We all need an extra energy boost now and then—especially as a traveling medical professional working odd hours and shifts. When the days are long and naps are short, how do you prevent your battery from crashing?
Boosting Your Energy in the Workplace As A Medical Professional
When it comes down to it, there are two main ways to elevate your energy: healthy and unhealthy ways. We’re all familiar with each—from caffeine and energy drinks to power naps and exercise, we’re better at some than others.
As a medical professional, you’re already aware of the health risks associated with lack of sleep, an unbalanced diet, and an excess of caffeine and sugar. And yet, coffee and energy drinks are a couple of the most popular uppers in the U.S. with 85 percent of Americans consuming at least one caffeinated drink a day (it’s no wonder there’s a Starbucks on every street corner. Well played, Starbucks. Well played.).
So, let’s break down these unhealthy and healthy energy boosters to get a better look at what we should and shouldn’t use to fuel our bodies and minds.
Popular uppers you should limit
As an in-demand medical professional, you have to maintain motivation throughout your shift so you can provide the best patient care possible. When you feel a funk coming on, try to avoid these stimulants:
Ahh, one of our most favorite things in life—coffee. Yes, it’s true that a good cup of Joe has a myriad of health benefits like decreased chances of heart and liver failure. But in excess, the health perks cancel out, and since the average American drinks just over three cups of coffee per day, most aren’t getting those advantages.
In 2020, the National Coffee Association President and CEO, Bill Murray, said, “This year’s release shows just how much Americans rely on the energy, comfort, and normalcy of their favorite brew.”
Of course, we’re not monsters. We’d never suggest you stop drinking java cold turkey, or at all. Instead, limit your mugs and make sure you’re consuming less than 400mg of caffeine a day—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) say anything more is dangerous to your health.
Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar—oh my. Energy drinks made their first appearance in the U.S. in 1985 with the rise of Jolt Cola and by 1997, Red Bull was released and immediately dominated the market. About 47 percent of consumers admit they drink multiple energy drinks every week to help counterbalance feelings of fatigue and lethargy, while in fact, they only help you feel more alert and concentrated the first 15 to 45 minutes after finishing with the possibility of a sugar crash in as little as one hour later.
Over-consumption of energy drinks can cause a caffeine overdose, irregular heartbeats, nervousness, and more. When combined with alcohol, the risks increase and between 2007 and 2011, emergency room visits increased two-fold because of energy drink overindulgence.
If you just love the flavor or feeling energy drinks give you, limit yourself to 16 ounces a day and avoid all other caffeinated beverages to reduce potential harm. For more health-conscious options, opt for low- or no-sugar versions of your fave energy drinks.
From wine and beer to hard liquor and cocktails, we all have our preferred adult beverage. But when one drink turns into two, then three, and so on, alcohol tends to act as a depressant and makes you sluggish, disoriented, and slower than usual. Over time, too many boozey drinks can lead to serious health conditions like heart or liver disease and increased risk for strokes.
The scary truth is that at least 10 to 12 percent of medical professionals will develop a substance use disorder during their career because of demanding, which is a higher percentage than the general population. So, when it comes to wine, spirits, and liquor, try to limit yourself to nights on the town or dinner dates with friends.
Since 2014, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Mountain Dew have been the top five soft drinks in the U.S. Typically, a 12-ounce can of pop has between 30 and 42 grams of sugar in it. For another perspective, that’s roughly seven to 10 teaspoons of sugar.
All of the sugar in soda pop gives you a short-lived sugar rush and synthetic boost of energy that’s then followed by a sugar crash shortly thereafter. Plus, most soft drinks mix sugar with caffeine, these beverages make it hard to fall asleep and even harder to stay asleep.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also states that consuming a lot of sugary drinks can cause weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, or gout, not to mention tooth decay. Take care of those pearly whites and substitute soda for water, tea, or milk.
If you’re like me, then you have a major sweet tooth. While I feel like I could literally live off of chocolate and ice cream, my dentist (and mom) would strongly disagree. And so would the American Heart Association—the max sugar intake they recommend for women is six teaspoons a day and no more than nine teaspoons for men. That said, most 12-ounce sodas have eight teaspoons of added sugar, so there goes your whole day’s allotment gone in just a few slurps.
On average, Americans consume about 77 grams of sugar each day, which is more than three times the recommended amount for women and adds up to about 60 pounds of sugar—can you even imagine that much sugar in one setting?!
Healthy ways to boost your energy
Now that we’ve identified common negative ways to energize yourself, let’s break down some more healthy and positive means to uplift your spirits:
Eat for fuel
Think of food as the gas that keeps your motor going. The more foods you eat that have low glycemic indexes, high magnesium, high vitamin B-12, and less absorbed sugars, the better you’ll feel—trust us, it’s science.
Stock up on lots of whole grains, healthy oils, plus high-fiber, high-protein, and high-magnesium foods to help give you a natural burst of energy. That’s why Fusion stocks up its corporate office with healthy granola bars and other snacks, plus offers med travelers a weekly, tax-free per diem to help cover the cost of meals and other food.
“If you eat a lot of whole grains, which provide a slow and steady release of fuel, your energy will be consistent and balanced, so by day’s end you’ll feel less tired,” said nutritionist, Samantha Heller, MS, RD. “When you’re eating a sweet food, you get a spike in blood sugar, which gives you an initial burst of energy. But that’s followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar, which in turn can leave you feeling very wiped out.”
Next time you get the munchies, swap out that sweet candy bar for a nutty granola bar or some yogurt with berries.
Be strategic with caffeine
Listen, we love our caffeine as much as the next person, but as we already know, too much can lead to trouble. Since caffeine does help with alertness, a little goes a long way—be strategic and stick to black coffee or opt for a low-fat latte to turn your java into a protein drink for extra energy and calcium.
Get your body moving
As awful as it sounds when you’re exhausted, getting up and moving significantly increases energy levels. Exercise gives your cells more energy to burn, more oxygen to circulate, and produces more dopamine for an added boost in mood. It can feel counterintuitive because when you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is be active, but studies show that a 10-minute walk increases energy with effects lasting up to two hours long.
If it’s hard for you to do alone, ask a group of friends or colleagues to join in and help hold you accountable. As they say, the more, the merrier!
Control stress levels
Stress is inevitable. No matter where you go or how far you run, it’ll find you. The only way to win the battle against stress is to control it, rather than allowing it to control you.
“Stress is the result of anxiety,” said psychologist, Paul Baard, PhD. “And anxiety uses up a whole lot of our energy.”
As a human, stress has a way of leaving you physically and mentally exhausted, even if you’ve spent 24 hours horizontal in bed. Low but chronic levels of stress erode energy levels so over time, you find yourself doing less and feeling more and more worn out.
Open up to a loved one, seek a counselor, join a support group, or experiment with yoga and meditation—there are loads of healthy ways to manage and control daily stress levels. As a Fusion med traveler, you have free 24/7 access to professional phone counseling because we know your overall health is more than how your body feels.
Schedule your sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends healthy adults sleep seven to nine hours a night. If you find that’s not conducive to your work schedule, try a power nap when you can! You spend all day diagnosing and treating patients—that information overload can zap brain energy in no time, leaving you feeling lethargic and sloth-like. Next time you feel your mind starting to shut down, set an alarm, and take a 60-minute power nap. Studies done by the National Institutes of Mental Health shows a brief power nap can reverse the mind-numbing effects of information overload and can also help you retain what we’ve learned.
While sleep is good, you should still be mindful of sleeping too much. Too much sleep can actually enhance feelings of fatigue and leave you feeling more worn out than before. As 20 to 30 percent of the general U.S. population report poor sleep that result in feelings of lethargy, grumpiness, and tiredness, you should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night so you can be the best med professional for your patients.
Stay hydrated with some refreshing H2O
Water may not be the most fun or flavorful drink out there, but it sure is good for you. Drinking adequate amounts of water significantly affects energy levels and brain function, prevents headaches, and aids in weight loss. When your body isn’t sufficiently hydrated, you’re likely to feel achy, lethargic, and lightheadedness.
“Drinking water is like washing out your insides,” said Dr. Kevin Stone, MD. “The water will cleanse the system, fill you up, decrease your caloric load, and improve the function of all of your tissues.”
Phone a friend
Regardless of your personality type—introvert or extravert—people need other people, especially as we age and get older. Social isolation can cause low moods and tiredness, as well as heighten the risk of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.
So, when you’re feeling down, phone a friend, family member, or recruiter! Find someone to talk to or sit in silence with. Research shows that those with stronger social networks are thought to have better physical and mental health, as compared to people with just a few acquaintances. Interacting with others is good for your brain and your body—get out of your comfort zone and make a new friend.
You only have so much time in-between patients and medical travel assignments. Don’t spend your down time sleeping the day away and instead, focus on healthier ways to magnify your energy levels during worktime so you can provide exceptional patient care wherever your adventure takes you.