Improving the quality of life with educational and recreational opportunities for individuals with spinal cord injuries.

Nutrition for Fatigue

With the talk of recreational opportunities may come the thought of the pain and fatigue afterward.  In our past newsletters, we have outlined some nutritional tips to fight depression and maintaining respiratory health.  In this article, I will share with you some tips to optimize your energy level so you can maximize your ability to participate in all of your daily activities.  

Fatigue is a common issue for many people living with spinal cord injuries (SCI).  Fatigue can lead to low mood, decreased motivation, and decreased ability to perform daily tasks.  There are many factors that contribute to fatigue.  These are just a few:

  • Sleep difficulties/apnea
  • Anemia
  • Pain
  • Depression and/or Anxiety
  • Medication side effects
  • Chronic infections (i.e. urinary tract infections)
  • Malnutrition or a poor diet

Diet/Nutrition can play a significant role in improving your energy levels.  Eating foods rich in Vitamin B12, iron, Vitamin C, and folic acid will better fuel your body throughout the day.  The following tips will outline some of the ways to incorporate these vitamins and minerals into our diets.

Foods high in Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 needs to be extracted from food and absorbed into the body by a complex process involving stomach acid (HCL) and digestive enzymes.  Many of the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency are common characteristics of SCI, so it can be hard to detect.  Ask your doctor about getting blood work done to test your levels of B12 if you are experiencing extreme fatigue.  Supplementation can be effective, but you need to work with your physician on an individualized plan.  

Foods that are high in Vitamin B12 include calf’s liver, sardines, venison, salmon, grass-fed beef, lamb and cod.  Supplementing with B12 will be especially important for those who do not eat meat.  When taking supplements, take a B12 and B complex together as they are better absorbed in the body when taken together.

Foods high in Iron & Vitamin C

Iron is an essential mineral for transporting our red blood cells around our body to be used for energy.  So it is important to get enough iron into your body.  Foods such as lean grass-fed red meat, organ meats, dried sulfite-free apricots, spinach, prunes, and scallops are rich in iron.  

Vitamin C helps boost the absorption of iron in our bodies.  Foods rich in Vitamin C are broccoli, red & green bell peppers, papaya, pineapple, and strawberries.  Foods that inhibit iron absorption (and should be avoided) include tea, coffee, wheat bran, and egg yolk.

Foods high in Folic Acid

Folic acid is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.  Our bodies have a hard time storing a bunch of this vitamin at one time.  Symptoms of a folic acid deficiency include diarrhea, depression, and a swollen red tongue.  To help prevent a deficiency, foods rich in folic acid include spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, beans (navy & lima), chickpeas, and lentils.

Eating small but regular meals (every three hours or so) consisting of complex carbohydrates and protein will help give you more sustained and longer lasting energy.  It also provides a better opportunity to lose weight, sleep better, and overall feel happier.  Complex carbohydrates include steel-cut oats, sweet potato, vegetables, brown rice, or quinoa.  Proteins can include boiled eggs, fish, a handful of nuts, or a tablespoon of almond -or other nut- butter.  

Fatigue, low energy, low motivation and poor sleep can also be related to food intolerances.  Food intolerances include problems digesting foods due to a lack of specific enzymes and difficulty breaking down proteins (such as the gluten found in bread).  Food intolerances can have delayed responses (like, up to 3 days) and can be overall difficult to identify.  A food elimination diet can help to figure out which foods are not welcomed in your body.  (Please work with your doctor or other health care provider when changing your diet).

Eating a wholesome, well-balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, seafood, poultry, and lean grass-fed beef helps provide your body with the nutrients it needs to make energy and work efficiently.  The following are a couple recipes to help you get started on your journey of decreasing fatigue and amping up your happiness and energy.

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