Have you ever thought about what powers your body?
The easy answer is nutrients, of course. But your body turns those nutrients into energy, and it’s that energy that fuels your body’s cells. All types of cells have tiny generators called mitochondria that, in many ways, are their sources for life. Mitochondria are the singular part of the cell where our basic life requirements — air and food — are combined to make energy in a process known as the Krebs cycle.
As the source of your cellular energy, mitochondria are vital to nearly every biochemical reaction and cellular process in your body. Therefore, increasing mitochondrial function is one of the most effective ways to boost these processes and, as a result, increase your overall energy levels and potentially slow down the aging process.
10 Ways to Boost Your Mitochondria
1. Eat fewer calories.
Calorie reduction is a well-known method for lowering the production of free radicals and improving mitochondrial function.
Why? When mitochondria use oxygen to generate energy, they release a number of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can be harmful to cellular structures.
An excess of calories leads to obesity and heightened inflammatory processes, which increase ROS production during mitochondria’s Krebs cycle. These heightened levels of ROS lead to cellular damage known as oxidative stress.
This damage can, in turn, trigger mitochondrial changes and dysfunctions that exacerbate the inflammatory processes associated with obesity. The self-sustaining cycle can continuously inhibit energy production in every cell in your body.
However, you can interrupt it by reducing the calories you eat every day and removing sources of inflammation. Aim to establish a healthy calorie range to prevent overeating. To find your personal range, start with 350-450 calories per meal and eat 3-4 meals per day.
2. Eat 2-3 meals, within an 8-10 hour window.
In addition to reducing calories, research shows that limiting your intake to an 8-10 hour window can trigger your mitochondria to adapt. Intermittent fasting supports the mitochondrial network by removing damaged mitochondria and triggering biogenesis of new mitochondria.
When eating less frequently, the quality of food you choose to fuel your body is essential to ensure you are providing your mitochondria with the nutrients needed to work efficiently.
For a meal timing schedule that mimics your natural circadian rhythm, eat 3 meals per day at 8 am, 12 pm and 5 pm.
3. Throw away refined carbs like soda, white bread and pastries.
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found that excess carbs can lead to significant changes in the shape and function of mitochondria, particularly in certain brain cells. The researchers suspect these changes might contribute to “the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.” The changes might also contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which some experts refer to type 3 diabetes.
Rampant inflammation resulting from excess carbs alters your hormone production and regulation, which is vital to optimizing your mitochondrial function. By throwing away all the processed carbs in your cabinets and fridge, you can reduce that inflammation, improve your hormone regulation, and increase mitochondrial function, all in one swoop.
4. Eat quality protein like grass-fed beef and pasture-raised eggs.
Once you’ve done away with bad foods, you can finally focus on consuming the foods that increase mitochondrial function. Some of these key nutrients include L-carnitine and creatine, which are both vital for supplying energy to mitochondria.
You can get plenty of both by adding grass-fed beef, bison, eggs, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds to your diet.
5. Eat sources of omega-3s and alpha-lipoic acid.
Likewise, omega-3s and alpha-lipoic acid improve mitochondrial function by boosting respiratory enzymes.
Add more omega-3 acids to your diet with wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, and anchovies. Combine with vegetables like spinach, broccoli, yams, Brussels sprouts, carrots or beets as sources of alpha-lipoic acid.
6. Eat antioxidant-rich foods with resveratrol like dark chocolate.
The antioxidant plant molecule resveratrol is also known to improve mitochondrial function, making grapes, red wine, dark chocolate, and pistachios beneficial when you indulge in moderation.
7. Get at least 30 minutes of activity daily.
Physical exercise is the best way to increase your oxygen intake, critical for mitochondria’s Krebs cycle. As your body uses up more energy, it will force itself to produce more mitochondria to keep up with the demand. If you aren’t expending energy or using up your oxygen, then your body and its mitochondria will grow complacent.
Throughout your week, incorporate aerobic exercise, strength training, core exercises, stretching, and balance. No matter what your fitness level is, you’ll always benefit from variety.
8. Try heat therapy.
Heat therapy, like sauna use, has been shown to increase the efficiency of mitochondria. The energy needs of mitochondria increase, resulting in better use of oxygen in the blood through a process called oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS).
Aim for 2-3 sauna sessions per week for at least 10-15 minutes.
9. Reduce stress with relaxation techniques like meditation or massage daily.
Relaxation techniques like meditation and massage can reduce the effects of psychological stress. Stress hormones can alter mitochondrial function, which negatively effects several biological process in the body, especially for the immune, nervous and endocrine systems.
Start developing your personal stress reduction routine by incorporating just a few minutes of guided meditation daily.
10. Prioritize getting 8 hours of sleep every night.
A good night’s sleep protects the brain by allowing it to clear the byproducts of thinking that build up during the day (known as neutral waste). When neutral waste accumulates, it is harmful to the mitochondria in neurons.
Research also suggests a relationship between your circadian rhythm and the function of mitochondria. If your circadian rhythm is disrupted, this can lead to a decline in the production of cellular energy.
Create a definite, standard sleep-wake cycle, stick to it every day and night, and put away any electronic screens at least an hour before it’s time to go to sleep.
Eliminating the foods and habits that drain your cells of energy will leave you with more options than you might realize to boost your mitochondria.
If you’re unsure how to incorporate some of these nutrients into your diet, consider a meal delivery service that can provide them for you. Once you make these changes, you’ll be well on your way to getting your energy back.