Many of us have faced the unexpected challenge this year of how to get our energy back after being sick and so many of us have struggled with this and been shocked by just how long it can take.
But surprisingly, there is very little advice out there on how to recover and recuperate and build our energy back up again after illness.
Everything I could find to read was about “getting fit again” not about “getting better again” and they really are different things.
Now, I am not a doctor or a nurse or a medical expert in any way but it seems to me like we’ve thrown out and forgotten everything we ever knew about how out bodies need to convalesce after illness.
We’ve forgotten what it means.
And we’ve forgotten how to do it.
Convalescence is all about the gradual recovery of our strength after illness and how to slowly build back up our energy levels and activity.
It used to be key part of health care.
There were convalescence hospitals you went to rest and recover in after being sick. And every cookery book in every home had a big section on food for the different stages of convalescence.
Traditional convalescence gave our bodies:
- Time to recover
- And the specific food and care needed to recover.
But it also gave our minds time to rest because there was no expectation that the minute our fever was gone we would hop out of bed, dash into work or zoom round the park on a three mile run!!
There used to be a simple acceptance that after a major battle with sickness our body would need time to restore and recover ourselves and the patience to help that happen. It feels like we’ve lost that.
So I went looking for all the old fashioned advice on convalescence I could find in everything from old nursing manuals to my great granny’s cookery book from the 1930s.
Now not all of this convalescence advice has stood the test of time – we understood much more now about the evils of sugar for example – but so many of the old tips for getting energy back after sickness really make sense and and were in fact the very tips I learned the hard way “recovering”.
I’ve gathered together the best of this convalescence advice for you here and I really hope it helps you and your family get your energy back after being sick. There are all sorts of tips including:
- Lots of easy convalescent meals
- Mood boosting food to help with stress
- Cleansing food to reset our bodies
PLUS simple advice on :
- Creating a rest rhythm
- Breaking the stress cycle
- Asking for & accepting help
- Simple living routines for managing the basics when you’re tired
It’s a big old guide with lots of information in it, so do save for later.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a doctor and this post does not provide qualified medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Tips For Getting Energy Back After Sickness
1. Food To Help Get Energy Back After Sickness
Our bodies use up our nutritional resources in fighting sickness, so to get our energy back after sickness we need to restock on all the key nutrients a healthy body depends on but especially those that help repair cells …
- B vitamins
PLUS those nutrients that can help
- restore our immune system
- rebalance our gut (a key part of our immune system)
- cleanse our kidneys and liver
- and boost our mood
… as these take a real battering when we’re fighting sickness and sometimes from the medication we critically need to fight that sickness.
It sounds simple but the vicious circle after being sick is we don’t have the energy to prepare or eat the food that will help us get our energy back!!
So the key to getting our energy back is meals that are really rich in all these nutrients but:
- extremely easy to eat & digest
- AND super simple to prepare.
And that’s what I’ve got for you here. Use this big list of convalescent foods to try and eat little and often – hello elevenses and afternoon tea!! – so you keep your energy up and don’t get too tired to eat.
Protein & Iron Rich Food After Sickness
Protein and iron rich food is absolute key to getting our energy back but most of us are not up to eating an enormous steak everyday, especially in the early days recovering from sickness. So instead eat lots of these traditional protein and iron rich convalescent foods …
- Eggs : eggs of any sort are a great way to get easily digestible protein but in the early days of recovering from sickness very plain boiled and poached eggs may be easier than anything cooked with fat.
- Milk : old convalescent nursing guides recommended at least a pint of milk a day both drunk on its own and in porridge, milky puddings and cream soups (see below for these).
- Cottage cheese : cottage cheese is protein rich but much easier to digest than ordinary cheese. If it’s fermented it can also help rebalance our gut after high doses of medication.
- Bone broths : bone broths are a very easy way to digest gut healthy, protein rich food and as it’s become much easier to buy again – in liquid & powder form – you don’t have to start from scratch and can use bought broth as the basis for very simple energy building meals.
- Chicken broth : if you’ve no energy to cook simply heat up a pan of bought bone broth with a few handfuls of frozen vegetables, ripped up pieces of sliced chicken and a handful of smashed noodles and you’ll have energy boosting chicken broth ready to go in minutes.
- Egg drop broth : egg drop broth is as simple as stirring a beaten egg into hot broth and leaving it to cook through for a minute or so. But if you do want a recipe try this one minute egg drop broth which is a wonderful example of how quick and easy it can be to prepare energy restoring food even if you need to do it for yourself and you’re exhausted.
- Cream soups with broth : the high speed blender truly is a wonder of the modern age when it comes to producing high energy convalescent food quickly. Simply shove bone broth, milk & vegetables in your blender, blitz for a minute or so and then warm through in a pan. It’s five minutes effort for a big bowl of energy boosting goodness.
- Congee : congee – somewhere between porridge, rice pudding & gruel – is a traditional Chinese convalescent food. As this classic congee recipe shows it takes a while to cook but almost no energy to prepare, so you can have it on the stove in a few minutes and then go and rest for an hour or so whilst it does it’s thing.
- Liver pate : liver pate is a very easy way to eat incredibly iron rich food when you’re struggling to find the energy to look after yourself. Typically it’s twice as rich in iron as a steak and when you’re too exhausted to even think about cooking you can spread some on crackers or toast. NB liver is not recommended during pregnancy.
- Black pudding : traditional black pudding (or blood sausage) is richer in iron than almost any other food and easier to digest than meat when we’re recovering from illness. A friend was “prescribed” a weekly helping after terrible pneumonia and says she literally felt the energy seeping back into her. You can still buy black pudding reasonably cheaply in the UK and north America in ready cut slices that can be grilled, fried or baked in 10 minutes or so and frozen. If you’re looking after yourself recovering from sickness black pudding can be one of the very easiest ways to get some energy restoring food into you.
- Faggots : faggots – made from minced liver & heart!! – are another cheap traditional iron and protein rich convalescent food that are easy to digest and making a bit of a comeback. If you can get them ready made, they’re very easy to turn into an energy boosting meal, as you can just shove them in the oven for an hour or so with plenty of gravy.
If you enjoy cooking and you’re caring for someone recovering from sickness, you could also try these traditional convalescent foods that are super rich in energy restoring protein and amino acids:
- Beef tea : a cup of beef tea used to be an absolute staple in the early stages of convalescence when people would struggle to eat anything more substantial. Florence Nightingale swore by it.
- Bone broth jelly : the protein and amino acids in bone broth are even more concentrated in jelly form than in liquid broth so traditionally people recovering from sickness who were really struggling to eat would be given:
- Liver stew : a fortnightly or so helping of liver is a great way to get a regular boost of iron as we recover from sickness. It was a tradition in almost every cuisine worldwide. The only problem being liver can be horrid if badly cooked so it’s worth mastering a good simple liver stew recipe you can cook up easily. NB liver is not recommended during pregnancy.
- Oxtail soup : amino acid rich oxtail soup is classic convalescent food the world over. If you can get hold of oxtail from a butcher try this hearty Caribbean oxtail soup or traditional Scottish oxtail soup.
- Faggots : as mentioned above faggots are super iron and protein rich. If you can’t get hold of them ready made try this simple faggot recipe.
Now obviously we won’t find all of these ingredients in the average super market but lots of traditional butchers will stock them fairly cheaply. To understand more about iron deficiency and how to increase iron levels read this big guide to iron rich foods.
Milky puddings were key convalescent foods in the past. And they are a soothing way to consume plenty of energy building milk. The only problem is they are full of sugar.
Now as we discussed at the beginning getting better after sickness is not about “getting fitter” and it’s not about losing weight. Our first focus has to be about restoring our body and energy levels but we do now know that excess sugar seriously messes with our immune system.
So milky puddings could be valuable in a convalescent diet but only for people who don’t have existing problems with sugar or are at risk of diabetes and it would be still worth trying to cut down the sugar significantly in these classic convalescent recipes:
Restoring Milky Smoothies
For many of us today – thanks again to the the wonder that is the modern blender – milky smoothies are a better bet for getting better than milky puddings. And that’s because they allow us to cram in lots of other goodies with the milk. So don’t worry about fancy smoothie recipes just chuck in a blender a :
- Cup or so of milk
- Few good handfuls of frozen berries – fizzing with anti oxidants
- Small handful of frozen spinach – for a daily dose of green leafy veg
- Very small handful of nuts e.g. cashews or almonds, which are rich in mood boosting tryptophan
- A good dollop of sugar free natural yoghurt – restores immune boosting gut bacteria that may have destroyed by antibiotics
With just those basic ingredients to hand you can whiz up something really nutritious but very easy to digest in just a few minutes even when you’re totally exhausted. If you’re looking after yourself after sickness, getting into the tiny habit of whizzing up a restoring smoothie every morning, can make an enormous difference to getting better and getting our energy back.
If you are making smoothies, you do need to be careful about making them with water as it fills us up at a time when we can’t eat very much and we need as nutrient dense food as we can get.
Mood Boosting Food
Illness can leave our bodies seriously deficient in key nutrients including amino acids, serotonin and omega 3 fatty acids that help protect us from depression. And obviously our mental health takes a battering anyway when we’re sick so it’s really important to build these nutrients back up.
A big piece of oily fish once a week and a handful of nuts every day are a great way to do that but they’re not the most appetising when we’re first recovering from sickness. So try these ways to get those key mood boosting nutrients into your diet :
- Drink plenty of bone broth
- Drink fish bone broth
- Blitz a handful of nuts in cream soups
- Blitz a handful of nuts in milky smoothies
- Eat mackerel pate or just mash up a can of mackerel with some butter and eat on wholemeal toast
- Tuna bake is a simple comfort food way to get a blast of oily fish. If you don’t have the energy to prepare an easy tuna bake ask friends or family if they can whip up 3 or 4 small portions for the freezer.
- Fish chowder you can make a very simple fish chowder by simmering new potatoes in fish broth for 10 minutes or so before adding milk and some fish pie mix for another five minutes.
Our liver & kidneys go into serious over load when we’re cleansing our bodies of infection. So traditional convalescence diets included these teas that could help cleanse them as we start to get better:
- Dandelion tea
- Slippery elm
- Lemon & ginger tea – I make this super powered lemon & ginger tea for us at the first sight of a cold but it’s also very cleansing
- Chamomile tea
- Green tea
N.B. If you are pregnant or on any medication or have any medical concerns you should take qualified medical advice before drinking herbal teas.
Gut Friendly Snacks
We have now rediscovered with the wonders of modern science something our ancestors understood only too well : our gut is a key part of our immune system. Unfortunately, antibiotics and other medicine we need when we’re sick can kill off all the good stuff in our gut.
So as we’re slowly getting better from sickness we need to restore our gut so we don’t end up getting sick again. Lots of bone broth is a great way to do that. But as our appetite increases it’s worth focusing on having a daily gut friendly snack such as :
- Natural yoghurt
- Creme fraiche
- Grated carrot
- Blue cheese
- Coconut oil – we add a little to our smoothies
Or any of these 50 gut restoring ingredients.
OK so now we’ve got that big list of easy to eat food that can help us get our energy back after sickness let’s look at the other key tips for convalescing effectively.
2. Convalescence Tips To Get Energy Back After Sickness
We all need to ease our expectations that we will instantly bounce back from sickness once we’re no longer actually ill.
Some people do. But most of us don’t.
By recognising from the start it’s going to take time – and patience – we can actually get out energy back faster because we can do the things we need to do step by step to recover our health.
Step number one is a rest rhythm.
A Rest Rhythm
When recovering from sickness we’re not going to get through the day by just sleeping at night. Our body needs more rest. But the two worst things we can do are:
- Lie in bed in the morning – it stops us sleeping at night
- Or keeping going until we crash as our body will have no idea of when it’s meant to sleep and when it’s not.
So we need a very simple rest rhythm:
- Get up at 7
- Get some daylight – even if it’s just sticking your head out of the door as it sets our circadian rhythm
- Eat simple nutritious breakfast
And if you’re at home adopt one of these nap schedules :
- Lie down for 45 minutes at 10.30 and 3.30
- Sit down and rest at 9 for 15 minutes or so, have simple lunch at 12 and then lie down for 90 minutes to 2 hours, sit down & rest for 15 minutes or so at 4.30.
You might struggle to fall asleep to start off with but keep to the rhythm. Reading a not too exciting book will help you drop off. Don’t have your phone anywhere near you when you’re trying to nap.
The more religiously we can stick to the rest rhythm the better. And we certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Regular rest is how we recover.
Break The Stress Cycle
Getting seriously sick can be seriously scary and cause big spikes in the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin but if we don’t bring these down after sickness our bodies will get stuck in hyper alert, fighting mode and won’t switch into full recovery mode.
So we need to make sure we’re not:
- Immediately throwing ourselves back into stressful work if we can possibly avoid it
- Rushing around trying to “get fit again” with high stress exercise
- Worrying about not getting better quickly enough
And we need to build into our day very simple stress relief activities that help our mind switch into a very restful state when we’re awake that tells our body, the battle’s over and it can get on with recovery.
That might sound like a fancy yoga routine but it’s much simpler than that. It could just be 15 minutes or half an hour:
- Doing a jigsaw
- Building one of your kids’ lego kits!!
- Polishing shoes
- Hand sewing
And as our energy builds up it could be:
- Gently sweeping leaves
- Slowly mopping the floor
For more ideas try these 50 every day stress relief activities. The key is they let us focus and have a gentle soothing rhythm to them.
Build Very Simple Routines
One of the key ways to ease our expectations and to break the stress cycle is to build very simple routines focused on the absolute essentials:
- Nutritious food
- Getting washed & dressed every morning
- Buying food
- Very basic cleaning
Breaking these down into tiny habits we repeatedly do roughly at the same time every day or on the same day every week makes them easier and easier to do. Staying on top of these basics helps to stop us becoming overwhelmed by fear about all the things that we’re not doing and either “giving up” or panicking neither of which will help us recover.
Ask For & Accept Help
Slowly building up our strength to do more and more for ourselves every day can build a virtuous circle of recovery but we can’t do it on our own.
We do need to ask for and accept help.
Lots of us are truly hopeless at doing this but in the early days of getting better after sickness the greatest gift of friendship from friends, family and the local community can be someone:
- Picking up a weekly food shop
- Doing a load of laundry
- Whizzing the hoover round
- Cleaning up the kitchen
- Blitzing the bathroom
- Filling the freezer with energy boosting meals
So if you’re struggling do reach out for this very practical help.
I really hope some of these tips can help you give your body the rest and care it needs to recover and restore your health and it helps you get your energy back after being sick. Sadly not all of us do get back to how we were after serious sickness but giving our bodies time to convalesce properly gives us the best chance that we will.