Illustration: Ashley Siebels
When you have a vitamin deficiency or mineral and your energy level hits the floor in the office, it can be very difficult to be productive. Long days can also make it hard to hit the gym regularly, eat well, stay hydrated and get enough rest. For many of us, the 3 pm coffee-and-sweets run is fact of life to deal with our flagging post-lunch energy.
There are other reasons, however, that our energy may run low, and it has to do with our diet: we may be low on crucial vitamins that contribute to better mood, a feeling of alertness, calmness and resilience to stress.
While you should consult your own health professional on the best wellness path to take—likely based on your individual diet, medical history, lifestyle and other factors— here are some ideas for where to turn when you find yourself running out of steam too often in the office.
Managing a vitamin or mineral deficiency at work
The main problem with vitamin deficiencies is that their effects can be subtle, so most people never realize they have them. Doctors can test for deficiencies, and it’s worth the time to schedule a visit to check. Such testing is not usually part of standard checkups, so make sure to ask for it.
Even though these deficiencies can be subtle, they can also be prevalent; for instance, most people are very low on vitamin D, which helps regulate metabolism and mood. The National Institutes of Health has prominently featured research suggesting that vitamin D deficiency is even an epidemic.
Another problem: fixing a suspected vitamin deficiency is not a matter of just popping a million supplements. There are still debates over whether supplements even work, and despite the American ethos of “more is better,” taking excess vitamins can be harmful and really screw up your body.
That’s certainly the case with supplements, which are unregulated; there are stories of people turning permanently blue by taking colloidal silver supplements.
Even whole foods in excess can have strange effects; there’s the infamous story of how Steve Jobs turned orange from all the carrots he ate.
While there’s a debate about the effectiveness of multivitamins and various supplements, it’s worth checking with your doctor to see if you’re deficient.
Also keep in mind that dietary supplements are currently not approved by the FDA. For many people, getting a better-balanced diet, with leafy greens especially, is a better answer. That means making sure you have some fruits or green vegetables in every meal, including breakfast, every day.
What vitamin deficiency does to our mood and ability
If you are usually even-keeled but feeling sleepy, weak or anxious on a regular basis, Nurse practitioner Irene Park told Real Simple that those are signs of deficiencies in iron, B12 or vitamin D.
Taking a break and getting outside for a mid-day walk in the sunshine can help boost Vitamin D.
A meta-analysis of 25 “randomized controlled trials” of more than 11,000 participants found that vitamin D supplements may help protect you from getting sick.
Iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling tired and out of breath, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin). As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath. You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplementation. Sometimes additional tests or treatments for iron deficiency anemia are necessary, especially if your doctor suspects that you’re bleeding internally,” the site says.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies can also cause exhaustion. B vitamins in general help the body defend against the toxic effects of stress.
Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor of Harvard Health, explains why we need Vitamin B12 in an article for the publication: “the human body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells, nerves, DNA, and carry out other functions. The average adult should get 2.4 micrograms a day. Like most vitamins, B12 can’t be made by the body. Instead, it must be gotten from food or supplements,” he writes.
Magnesium is another mineral that many people are low on; it helps calm people and soothe the nerves. In France, magnesium supplements are something of a mania, and pharmacies are full of them. Doctors also rely on magnesium for many standard medical complaints, and there have been studies suggesting that increased magnesium could help fight headaches and migraines. A secret to getting enough magnesium: taking baths in Epsom salts is one of the best ways to get the mineral, it travels into the body through soaking.
What to eat to boost energy
Certain foods can also help you feel better at work, so pack them in your lunch box. We already know that bananas have potassium and apples provide fiber for breakfast.
Vitamin D is one of the easiest vitamins to find in more foods, according to Harvard, which recommends fish like salmon and tuna. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin D, but make sure to check whether those crunchy cereals have too much sugar, which can hurt your health.
Here are some of the specific foods, high in iron, that Mayo Clinic lists to help lessen the chances of iron deficiency anemia: red meat, pork, poultry, beans, seafood, and dark green vegetables like spinach, and peas.
Skerrett also wrote that “plants don’t make vitamin B12. The only foods that deliver it are meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products, and other foods from animals,” in Harvard Health Publications.
Not everyone who feels tired has a vitamin deficiency; there are many physical and psychological factors that affect mood and fatigue. With a better diet, however, you’ll likely feel your energy rise quickly.