Eating for energy

Celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder's top tips for revving up naturally.

Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder likes to say that after one conversation she can persuade almost anyone to switch to a healthier diet. And we've seen her in action — as editors, PR pros and celebs from Josh Duhamel to Drew Barrymore praise her plant-based recipes and intelligent detoxing plan. "My program is about making better long-term dietary changes to increase and sustain your energy from within, not from outside sources," says Snyder, author of The Beauty Detox Solution. We sat down with the bubbly brunette for tips on upping your energy the natural way.

When we think of energy-sapping activities, most of us think of hard workouts or endless meetings. But you say that digestion is actually a huge drain on our energy. Can you explain?
Think of digestion as the biggest container in your pantry. If you want more energy to be redistributed towards other functions like rejuvenating the collagen in your skin, cleansing out aging toxins, having enough energy to get through the afternoon without another cup of coffee or getting to Equinox without a liquid energy shot booster, it's crucial to make digestion more efficient. Some experts estimate that half or more of your body’s total energy is taken up with the entire laborious process of digestion.

So if we want to improve our energy by changing our diet, where do we start?
The first thing to do is simplify meals. Most people indiscriminately eat whatever foods in whatever combination they feel like, thinking only of calories and carb content rather than maximizing digestion. Complex food combinations are more difficult to digest because each food is broken down with different specific substrates within your digestive system. The simpler your meals are, the less energy you will have to expend on digestion. Increase your greens and vegetable intake, which are highly nutritious foods possessing a wide variety of nutrients, and you'll support your energy and health in myriad ways.

What are some specific strategies?
Start with a salad instead of a fancy appetizer. Eat more fresh vegetables along with your protein or healthy starch (like quinoa). Avoid meals with many different components, as that will take much more digestive energy. Another easy change is to get into the habit of hydrating between meals, rather than during meals. When you drink too many liquids while eating, you dilute the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid required to efficiently break down foods.

Can you tell when someone isn't eating right just by his or her appearance?
I see people every day with what I call the "old skinny" look who have fit bodies, but they have aged very rapidly through their faces, as a result of an overly acidic diet, an unbalanced lifestyle and low energy. But the good news is that even if you’ve inflicted damage to your body, your cells regenerate and you can always improve. The goal is to have sustained high energy, which will allow you to look and feel your best, and your strongest.

We tend to think that the quickest way to get energy is to eat animal protein. True or false?
Animal proteins are actually among the slower foods to be broken down and converted into energy. Your body has to break down the protein from complex amino acid chains from the chicken or beef that you ate, and then restring the amino acids into protein chains specific to humans. This is not to say that you have to become a full vegetarian if you don’t want to. But relying heavily on animal protein at all meals and snacks will have energy-depleting effects on your body for the long-term. Instead, increase your level of greens and other vegetables, and snack on raw almonds, sunflower seeds and walnuts in the afternoon when you need some substantial, long-burning energy.

When we're low energy, we often go straight for a latte. Is that a good idea?
The goal should be to keep your energy more balanced throughout the day so quick pick-me-ups are not as necessary. Start by weaning yourself off caffeine: the first few days or week may be uncomfortable, with headaches and moodiness, but it will pass and you will feel better for the long-term. When you need a quick boost, try a piece of fruit like a banana, or for longer-burning energy try some avocado, which is full of satiating good fat, fiber and minerals, spread on a piece of whole grain or gluten-free bread. Have some raw nuts, try complex carbohydrates like quinoa or millet and eat plenty of colorful vegetables. I also recommend sipping on rooibos tea, which is naturally caffeine-free, but is energizing, full of antioxidants and has a nice hearty taste, to help you replace your coffee.

What should someone eat after a tough workout?
Your body will need to replenish its amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. I make a smoothie which incorporates hemp protein and chia seeds. Hemp protein is a great whole food and plant-based protein powder (it’s just ground hemp seeds, which are incredibly nutritious, with no additives), which I greatly prefer to whey (dairy) and soy protein powders. To make the Power Protein Smoothie, blend together: 2-3 cups of unsweetened almond milk or water, 3 tbsp.– ¼ c. hemp protein, 1-2 tbsp. chia seeds, stevia to sweeten and banana (optional).

You've traveled extensively and observed other cultures' diets. Are there specific ways of eating that work much better than the traditional American approach?
In other cultures around the world, meals are much simpler. Even by virtue of being a necessity, such as in the rural areas of developing countries, meals are largely plant and whole grain-based. The people in such cultures tend not to age as quickly, and don’t have the same rate of degenerative diseases as Americans. They also tend to go to bed earlier, wake up earlier and have more balanced lives.

Kimberly Snyder (@kimsbeautydetox) is a celebrity nutritionist who lives in New York City. Find out more about her nutrition philosophy at kimberlysnyder.net.