Energy Crisis: Why Some People Experience Low Energy on the Paleo Diet

So, you’ve made the leap. You’ve decided to go Paleo. You have your pantry stocked. You’re excited. You’re ready to go. But, less than a week in, you have a problem.

You have no energy.

You’re sure you’re doing this diet properly. So why should you be dragging around like you’ve been drinking NyQuil?

There are actually a few reasons, and they are easily dealt with.

You’re in Transition

You have just made the decision to change your entire way of eating. Even if you’re moving from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one, your entire body is in transition. It takes a lot of energy for your body to adjust the way it processes the food it’s receiving. Insulin levels, acid levels, the digestive process — all of it is going to change.

When you make a change like this, it can take an easy week for you to adjust to the change. Your body is not going to be taking incremental steps but large ones, and it’s going to wear on you. Stick with it, though. It’s going to get better.

The other part of this transition is mental. This is a lifestyle change. Part of it is going to be a change of the mind, and that also can be exhausting. You are going to second guess yourself. You are going to worry about social gatherings, restaurants. Paleo is a fairly forgiving, very relaxed way of eating, but we have been taught that dieting is a stressful situation. You are going to have to work to change your mindset. It’s a lot of work. You’re going to be tired.

Don’t worry. This will pass. Give it a week, then another. If you’re still low on energy, then there’s a different issue will try touching on. But, most likely, you’re merely adjusting to the changes that you’re putting yourself through.

You’re Not Eating Enough Fat

Did I say that right? Believe it or not, I did. I know that I touched on this in my article There are no rules in Paleo. This is not a low fat diet. Throw out what you’ve been taught about healthy eating and dieting over the years. There are fats that are good for you, and you’ve been somewhat misled by which fats those may be. Believe it or not saturated animal fats are much better for you than you realize. If you’re getting your meats and then trimming every once of fat from them as per other diets, you’re throwing away your energy.

The body gets fat to burn from different things, usually things like sugars and carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and pastas. The body breaks these down but cannot store them, so it turns them into fat that it can burn. On Paleo, though, you’re not eating these things. You need the fat — yes, they are healthy fats — to burn for energy instead. If you aren’t taking in those fats, then you’re not fueling your body with the energy it needs.

Stop trimming your steaks. Just enjoy them they way they are. And coconut oil is a great energy pick-me-up.

You Are Not Drinking Enough Water

I’ll confess to this being a problem for me. I need to keep up with my water. Because even if you don’t feel dehydrated, you very well may be, and that’s going to cause an energy crisis.

You should be drinking eight cups of water a day. That’s cups. Not glasses. Not bottles. Cups. That’s not a lot of water. But most of us don’t get that, even though we think we do. Stop thinking of black coffee or tea as “just like water.” They aren’t. All you need to do is find yourself with kidney problems once, and you’ll get off that idea that calorie-free beverages can be considered water.

If you’ve been drinking part of your water as water and part as calorie-free beverages, then you’re not getting enough water. You may feel healthy. You may feel like you’re hydrated. But between the transition to a new dietary lifestyle and only drinking part of your daily requirement of water, you may very well be dehydrating, and that’s putting just enough stress on your body to cause a problem.

I drink my water in bottles. Four 16 oz bottles a day is all it takes to get your water down, and it’s amazingly easy. And I’m never depriving myself of my morning coffee or and afternoon juice to drink all that water. There’s no measuring with bottles and you know you’re getting what you need, because, let’s face it, you ever actually put a full 16 ounces of water into a drinking glass. You might fill it to twelve and then leave half of it on the counter. I know I’m not the only one who does this.

Drink more water. It’s good for you. On the flip side of that coin, though, watch your salt intake. A lot of water but too little salt can also cause fatigue.

You’re Eating Too Many Meal Replacements

Paleo is a diet of food, not shakes. It focuses on whole, non-processed, real food. I have my favorite food bars and I’ve made my share of smoothies, but those have always been snacks to get me to the next meal if I find it’s going to be later than I’d planned. They are not meant to replace meals. If you find you’re going to actually miss a meal, you’re better off running into a grocery store and grabbing a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a banana than go grab a quick food bar. Take stock of how many of these things you’re eating and decide whether or not you’re eating too many. Then get back to real food.

You’re Not Eating Enough Carbs

Say what? Yep, this is a high protein, low-carb diet, but you do still need some of those carbs. In addition to all that meat and those eggs, you need veggies, and you need some Paleo-approved starches in the absence of the sugar and grains your body was accustomed to getting.

Make sure you’re getting plenty of starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, bananas and chestnuts. These are the items that will take the place of breads and rices. A little sweetness like bananas or dates are great, and I even occasionally have a honey stick for a quick energy pick-me-up.

You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

We are a busy people. Even when we’re not working, we’re busy with something. Very few of us rest the way we’re supposed to. We don’t have set bedtime or set times to rise. We read or watch TV in bed, work on projects until ungodly hours and get up early for other busy things we want to do.

I’m not suggesting you give up things you like doing to stay in bed. I’m a very busy person, and I like it that way. What I’m suggesting is that you learn to schedule your time better. Somethings can be multi-tasked. Some things can’t. Figure it out. But start going to bed at set time and getting up at a set time. Straying from this on occasion isn’t the end of the world. But it can only be on occasion.

Your alarm shouldn’t have to get you up. I’m not going to advocate not setting it, but it shouldn’t HAVE to get you up. If you get the sleep you need and follow your body’s lead, you’ll find that you naturally want to go to bed when you’re at a certain point of tired, and you will naturally wake up where your body has the rest it needs.

Don’t fall prey to being told how many hours you need to sleep. Some of us sleep six or seven hours a night. Some sleep eight. If you are naturally up after six and a half hours of sleep every day, then that’s all your body needs. If you are low on energy or your body needs to conserve for some reason, you are naturally going to start sleeping longer or


Paleo is just like anything else. If you’re not doing it right, you’re going to feel it. Pay attention to your diet and see what you may be missing. Or just wait out that transition. It only takes a few weeks, and it will be over before you know it.

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Author: Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko

Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko has a degree in journalism and is a published novelist. She has written on food, agriculture, business, crime and tourism. She has lived in Idaho, New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming and Colorado. She currently resides in Fallon, Nevada.

8 thoughts on “Energy Crisis: Why Some People Experience Low Energy on the Paleo Diet”

  1. I have thought about trying a paleo eating plan, but right now I am following a ketogenic plan. Often confused, but not the same thing, keto also involves such a shock to the dietary norm that low energy is the by product for many people. To avoid this going in, I did not abruptly disrupt my dietary plan. Instead, I eased into keto over about 3 weeks before I turned it all the way. Initially, I had about two days of fatigue, which was not too bad because I started on a Friday evening. Also, the other thing that helps me to deal with the mental changes is to use online support communities who are living their lives with this same dietary change.

    1. Yeah, Keto and Paleo are very similar in many ways. My son was on a ketogenic plan for a while, which was nice because we didn’t need two different grocery lists. We just each threw in a few extras specific to our own diet.

      I think any abrupt diet change is going to result in a little fatigue. It’s a huge change physically, and mentally.

  2. Hi Kelli,

    Great post. It’s good to know that I’m in transition.

    I recently switched to a high energy diet (not exactly Paleo, but containing a lot of salmon, berries, nuts, whole grain, etc.) and I found myself nearly falling asleep by about 3PM the other day.

    That’s for this article and letting me know that this will pass.

    I’d like to add that I do indeed eat all of the fat on my steaks and I wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂

    Keep up the good work.


    1. My first attempt at Paleo three years ago failed because I was so run down. Fortunately, I figured it out for the next time around. My biggest problem that first time was my fats, but also my water. I got that straightened out and things went a lot smoother.

  3. This is very interesting, love how you explain why people are having these problems I think anyone on a paleo diet struggling with energy will know exactly what to do thanks!

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