most commonly found in fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. Older adults, or people with digestive issues, are also at risk for a deficiency because they may be less capable of absorbing the B12 they consume. Absorption of vitamin B12 requires adequate stomach acid.
If you are feeling fatigued, eating foods rich in vitamin B12 or taking a supplement might just boost your energy levels.
A good vitamin B complex supplement contains all of the B vitamins which are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6 (pyridoxine), folate (B9), B12, and choline. Technically, choline is not a vitamin, but it’s usually grouped with the B vitamins due to similarities in function.
The B vitamins play essential roles in the processes that convert foods into energy. Vitamins B6 and B12 are also essential in the formation of red blood cells, which aid in energy through the delivery of oxygen to all cells of the body.
Alcohol intake can inhibit absorption of several of the B vitamins. Increased stress levels can deplete certain B vitamins, especially vitamin B6. And conversely, diets low in B vitamins can lead to increased levels of perceived stress and poor mood.
Vegans and vegetarians may be at greater risk of B vitamin deficiencies since animal-based foods are generally the best sources of most B vitamins.
While vitamin C is not stored in high amounts in comparison to other nutrients stored in the body, an exception to this is the adrenal glands, which have a high concentration of vitamin C in storage. Vitamin C helps the adrenal glands maintain normal functions, including responding to stress and producing cortisol, which is necessary in balanced amounts to maintain energy levels.
Non-heme iron in some plant foods gets a boost in absorption from vitamin C. That’s why it’s good practice to pair vitamin C-rich foods like citrus with iron-rich plant foods like spinach.
Vitamin D is essential to support a healthy immune system, bone growth, and reproductive hormone production. Most Americans are not getting enough of the vitamin. UV rays from sun exposure to the skin triggers vitamin D synthesis, but many people do not get enough sun exposure. There is a correlation between low vitamin D levels and fatigue. One study found that vitamin D deficiency was more common in people with fatigue, and correcting vitamin D levels in those people through vitamin D supplementation improved energy levels.
There is a large body of research about vitamin D and its various impacts on health. There is still some debate, however, over a “chicken or egg” situation with vitamin D levels, whether low levels are a cause of certain health conditions or the reverse, or perhaps a bit of both.
Ask your doctor to test for blood levels to understand if and how much vitamin D supplementation may be appropriate for you.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, required for more than 300 different biochemical reactions, including muscle and nerve function and energy production. It is commonly found in foods like fish, almonds, and dark leafy greens.
According to a 2012 study published by the National Institute of Health, magnesium has been shown to help you fall asleep naturally. If difficulty falling asleep is contributing to your fatigue, a magnesium supplement may improve your sleep quality and help you feel more rested.
Myth bust: Did you know that magnesium doesn’t actually make you fall asleep or drowsy? Rather, it relaxes your muscles.
Iron is an essential mineral that helps oxygen circulate throughout the body. It is also necessary for the body’s cells to function and develop properly. Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia, which can impair cognitive abilities, decrease immunity, and negatively impact work performance. Iron deficiency is common among those who menstruate and iron needs increase with pregnancy.
Meat and seafood are excellent sources of dietary iron. If you are vegetarian, then nuts, beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified grain products will be some of your go-to foods for iron. If necessary, iron supplements will help maintain proper levels of iron, but be mindful that iron supplements can cause severe side effects when taken in excess.
If you are looking to boost energy you should not just take iron as a supplement. Iron is necessary when there is low iron in the blood. Make sure to consult with your doctor or dietitian before supplementing with iron and also get iron and related blood markers tested first.
Rhodiola rosea is a botanical supplement that has been used in traditional medicine in Eastern Europe and Asia for centuries. It is classified as an adaptogen, a group of botanical supplements that protect the body against the effects of physical and mental stress. Not only can rhodiola help you feel more alert and manage occasional stress, it can also improve mood, according to clinical research.
In a 2016 study from The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, rhodiola supplementation was shown to improve endurance while exercising, as well as assist in recovery afterwards. Rhodiola is a great choice if your exhaustion is related to intense activity.
As the scientific research on rhodiola continues to emerge, it could become an increasingly popular tool for improving quality of life.
Ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years and has a wide variety of names. This herb grows in the Mediterranean and across the Middle East, Africa, India, and Pakistan. It has been praised in traditional Indian medicine for its ability to help the body adapt to stress.
In a 2012 clinical trial, ashwagandha was shown to reduce blood levels of cortisol, which is known as the “stress hormone.” Participants in this study noted a significant reduction in the stress they experienced after 60 days, compared to the placebo group.
As an added bonus, recent studies have also suggested that ashwagandha can improve endurance and muscle strength gains from exercise. Additionally, ashwagandha was shown to reduce food cravings and support body weight management, in a 2017 study. If it is stress that has you feeling drained, you might want to consider ashwagandha.
Melatonin is clearly linked to energy levels, since it is well known as the hormone that helps us fall asleep. It is made in the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness, whereas light disrupts production of melatonin. Research shows that melatonin offers neuroprotection and acts as an antioxidant.
Side effects are rare and if they do occur they tend to be mild, such as sleepiness during the day. Melatonin supplements are a type of non-habit-forming sleep aid, meaning they do not cause addiction or dependency with use and do not decrease your body’s natural production or sensitivity to the hormone. That’s why melatonin supplementation can greatly aid sleep when sleep schedules change, such as preventing jet lag while traveling through time zones or doing shift work.
Creatine is a popular supplement among athletes and fitness enthusiasts due to its ability to enhance energy levels during intense physical activity. Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body and stored in the muscles. It plays a crucial role in the production of ATP, which is the primary source of energy for the muscles.
By supplementing with creatine, individuals can increase their stores of creatine in the muscles, allowing for more efficient ATP production during exercise. This can lead to improved performance and endurance, enhanced energy levels, and better post-workout recovery.
Supplementation with the amino acid is generally safe and well-tolerated. In fact, keeping up with consistent daily supplementation of creatine is recommended to maintain muscle stores saturated with creatine.
CoQ10 is naturally produced in the body and functions as an energy transfer molecule. It acts as a cofactor in a series of reactions involved in ATP (energy) production. The nutrient can help in muscle regeneration, immune and nervous system function, cardiovascular health, and slow signs of aging.
The antioxidant properties of CoQ10 support combatting the large amount of oxidative stress that naturally occurs in the energy production process inside cell mitochondria. CoQ10 deficiencies can lead to lower energy levels, and particularly muscle fatigue.
Citrulline is an amino acid commonly included in pre-workout supplements or available as a supplement alone to support energy levels. It may also help increase the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the body to help improve strength and power output during exercise. One study found that citrulline supplementation increased aerobic energy levels during exercise and improved exercise recovery.
Other studies show that citrulline can boost nitric oxide production which improves blood flow to the muscles and can lead to improved endurance during exercise.
Supplements can help you stay alert and energized throughout the day, but they’re no substitute for your body’s basic needs: getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly.
If you generally maintain a healthy lifestyle but still feel run down, one of these twelve vitamins and supplements may address the root cause of your occasional fatigue. Unlike some solutions that provide a temporary burst of energy, these supplements can set you up for long-term wellness. Additionally, they each offer unique benefits beyond supporting your energy. For chronic fatigue talk to your doctor as it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Before beginning to take supplements, always consult with a physician. For personalized recommendations take an online lifestyle assessment that can provide recommendations to support your health goals.