If your energy lags by mid-day or you wake up tired and spend the whole day feeling sleepy, it could be a matter of needing to get more shut-eye or up your physical activity. But another possibility is that you're falling short on certain nutrients and vitamins.
This could be the result of a restrictive diet, where groups of foods are eliminated, or due to a health condition that leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, says Liz Weinandy, a registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
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"Shortages of several nutrients can affect our energy levels," Weinandy says. Take a look at some key nutrients that could be behind low energy levels — along with the recommended supplements and foods to help you boost your intake of them.
1. B Vitamins
From a biochemistry standpoint, B vitamins are how you get energy out of molecules, says Tod Cooperman, MD, the founder of ConsumerLab, an organization that tests and reports on dietary supplements. These vitamins help convert food into energy, and they also help form red blood cells and deliver oxygen throughout the body, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Each B vitamin has its own function. For example, the body needs vitamin B1 to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a substance required by every cell in the body for energy. But, the B vitamins often work together in the body, so it's best to have enough of all of them.
There are many foods high in B vitamins, including fish, eggs, poultry, legumes and fortified foods. But without enough B vitamins, such as vitamin B12, you could feel tired, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Amount of B Vitamins Adults Need Daily
1.1 to 1.2 mg
1.1 to 1.3 mg
14 to 16 mg
B5 (pantothenic acid)
1.3 to 1.5 mg
A long-term riboflavin deficiency can lead to anemia, which may cause tiredness, per the NIH. A lack of vitamin B6 can also lead to anemia, according to the NIH. Vitamin B12 especially can help boost energy and improve endurance. And a deficiency in this nutrient is characterized by fatigue and weakness.
It's estimated that between 5 and 15 percent of adults are deficient in vitamin B12, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those who may be at a higher risk for deficiency include older adults, people with celiac disease or Crohn's disease, or those who take certain medications, including the diabetes drug metformin and some drugs used to treat reflux or other gastrointestinal problems.
Vegans and vegetarians who don't eat meat, eggs or much dairy (which are typically the primary sources of vitamin B12) may also want to consider taking a B-complex supplement, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Although, they can also find B12 in foods like nutritional yeast, fortified soy milk and soy-based "meats," breakfast cereals and some fortified granola bars.
In these cases, supplements can be helpful, per the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). If you think you might be deficient, talk to your doctor about which supplements might work best for you.
B Vitamin Supplements to Try
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding have different daily nutritional requirements and should speak with a doctor about how much vitamin B is right for them.
The mineral iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to the rest of the body. It's also a component of myoglobin, a protein that sends oxygen into the muscles, per the NIH. Iron is necessary for growth and development, especially in kids and adolescents, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your body stores the iron it doesn't use. "But without enough stored iron, your red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen around in the blood and this can leave you with extreme fatigue," Weinandy says. In this case, you would develop a condition called iron deficiency anemia, which is marked by fatigue and weakness, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There are a few factors that can deplete iron in your body, including not eating enough. Adults assigned female at birth (AFAB) should aim for 8 to 18 milligrams daily, while adults assigned male at birth (AMAB) should aim for 8 milligrams, per the USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
To meet the daily requirements, you can take advantage of foods high in iron — these include fortified cereals, animal organ meats (such as liver), beef, beans and tofu, per the NIH. Pair foods rich in non-heme iron (the type in plant foods) with those high in vitamin C, which helps your body absorb the mineral, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But diet alone isn't the only factor behind an iron shortfall. Demographics at risk include people with heavy periods, those who are pregnant, frequent blood donors, people with cancer or certain GI disorders and people with heart failure, according to the NIH.
Iron Supplements to Try
Taking too much iron can cause stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. Be especially careful if you're taking medications for Parkinson's, restless leg syndrome or hypothyroidism, as too much iron can reduce their efficacy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Magnesium deficiency is another reason you may be feeling tired, Dr. Cooperman says.
This mineral helps your heart beat steadily and is also important for muscle and nerve function, Weinandy says. "A deficiency can lead to fatigue and weakness, as well as muscle cramps and other problems."
Most people in the United States do not take in the recommended amount of magnesium through their diets, according to the NIH. Certain groups are at a higher risk, including older adults, those who have certain GI diseases or people with type 2 diabetes, per the NIH.
The recommended daily value of magnesium is:
- AMAB adults: 400–420 mg
- AFAB adults: 310–320 mg
Foods high in magnesium include spinach, lima beans and flaxseeds.
Magnesium Supplements to Try
Zinc is a mineral that helps cells grow and damaged tissue heal, and plays a big role in supporting immune health, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"A deficiency is most associated with decreased immunity and depressed mood, both of which can affect energy levels," Weinandy says.
The recommended daily value of zinc is:
- AMAB adults: 11 mg
- AFAB adults: 8 mg
Zinc Supplements to Try
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and plays a critical role in maintaining healthy bones. It also helps keep your muscles, nerves and immune system in tip-top shape, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There's a growing body of research that suggests vitamin D is tied to how energetic we feel. For example, adults who had fatigue and were deficient in vitamin D reported higher energy levels after being treated with the nutrient for five weeks during one August 2014 study in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences. A similar effect was observed after four weeks during another December 2016 study in Medicine.
Supplementing with vitamin D has also been associated with improvements in conditions that affect energy levels. For example, taking a daily vitamin D supplement reduced the risk of autoimmune disease by as much as 22 percent, according to a January 2022 study in the BMJ. Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are known for causing fatigue, per Harvard Health Publishing.
Vitamin D supplements have also been tied to relief from symptoms of depression, per July 2022 research in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. General fatigue and tiredness are considered residual symptoms of depression, per October 2011 research in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience.
Adults younger than 70 should aim for 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, per the Mayo Clinic. Those older than 70 should aim for 800 IU. Keep in mind, though, that between 1,000 and 2,000 IU is considered safe.
Vitamin D Supplements to Try
6. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that helps convert food into energy, per Mount Sinai.
There have been some limited studies that suggest it may have an energizing effect, Dr. Cooperman says. An April 2019 systematic review studying how CoQ10 affects fatigue found that it was most effective for people with fibromyalgia and those experiencing tiredness as a side-effect of cholesterol-lowering medications, per the results in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Dr. Cooperman notes that some people avoid taking CoQ10 before bedtime because it interferes with their sleep — this does seem to indicate some sort of potential relationship, but more research is needed to determine the connection, and if supplementing or prioritizing foods with CoQ10 will truly boost energy levels.
CoQ10 Supplements to Try
"There's some evidence that when you reduce stress, you can actually feel less fatigued," Dr. Cooperman says. So while ashwagandha may not directly increase energy, it may alleviate some stress which, in turn, could help you feel less fatigued, he says.
Some evidence backs this up, particularly when it comes to exercise. Cyclists who took 500 milligrams of ashwagandha for eight weeks were able to cycle 7 percent longer than those who took a placebo, per December 2012 research in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine.
All that said, more research is needed to determine exactly how ashwagandha affects energy levels.
Best Ashwagandha Supplements
Before You Buy a Supplement
Supplements can feel like an easy, accessible solution to many health woes. After all, you don't need a prescription to obtain a bottle. But they're not necessarily the simple purchase that they might appear. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.
Confirm If You Have a Deficiency
"Even though these products claim to boost energy, they're only going to help you if you're deficient," Dr. Cooperman says. "If you're not deficient, it's just a waste of money."
Plus, they don't appear to help prevent common chronic diseases for people who aren't deficient, says Ryan Andrews, RD, principal nutritionist and adviser for Precision Nutrition.
So, always check with your doctor and see if supplements are recommended based on your lifestyle or the results of blood work.
Getting Nutrients From Your Diet Is Best
Ask an RD — or consult the NIH — and the advice will always be to get as many of your vitamins, minerals and nutrients from your diet first. That's not possible for everyone, as certain people may be unable to absorb vitamins due to health conditions or medications. If that's the case, you should still ask your doctor if supplements are right for you, which ones you should take and what dose you need.
The Supplement Market Is Not Well-Regulated
Seek out reputable vitamin brands and look for products with a stamp of approval from USP, NSP or other third-party organizations, Weinandy recommends. (ConsumerLab and LabDoor also test products.) "These organizations test supplements to make sure they have what the manufacturer claims is in the supplement and in the listed amounts," she says.
Just keep in mind, these organizations aren't testing whether or not the supplement will do what it's intended to do.
Watch for Interactions and Dosage
There can be adverse effects when you take in too much of certain vitamins and minerals through supplements, Dr. Cooperman says. Too much iron can cause digestive distress, for example.
Your doctor will be able to pinpoint potential interactions with other medications or supplements that you're taking, so again, always consult them before you add one to your routine.
Check the Ingredient List
If you're allergic to an ingredient or avoid it elsewhere in your diet, you'll want to make sure it's not included in any vitamins you're taking. Some vitamin products, like proprietary blends, have additional ingredients in them, and some are made in facilities that process common allergens such as dairy, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. Labeling for allergens is also not regulated by the FDA.
Finally, keep in mind that the list above is not exhaustive.
"Some vitamins and minerals provide more of a supporting role to our energy production," Weinandy says. "These nutrients may not have a direct tie to increasing energy, but could still have an effect." So rather than taking supplements to increase your energy levels, it's a good idea to take an inventory of the other factors in your life that could be causing you to feel tired.
Other Factors That Influence Energy Levels
The nutrition in your diet is just one of a few elements that can influence your energy levels. "How much energy a person has on a given day can be influenced by a wide variety of factors (both nutritional and non-nutritional)," Andrews says.
If you're struggling with tiredness or fatigue, it's also a good idea to see your doctor and have your blood levels drawn. If a nutritional shortfall is to blame, this can help you identify what's really going on and come up with an appropriate treatment plan under the care of an expert.
Some other common factors that affect energy are:
- Sleep: "So many people run low on energy due to not getting enough sleep," Weinandy says. Or, the quality of your sleep may be poor. Here's how to get more deep, restorative sleep.
- Physical activity: While it seems counterproductive, being physically active can relieve stress and anxiety, Weinandy says. That helps with energy levels (and, if you're not active during the day, you might struggle to sleep later on). Try these workouts for stress relief.
- Eating and drinking enough: Hydration affects energy levels, Andrews says. A low-calorie diet can affect energy levels, too, Weinandy adds. "Eating too infrequently can also make a person feel sluggish as can eating too many carbs without enough protein at a meal."
- Mental health: Balancing stress, having a sense of purpose, getting outside, spending quality time with others and having enough time for leisure and relaxation will support healthy energy levels, Andrews says.
- National Library of Medicine: "B Vitamins"
- National Institutes of Health Offices of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B12"
- ODS: "Riboflavin"
- Stanford Children's Health: "Vitamin B Complex "
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- ODS: "Iron"
- ODS: "Magnesium"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Zinc"
- ODS: "Zinc"
- Mount Sinai: "Coenzyme Q10"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What is ashwagandha?"
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin B12 Supplements Recommended for Older Adults
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- Mayo Clinic: Iron Deficiency
- Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine: Effects of eight-week supplementation of Ashwagandha on cardiorespiratory endurance in elite Indian cyclists
- BMJ: Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized controlled trial
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: The effect of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms in adults: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials
- Harvard Health Publishing: Autoimmune Disease and Fatigue
- Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience: Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression