By Mary Squillace
Dozing off at your desk? Instead of reaching for an elixir that touts to take your energy level off the charts, make sure your meals and snacks include these naturally energizing eats.
Put down that energy drink with the outrageous name. Even if you’re dead tired, you’ll be better off grabbing a healthy snack than downing that chemical cocktail.
“We put so much emphasis on caffeinated drinks, but those just spike up your energy before slowing you down,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness in Virginia. “Get rid of this idea of a quick fix.” Instead, White recommends eating frequent meals (skipping one can cause your blood sugar to rise and then tank), and putting some strategy behind the foods you pair. For example, whole grains consumed with protein can help prolong an energy high. With that, watch your sugar intake. Sweets, pastries, or even granola bars boost energy, but that energy quickly plummets.
Read on to discover 10 healthy foods that can make you feel more alert, ward off muscle fatigue, and give you the get-up-and-go you need to power through your day.
Even being mildly dehydrated (we’re talking a mere 1.5% loss of water volume) can leave you feeling foggy and fatigued, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition. Sure, you can make sure you’re swigging enough agua during the day, but you can also load up on H20 through food. Melons, in particular, are a good bet. “Watermelon has 90% water content, which helps prevent dehydration and is a good source of energy,” White says.
“Dairy gets a bad rap,” White says. “But you get a lot of bang for your buck with milk products.” In addition to supplying your body with water, they help you maintain electrolyte balance as you sweat. Of course, dairy offers protein and energy-revving carbohydrates as well. And a glass before bed could make your muscles feel better in the morning—a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that drinking casein (one of the proteins in milk) at night boosted muscle recovery and growth.
When you wake up you’re running low on fuel, so White suggests grabbing a bowl of oatmeal first thing in the morning. Oats contain quality carbohydrates that are stored in the body as glycogen and provide fuel for our brains and muscles, say Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos Shames, New York City-based dietitians known as the Nutrition Twins.
Fiber takes longer to digest and helps extend the energy boost you get from carbs for long-lasting energy. Beans are jam-packed with the stuff. “Fiber also keeps energy levels on an even keel without dips because it helps stabilize blood sugar,” Lakatos and Shames explain. Beans also contain magnesium (close to a third of your recommended daily intake in a cup). “Magnesium helps to relax the body so the body can rest and restore energy,” say Lakatos and Shames. “And it’s the body uses to activate cell enzymes that produce energy.
Nuts pack both protein and fiber, which help boost energy and then keep it stable, say Lakatos and Shames. “They’re also great for replenishing and boosting energy after a workout. Roasted and salted pistachios are a natural way to get back some of the electrolytes you lose during exercise that leave you fatigued, like potassium and sodium,” they say. Bonus: These nuts serve up a healthy dose of magnesium.
6. Crimini Mushrooms
These ‘shrooms are a great source of the B vitamins riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin, and are a good source of thiamin, vitamin B6, and a good source of folate, say Lakatos and Shames. “B Vitamins are essential for energy production. Riboflavin does several things to help our bodies produce energy. First, it’s important in aerobic energy production, while it also protects the cell’s energy production house, mitochondria, from damage,” they say. To boot, pantothenic acid fights fatigue during times of stress by supporting the adrenal glands, and niacin helps convert food into usable energy.
7. Sweet Potatoes
In addition to dishing out energy-stabilizing high-fiber carbs, sweet potatoes have a quarter of a day’s worth of potassium. Potassium helps keep electrolytes balanced—which allows us to stay maximally hydrated. Another benefit: Potassium helps relax the body and lower blood pressure, so it lessens stress in the body that can create fatigue, say Lakatos and Shames.
“Eggs are a great energy source—they have iron, zinc, and a lot of protein,” White says. Science agrees: A 2009 research review found that protein not only helps build muscles and keep you full, but it supplies sustained energy as well. The 6 grams of protein in an egg helps maintain level blood sugar and includes the amino acid leucine, which is an important part of protein synthesis (a factor in muscle growth and recovery). Meanwhile, B vitamins assist with energy production in the body.
9. Black, Green, or Oolong Tea
Unlike a cup of Joe, tea contains the amino acid theanine, which may improve attention and alertness, say Lakatos and Shames. And you’ll still get a little boost from caffeine (about 35 to 50mg per cup compared to the 100 to 140mg in a cup of coffee). Just make sure you don’t drink it too close to bedtime, caution Lakatos and Shames: “You don’t want the caffeine to affect your sleep—if you can’t get a good night’s rest your energy level will be low.”
10. Chia Seeds
These little dudes earned their reputation for being a “running food” when the book Born to Run revealed that Aztecs and Mayans used chia seeds to improve performance and endurance. While the jury is still out on whether these seeds live up to the folklore (though one study found that they were as effective as Gatorade for fueling before a race), they have all the trappings of a fatigue-fighting food, say Lakatos and Shames. Protein and 5 g of fiber per tablespoon keep blood sugar stable, and a hearty helping of omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation to keep muscles feeling fresh. Plus, they set you up with magnesium, potassium, and iron, as well as the antioxidant quercetin. Quercetin has been shown to aid athletic performance and recovery—in fact, it’s even used in some popular sports drinks.