In your quest to muster up the most energy to get you through your busy day, consider your diet first. After all, food is our body’s main energy source. So, we need to fuel our body with the right proportion of macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and protein. But, not all food is created equal. Plus, no single food type can provide us with all the energy-enhancing nutrients we need for proper health. We asked top nutrition experts to share the energy-boosting foods they recommend for a much-needed kick in our diet.
Complex carbs are usually referred to as whole-grains, but they encompass a wide range of foods, such as whole-grain bread, whole-kernel corn, beans, quinoa, oats, etc. “These foods often have longer starch molecules, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., Houston-based dietitian and founder of eatrightfitness.com. “Complex carbs, like beans and quinoa, also have protein, leading to a longer energy release than other complex carbs.”
In this category, his favorite energy-boosting foods are quinoa, black beans, and whole-kernel corn. These carbs bring more to the table than just energy. They also bring fiber and a decent amount of protein, which levels off blood sugar and can ensure lasting energy, not just a quick boost. “A half-to-whole cup at a meal will ensure [that] you have the lasting energy to make it through the day,” he says.
Fruits that are quite firm and have a harder texture are excellent sources of quick energy, according to Dr. Adams. These fruits include apples, pears, plums, firm peaches, and nectarines. Additionally, by eating the skin, you increase the fiber content of your snack. This helps to regulate energy levels by slowing digestion. “Not only will you get a quick pick-me-up, but it [will] last longer than the boost provided by lower-fiber choices,” says Dr. Adams. “Aim for half a cup of chopped, or one whole, medium fruit in this category each day to give yourself a lasting energy boost.”
Fresh berries like blueberries and raspberries contain an abundance of fiber and water. Your body needs both of those to maintain long-lasting energy. “Fiber helps to slow down digestion, which promotes long-lasting energy. Water helps to rehydrate your body, which improves mental clarity, cognitive ability, and your ability to physically perform,” says registered dietitian Paul Salter, M.S., R.D. “Berries are also rich in antioxidants and several phytochemicals that help enhance the body’s energy production.”
“Almonds are an excellent source of magnesium, a critical nutrient in harvesting the energy from [the] carbohydrates you consume into a usable form,” explains Salter. “Furthermore, almonds contain more fiber than any other nut, which has a positive impact on blood glucose management.” Almonds should serve as a major source of healthy fats in your diet. That said, you should focus on a variety of fat sources. And, Salter notes, be mindful of total calorie intake from fat to best manage your health, weight, and energy levels.
Salmon and Other Fatty Fish
Don’t be deterred by the word fat when it has anything to do with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon. This is the good type of fat that your body needs to create cell membranes and make hormones. “Without enough fat in the diet, your body cannot absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K,” explains Jeanette Kimszal, registered dietitian nutritionist. “These vitamins help to metabolize carbohydrates and sugar, as well as dictate [where] food is stored.” She suggests sticking to freshwater fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and halibut).
You might not get an immediate energy kick from chowing down on some sauteed spinach. But greens play an integral part of your healthy diet and do contribute to increased energy overall. “Green leafy vegetables provide iron, fat-soluble vitamins, calcium, and many other nutrients that are very important for our bodies to perform at their best,” says Julie Andrews, M.S., R.D.N., C.D., registered dietitian, and chef. “Greens are also super easy to add to casseroles, soups, smoothies, tacos, etc. Plus, they’re nutritional powerhouses and they’re very low in calories, so eat up!”