Cancer and Fatigue: How to Eat to Increase Energy
Fatigue can be one of cancer’s most challenging side effects. Feeling weak, sluggish, or heavy (even after a full night’s sleep) can make it difficult to engage in normal, everyday life. But there are ways to manage this common symptom, including eating well during your treatment.
Of course, it’s harder to eat well when you don’t feel well. But it’s even more important to do so. Good nutrition can go a long way toward increasing your stamina and strength. It can help speed your healing time and lower your risk of infection.
If you’re looking for an energy boost, read on. Here are 9 eating strategies for reducing fatigue and feeling your best.
1. Have easy-to-eat foods on hand.
Simply eating enough can help keep your energy up. And when you’re too worn out to cook, convenience counts. Plan ahead by stocking up on premade or frozen meals and easy snack foods, like crackers or precut vegetables with dip. If you don’t have the stamina to plan or shop, ask for help.
2. Eat when you’re hungry—and go for your favorites.
Follow your appetite, even if that means having unusual foods at unusual times. Chocolate pudding might not be the ideal breakfast, but if it helps you get the calories you need, it’s a good choice for today.
3. Have small, protein-rich snacks throughout the day.
Five or six mini meals might be more tolerable than three big meals. Every time you eat, make sure there’s a source of protein on your plate. Pair hummus with crackers, have a hard-boiled egg with your toast, add milk to hot cereal, or have some cottage cheese with fruit.
4. Add fat to your meals and snacks.
Eating enough calories can help you maintain your energy as well as your weight, and fats are calorie-dense. Add melted butter to baked potatoes or steamed vegetables, slather nut butter on toast, or tuck a few slices of avocado into a sandwich.
5. Try to fit in fruits and vegetables.
They’re chock-full of nutrients your body needs to feel its best. Consider adding them to shakes or soups if whole fruits or veggies are tough to tolerate. Toss berries, a banana, or a handful of baby spinach into a smoothie with milk or yogurt, for instance. You can also puree vegetables like carrots or squash into a creamy soup.
6. Avoid foods that make you feel worse.
Skip popcorn or raw fruits and vegetables if you have diarrhea. Avoid acidic foods like tomato sauce if you have a sore throat. If the thought of broccoli makes your stomach churn, steer clear.
7. Stay hydrated.
Try to drink at least four 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Sip in between meals rather than with them so you don’t fill up on fluids and run out of room for food.
8. Let your doctor know about side effects that are making it harder to eat.
Problems like nausea or vomiting, a sore throat or mouth, or changes to taste or smell can often be managed.
9. Talk with your doctor before taking a supplement.
Vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements might seem like a good idea, especially if they’re natural. But some can interact with your treatment or make it less effective.
Learn more about eating well with cancer
A nutrition counselor can help you learn more strategies for eating to feel your best with cancer. To get started, call 888-369-2427 to schedule an appointment with a Fox Chase dietitian or request an appointment online.