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A woman smiling and spreading out her arms energetically. She's wearing a red and white striped shirt and standing against a lavender background. Learn how to get more energy in this article.

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7 Ways to Increase Energy Levels and Conquer Your Day

For those days when no amount of coffee can perk you up.

By Karla WalshNovember 22, 2023


Perhaps you find your feet dragging after a hardcore workout yesterday. Or maybe you struggle to get out of bed after binging one (okay, three) too many episodes of your latest favorite show. Or perhaps your “gas tank” is running low mid-afternoon and you’re yawning your way through a team meeting.

Regardless of the reaction or the cause, running on low battery is not pleasant. So at times like these, how can you get more energy and charge your battery, rather than draining it even more?

Once you know the trigger for your exhaustion, you can start to increase energy levels and keep them more even-keeled, regardless of what life throws at you. Read on for your complete guide to all things energy, including how we get it, what zaps it, and how to get your groove back.

What Gives You Energy?

From a high-level view, our body is powered by the energy that comes from the food we eat by way of calories. This is the fuel that’s stored and burned to power our organs and keep us alive, says William W. Li, MD, an internal medicine physician and scientist based in Boston and the author of Eat to Beat Your Diet

As calories are processed by the body, they’re transformed into adenosine triphosphate (aka ATP), the simplest form of energy. “This tiny, energy-packed molecule fuels everything you do and is made by your mitochondria, or the powerhouses of each cell,” adds Patricia Bannan, RDN, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles and the author of From Burnout to Balance

When we need more energy for physical and mental activities, whether it’s crushing a cycling class or running to catch a flight, we need more fuel. Just like a car, the faster you drive, the faster you burn through your fuel, and the more fuel you’ll need to keep up the pace, Dr. Li explains. The same holds true for humans.

There are many other factors that affect how efficiently our bodies use this fuel, including our metabolism, our mental state, how much solid sleep we’ve scored, gut health, inflammation levels, and diet quality.

“Many vitamins and minerals help give our bodies energy,” Bannan says. “B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folate, and B12) play a role in energy, as they help in cell metabolism and move energy nutrients around the body. Other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, iron, and magnesium are also important for energy-yielding metabolism.”

Why Are Your Energy Levels So Low?

Low energy levels are typically caused by a mix of physical, mental, and emotional causes. It’s often easy to pinpoint when your energy stores are low, but since this can manifest in a variety of ways, we asked Douglas Tran, MD, an internal medicine doctor​ with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group in Naperville, Illinois, for a refresher. 

“The physical signs that you may be fatigued include chronic tiredness, headaches, [and] muscle weakness,” he says. “Behavioral signs are also common, like slowed responses, impaired decision making and judgment, lack of desire to do the activities you once enjoyed, and increased irritability.”

So what, specifically, is at the root of these less-than-stellar symptoms? Here are some of the most common causes of low energy levels:

Inadequate Sleep

“From a clinical standpoint, the most prevalent energy drain is often attributed to inadequate sleep,”  says Tyler J. Saunders, DO, an internal medicine doctor with Swedish Hospital, a part of NorthShore Medical Group in Chicago. So what’s enough—and not? Less than seven hours of high-quality sleep is defined as below optimal levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Stress causes the body’s adrenal glands to overproduce a hormone called cortisol, which can contribute to fatigue and feeling a lack of energy, Dr. Tran explains.

Anxiety, Depression, or Isolation

Feeling lonely, experiencing repeated “wound up” feelings (or circular thoughts like a hamster running on a wheel, which is how Bannan describes anxiety), or feeling frequently low and unmotivated are all understandably draining. Think of these like your car idling, Bannan says—you’re stuck in a cycle while burning gas.

If you're struggling with anxiety, depression, or isolation, know that you're not alone. Mental health professionals are available to help map out the best strategies for you.

Energy or Nutrient Imbalance

A lack of essential nutrients and minerals in your diet can also contribute to less-than-stellar energy levels, Dr. Saunders notes. This nutrient shortfall can come as a result from eating too many highly processed foods, he says. Not getting enough calories on a daily basis can also contribute, Bannan adds.

Physical Inactivity

Racking up less than 3,000–6,000 steps per day (or the equivalent exercise via strength, cycling, yoga, or other modes of cross-training) is defined as a “sedentary lifestyle,” according to Dr. Saunders. While it may sound counterintuitive to think that “spending” less energy might actually drain it, getting the blood flowing and body moving—especially outside—is scientifically proven to be a pick-me-up.

Social Commitments and Obligations

The internal and external expectations from society are a heavy load to carry, Bannan says—and a lack of time for your own self-care can make you feel exhausted.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol is a sedative, and drinking wine, beer, or hard liquor can rob you of your energy.  

Certain Chronic Conditions

Whether it’s an auto-immune condition, a disease, or sub-par gut health, these inflammation-related factors may hamper your body’s ability to break down and use the fuel you feed it. 

A man smiling after a workout while holding a sweat towel around his neck. Learn how to get more energy in this article.

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7 Ways to Boost Your Energy

Considering the fact that seven in 10 Americans drink coffee every week per the National Coffee Association, many of us think of turning to caffeine as the first and best way to increase energy levels. Caffeine can work in the short term at low to moderate doses (about 4–25 fluid ounces of regular brewed coffee per day, or about half a cup to three cups) to increase your alertness. But at higher levels, caffeine may lead to insomnia, feelings of restlessness or anxiety, and a spiked heart rate, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Plus, this is like putting a bandage on the situation with a temporary fix—rather than a long-term solution. 

Instead of sipping on cup after cup of coffee day in and day out, consider trying one of these expert-approved energy boosters:

1. Prioritize Sleep

This is easier said than done, Dr. Li admits, but seven to nine hours of snoozing a night is crucial for optimal bodily function. Sleep is when our body recovers from the day, consolidates memories, produces energy, stabilizes our mood, enhances our immune system, prevents injuries, and beyond, Dr. Saunders explains.

That said, an abundance of sleep isn’t always the answer, Dr. Tran notes: “Sleeping too much does not increase energy, create energy reserves, or make you more present while awake,” he says. “It has the opposite impact. Too much sleep makes you feel lethargic.”

So skip the late-in-the-day naps and instead, try to create a soothing bedroom environment and aim to consistently fall asleep and rise at the same time. Avoiding big meals, alcohol, and bright screens close to bedtime can also help you rest easier.

2. Make Room for “Me” Time

It might feel silly to add more to your to-do list when you’re feeling drained, but doing something just for you—something that can boost mental and emotional energy levels—is key to feeling fulfilled. This will also help remind yourself that you’re a priority.

“Taking up a hobby or using your ‘free’ time for something enjoyable (not cleaning, caring for kids, or your side hustle) has many positive health benefits that could boost energy,” Bannan says. “You have to fill your own cup first, and spending an hour reading or 15 minutes gardening can help you do just that.” 

3. Connect with Others

Reaching out to supportive friends can help you tame the intensity of feelings that drain energy, including pain, sadness, and anger, Bannan says. So the next time you feel drained from the weight you’re carrying, reach out to a trusted friend for a quick chat. An IRL catch-up is most effective, but a text or call works too, she adds.

4. Consume a Balanced Diet

Focus on fueling your body with enough high-quality fare. “The best approach to eating for steady energy involves a mix of complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean proteins at every meal,” Bannan says. 

Prioritize whole plant-based foods, including nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These all provide the essential building blocks necessary for energy production, help lower chronic inflammation levels, and stoke the body with energy-supporting polyphenols, Dr. Saunders and Dr. Li agree. 

At the same time, it’s wise to pay attention to foods that deplete your energy. Excess amounts of added sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and starches are common energy offenders, Bannan says. “You don’t have to cut these out entirely, but you should scale back if you’re struggling with energy levels,” she adds.

5. Move Your Body

Exercise does require energy, and it can feel draining at first, Bannan says. “But the more you do it, the more you’ll see what an awesome ‘return on investment’ you get energetically,” she says. “You don’t need to take up kickboxing or train for a marathon, either. Cycling, walking, yoga, hiking, or whatever movement you prefer all count. The best workouts are the ones you actually enjoy doing.” (This also makes you more likely to stick with it!)

Dr. Li swears by going for a 30-minute walk every day to stimulate blood flow and hormones that invigorate muscles and activate his brain in ways that provide more energy. Meanwhile, Dr. Tran is a big fan of resistance training. Regardless of the format, you can rest easy knowing that movement “almost guarantees that you will sleep more,” according to Dr. Tran.

6. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is one of the more subtle causes of fatigue, Dr. Li says. That being said, it’s a frequent factor—research suggests that three in four Americans are chronically dehydrated. Make sure you properly hydrate before, during, and after a workout—plus all day long—to “fill your body’s tank with fluid and quickly plump up your energy levels,” Dr. Li says.

7. Cut out the “Non-Essentials”

“Lowering stress is a critical move for improving overall health, including your energy level,” Dr. Li explains. “A small amount of stress [like during a workout] can actually increase your energy, but chronic stress is an inflammatory condition that leads to fatigue.”

Stress is a major source of fatigue for modern-day adults, Dr. Tran continues. This often is related to feeling overloaded by professional, family, or social obligations. If possible, streamline your list of “must-do” tasks to help yourself maximize focus, preserve energy for what really matters, and keep your emotional stores strong.

Signs You Should Prioritize Rest (Rather Than Pushing Through)

It's often challenging to tell if adding one or more of the energy boosters above will move the needle, Dr. Saunders admits. Our natural inclination tends to lean towards the belief that more is better—rather than taking time to rest (say, with a power nap or short meditation session).

There are many ways your body can start telling you that it’s truly time to rest, Bannan says. Some include: 

  • Feeling physical pain

  • Persistent fatigue

  • Frequently getting sick 

  • Decreased performance at work and/or during exercise

  • Headaches and/or muscle aches

  • Emotional exhaustion

  • Poor quality of sleep (even after trying to improve it)

When to Talk to Your Doctor

It’s normal to feel tired now and then, Dr. Tran says. However, if your fatigue lasts longer than a few days, there isn’t a distinct reason for it (say, a recent illness or time-zone-shifting travel), you find yourself struggling to complete daily tasks, you unexpectedly lose or gain weight, the fatigue comes on suddenly, or your low energy levels are interfering with your quality of life for whatever reason, it’s best to seek help from a medical professional to make sure there isn’t something more serious at play.

“Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and run some basic tests to see if there are any abnormalities requiring a more detailed medical work-up,” Dr. Li says. If adjustments are required, your care team can help customize a diet and exercise plan that suits your lifestyle, which Dr. Saunders believes is “crucial in optimizing energy production.”

The Takeaway

Low energy levels can throw a wrench in your best-laid plans for an active, focused, productive, and rewarding day. By keeping the most common causes of low energy top of mind, you can choose the best energy boosters to help you recharge and feel ready to tackle the day ahead. If you notice your quality of life being sabotaged in any way by low energy levels, reach out to a doctor and/or registered dietitian so they can help direct your wisest—and most vital—path forward.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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