Who couldn’t use more energy? Most of us don’t have enough, and when we’re feeling especially low, our go-to foods and drinks tend to be high in carbohydrates, especially sugar and/or caffeine. Those things will give you a temporary boost, but it’s often followed by a crash.
So what should you eat to improve your energy? You have a lot of options that are healthier than what you’ll find in most vending machines, and the list probably includes a lot of foods you like but didn’t know could perk you up in the morning or during that mid-afternoon slump. By nature of providing calories (which are units of energy), all foods provide energy. But some are higher in nutrients that involve energy-producing metabolic processes.
You need certain nutrients to feel healthy and energized. That’s not because they’re stimulants, like caffeine, but because your body uses them to produce energy at the cellular level. That’s what really fuels you rather than just speeding things up artificially for a little while.
Some of these energy-producing nutrients include:
When looking at fatigue fighters, you also have to look at carbohydrates and protein. Carbs—which come from sugary foods and grains—give you quick energy, but then your tank runs dry again before long. Protein and the other nutrients listed above, on the other hand, are better for endurance—long-lasting energy.
Remember the basic food groups you learned about in elementary school? Let’s take a look at each one and see which foods have high levels of the vitamins and minerals that give you energy so you know what the best options are, not just for afternoons when you’re fading, but to keep you from fading in the first place.
Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are all good sources of protein. Different foods contain different mixes of other energy-producing nutrients, though.
All of the foods in this category contain protein. Beef, pork, and poultry can also provide CoQ10, iron, carnitine, B vitamins, magnesium, creatine, and potassium, in varying amounts.
Fish and seafood also contain magnesium potassium, CoQ10, creatine, and B vitamins. Other animal-based fatigue fighters include:
If your diet doesn’t include a lot of meat or other animal products, you may need to increase your intake of plant-based proteins in order to avoid fatigue.
Sources of protein that don’t come from animals include nuts, seeds, and beans. They’re especially important for vegetarians and vegans, as well as people who are on other diets that limit how much meat they can eat.
Like meats, many nuts and seeds have nutrients other than protein that can help give you more energy. These include:
Beans, peas, and lentils are all good for a boost of energy since they provide carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients. For example:
Fruit can be an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including those that help your body produce energy. Fresh, whole fruit is best since it can lose vital nutrients as it gets older or as it’s dried. (Dried fruits and juices tend to be much higher in sugar than fresh fruits, as well.)
Some good choices when it comes to fatigue-fighting fruit include:
Fruits are also high in natural sugars (carbohydrates), so choosing the ones above may help you get both short-term and long-term energy.
Vegetables contain multiple energy-producing nutrients, and some will even give you a little bit of protein (although not nearly as much as sources like meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, and beans).
Here are several that can help provide energy:
Grains are a source of carbohydrates for quick energy as well as some nutrients for sustained energy. Some good choices are:
Many breakfast cereals contain these grains and also are fortified with vitamins and minerals, so they can be good sources of fatigue fighters, as well.
Popular substitutes for milk contain some energy-producing nutrients, either naturally or through fortification.
However, these beverages may be less similar to their primary ingredients than you might think. That’s due to substances being lost during processing or because of added water or other ingredients. Here’s how some of them stack up:
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