A Healthy Boost:
Fight fatigue with food and exercise
You wake up to the alarm blaring and cover your head with your
pillow wondering how it could possibly be time to get up already.
Cancer Center dietitians Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, R.D.,
M.S., and Joan Daniels,R.D., offer tips for fighting fatigue.
Cancer Center Recipes Just for You
for more healthy eating ideas.
Next, you are making yourself a light breakfast before you have
to head out the door for your appointment and find you have to sit
down to rest from the effort. If this scenario sounds familiar, you
are not alone. Up to 96% of people treated for cancer report
fatigue. How you eat, drink and spend your day can reduce your
fatigue and may even boost your energy levels.
Eating for Energy
You may feel like you are fighting a losing battle with fatigue. The fatigue
itself can hinder eating enough calories and protein to maintain energy by limiting your ability
and desire to prepare healthy meals and snacks. This in turn will limit the amount you eat, which can result in more fatigue. If you
are losing weight, it is important to eat more frequently to avoid losing muscle mass, which can lead to difficulty with daily activities. If you are
not losing weight, it is important not to overeat for energy, as extra weight can worsen extreme tiredness. Choosing the right foods
is key. Limit empty-calorie foods such as candy, soda pop, baked goods and other desserts. They may give you a quick energy boost
initially but often will leave you feeling more drained once their effect wears off. Foods containing protein, healthy fats and fiber
will give you more long-term energy, in addition to having more vitamins and minerals to support your body's needs. (For helpful
tips for adding more healthy foods into your diet when you are running low on energy, see Tips for Healthy Eating
Dehydration can make you feel drained. Make sure you drink at
least eight to 12 cups of fluid daily to help you meet your hydration
needs. Focus on drinking water if you have maintained your weight,
or use calorie-dense items like 100% fruit juice, milk or sports
drinks if you have been losing weight. Keeping a visual record of
your fluid intake can be helpful so you keep on track. At the beginning
of each day, fill a 2-liter (64 fluid ounces) container with tap
water. Each time you drink any type of fluid or liquid-containing
food (soup broth, ice cream, Jell-O), pour out that amount of liquid
from the 2-liter container so that you have a running tally of your
fluid intake for the day.
Questions to ask your doctor
Is there any reason why I should not exercise?
Will I need any special monitoring before I begin exercising?
What exercises do you recommend for me?
Are there activities I should avoid?
Are there any warning signs I should look for when I start exercising?
Tips for Healthy Eating
- Fish, chicken, turkey, beef and pork
- Peanut butter or other nut butters
- Milk, cottage cheese and yogurt
- Soy milk, edamame and tofu
- Beans and legumes
- Walnuts, almonds or other nuts
- Olive, canola or safflower oil
- Fatty fishes, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines
and albacore tuna
- Cereals with 6 grams fiber per serving:
- oatmeal, raisin bran, shredded wheat, Grape Nuts and Kashi
- Bread with 3 grams fiber per slice
- Whole wheat pastas
- Legumes, lentils and beans
- Fruits and vegetables
Tips for Eating Healthy on Low Energy Days
- Eat small, frequent meals and include a protein-rich food with
each meal or snack.
- Stock your pantry with extra staples to avoid frequent, energy draining
grocery shopping trips.
- Keep high-calorie, high-protein nutrition supplements on hand
for easy nutrition on the run, such as Boost Plus, Ensure Plus,
Carnation Instant Breakfast or nutrition bars.
- Try batch cooking. Ask family or friends to double a favorite recipe
or do so yourself on high-energy days. Freeze individual portions
for quick, healthy meals.
- Keep healthy foods on hand that require little preparation,
including pre-packaged pudding and yogurt cups, peanut butter,
tuna fish, cottage cheese, eggs, string cheese and soup. (Select
cream-based soups for added calories and protein.)
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