Your average health food store has an entire section devoted to “energy.”
The products on the shelf, with their fancy logos and specially designed packaging, make grandiose claims about what they will do for your “energy levels.”
But the truth?
Most of them are stimulants in disguise, artificially jacking you up to give you the sensation of energy.
But in the end, they do more harm than good. They increase cortisol, cause dehydration, and deplete you.
Because almost none of them do anything on the biological level that supports your real energy system: your mitochondria and metabolism.
That’s why in this article I want to show you what to look for with any new supplement.... and why.
In biology, energy is measured by one compound: ATP.
Virtually every chemical reaction, protein, enzyme, receptor, everything that happens in biology uses ATP. Everything.
If something is going to increase your energy levels, it needs to boost your ATP levels in some way. There are many ways to do that and I'll go more in-depth in another article.
Inside every single cell, you have anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 tiny ATP factories: mitochondria.
These are specialized cellular organelles that are so important they even have their own DNA.
They grow and replicate on their own, responding to signals from the rest of the body, like increased energy demands, oxygen: CO2 levels, hormones, and a host of other biochemical checks and balances.
Your mitochondria are great at making ATP because they contain special structures and enzymes specialized to create one very powerful chemical cycle.
This is the Krebs Cycle (also known as the Citric Acid Cycle).
All the food you eat –– fats, carbs, and protein –– converges HERE to make the energy that fuels your life.
Below you’ll see what this looks like, but don’t worry, it’s not to scare you. It’s just to give you a point of reference.
If a supplement is going to give you energy, it needs to impact the Krebs Cycle one way or another.
Whether pushing yourself to higher levels of performance, healing from injury or disease, or just doing the quiet heroic work of supporting your family, everything you need requires energy.
There are only a few ways we can influence this core energy cycle in our body.
I will go deeper and make specific recommendations in my next article, but for now, I want to stay high-level so you understand the principles behind this. Because when you understand the principles, you will have a framework to make your own informed decisions about whatever new supplement comes down the marketing road.
So let's take a look at these one-by-one:
If you take a quick look at that diagram of the Krebs cycle, you'll notice there's really only ONE input.
That's it. Just one: Acetyl-CoA.
I don't' want to get bogged down in the details. All you need to know is that one way or another the food that gives you energy eat gets turned into Acetyl-CoA.
Now different foods have different paths to turn into Acetyl-CoA. Some paths are complicated. Some paths are simple.
And some foods –– like fat –– are extremely dense in the raw materials that make Acetyl-CoA.
This is why I emphasize healthy fat so much in any diet and nutrition advice I give to my patients.
The cleaner and more energy-dense your food source, the more you Acetyl-CoA your cells can make and drive the Krebs cycle to make ATP.
Going back to the diagram, all those little arrows and steps are opportunities to enhance your energy capacity.
There are dozens of co-factors, helper molecules, and supporting compounds that help drive this cycle.
Identifying and boosting your levels of these molecules, like NAD, for example, can be a helpful strategy to enhance your base energy.
You can also do this at the level of body signals. Healthy sleep cycles, exercise, regular eating habits, and optimal hormone levels all impact the health and number of your mitochondria.
If you put sugar in the gas tank of your car, it's not going to run very well. It doesn't matter how fancy the car is, how big the engine is, or the quality of the fuel you use.
It won't work.
If you have toxins built up in your body and specifically in your mitochondria, you will not have optimal energy levels. You may get normalized to unhealthily low levels of energy, you might even think you feel “fine” because it's gone on so long.
So what do I mean by toxins?
There are two kinds I want to address here: natural and external.
We live in a very toxic environment. Our water, our food, even our air is full of pollution.
Highly oxidizing pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and solvents all wreck havoc on your mitochondria. They block and deform receptors and critical proteins. They weaken the membrane voltage necessary to drive specialized reactions.
There's no way around it, eliminating these external toxins is critical to restoring your optimal energy levels.
The metabolic processes in the mitochondria are naturally a little bit messy. All biology is a little bit messy.
And because of that, you naturally produce free radicals in the metabolic process. This is like acidic exhaust from a factory. It needs to be neutralized or it's going to wreck the environment.
This is where antioxidants come in. We get antioxidants from colorful plants in our diet. We can get them from supplements.
And we can also make them ourselves, in the form of glutathione.
Glutathione is the body's most powerful antioxidant and detox molecule. The problem with supplementing glutathione is that your body has special sensors that regulate its production. When you are taking it as a supplement, it actually turns down your body's ability to produce it on its own.
I still recommend it as a supplement in certain situations, but on the whole, I believe it is better to support your body's natural capacity to produce it on its own.
So how do we do that?
Well, glutathione is made from just a few amino acids –– especially methionine, an essential amino acid that has an important sulfur atom in it that neutralizes and binds toxins.
In my years as a clinical physician, I've found that the safest, most reliable way to support your glutathione levels and detox pathway is by supplementing essential amino acids.
That's the basis of Perfect Amino.
It's pure essential amino acids optimized to the exact ratio for 99% utilization by your body.
Virtually none of it is broken down to make Acetyl-CoA, like most amino acids in protein supplements and animal products.
Vital energy is one of the health levers with the most leverage in your practical daily life.
Not only is it the foundation of the rest of your health...
...you can feel the difference it makes in your day-to-day life.
When you take the time to optimize it, you will wake up faster, think more clearly, not get fatigued as easily, and have a better mood overall.
And now armed with the core understanding of how your energy systems really work, you can cut through the marketing hype and make intelligent decisions on your journey to optimal health.
If you search for “energy supplement” on amazon, you get over 4,000 results.
How can any reasonable human sift through all that and find the ones that work? Or which ones are bogus?
I did a deep dive into the truth about “increasing your energy” in another article. It gives you a framework for understanding how real energy supplements work and why.
But here I want to do something different.
I want to get practical and tactical with 10 proven ways to boost energy production in your cellular energy factories –– your mitochondria.
We’ll start with the lifestyle and dietary ways to boost your mitochondria and then look at a few powerful supplements.
Let’s start with the cheapest...
It’s the “most wonderful time of the year” according to Andy Williams. Or should it be the most wonderFULL time of the year? I’m referring to the last 6 weeks of the year which is fraught with one nutritional landmine after another.
Let’s face it, things like pumpkin pie, stovetop stuffing, eggnog, pumpkin-spiced lattes, peanut brittle, homemade fudge, and divinity only make their appearance during this brief window so we might as well gorge ourselves with as much as we can, right?
No wonder the average American gains 2 to 5 pounds (or more) over the holidays. You’d think we were part bear by eating all…the…things before going into several months of hibernation. Unfortunately, this is a major reason people gradually gain weight over the course of years and decades. Gaining weight is easy while losing it is another story.
The American Sleep Association estimates that 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. That's about 20% is the US population. Furthermore, insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder, with short term issues reported by about 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10%. It's more than likely that you or someone in your household suffers from sleep-related issues.