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The Energy-Boosting Molecule You Need to Know About

Photo: Shebeko/Shutterstock

More drive, a higher metabolism, and better performance in the gym—these can all be yours, thanks to a little-known substance in your cells, groundbreaking research shows. Called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), "it's one of the most important factors in the human body for energy," says Anthony A. Sauve, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine. "NAD helps our systems use food and exercise for strength and stamina." (Boosting your body's nitric oxide levels can also help incrase your energy.)

Although your production of NAD declines naturally every year—the body produces 20 percent less at age 40 than it did when you were in your teens and 20s, Sauve says—there are targeted techniques to help you increase your levels of the molecule. Read on for the most effective ways to dial them up—and boost your vitality, endurance, fitness, and health.

Eat more guac.

Your body converts vitamin B3, a.k.a. niacin, into NAD, so you need to keep your levels of this nutrient steady. One key way to do that: Watch your fat intake. "Studies show that a high-fat diet inhibits the body's ability to turn B3 into NAD, causing levels to decline over time," Sauve says. Aim to get no more than 35 percent of your total daily calories from fat—that's 78 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet. Focus on healthy sources of unsaturated fats, such as avocados and fish. (These fish tacos are a double whammy.)

Shield and protect.

"Studies have shown that getting too much sun can deplete your skin stores of NAD," Sauve says. That's because the body uses it to repair cells damaged by UV rays—if you regularly skip sunscreen or bask in the rays for hours, your NAD levels will sink. To prevent this, apply (and reapply) sunblock to exposed skin all year and wear UV-blocking sunglasses whenever you go outside, Sauve says.

Find your workout yin and yang.

Weight lifting and HIIT are both crucial to increase NAD production. "Exercise forces muscles to strengthen and produce more mitochondria, the molecules that give your cells energy, and it also boosts NAD levels," Sauve says. Working out helps your body get rid of old or damaged mitochondria too, which makes your muscles healthier and more responsive to exercise. A combo of strength and HIIT is most effective at boosting mitochondrial function, research shows: Do three to four days of HIIT and two days of strength training a week. (Related: Does Strength Training Once a Week Actually Do Anything for Your Body?)

Do a test run.

A newly discovered form of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside (NR) can bump up NAD as well. The best way to get it is through a supplement. But Josh Mitteldorf, Ph.D., the author of Cracking the Aging Code, says it's not clear whether or not everyone needs to turn to pills. He suggests trying an NR supplement for two weeks, then ditching it for two weeks and repeating the cycle once more. If you notice an uptick in energy, workout performance, or general well-being while you're taking the pills, keep it up. If not, skip it and stick with the other strategies here.

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