What you eat can affect how you feel, especially when it comes to your overall energy level. Before you pour yourself another cup of coffee to get through that afternoon slump, take a few moments to educate yourself about foods that can provide the energy boost you need. Registered dietician and author Ashley Koff says that choosing the right food is essential for avoiding energy problems later in the day.
Foods for a Short-Term Energy Boost
The best way to improve your energy level is to modify your diet long-term and get plenty of exercise; however, there are some foods that offer a quick fix. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, it's better to reach for these energy-boosting foods instead of eating a candy bar or slurping down a soda.
"The key to an afternoon boost is to make sure the food you consume works to increase your energy without a crash hours after," Ashley says. "But also [choose a food] that doesn't boost energy so much you can't fall asleep later."
Ashley's Short-Term Energy Picks
Ashley specifically cautions against caffeine and herbal stimulants. Instead, she recommends the following snack choices paired with a handful of nuts or some nut butter for protein:
- Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate
- Fresh fruits like banana
- Dried fruit like mango
Ashley is also a fan of crunchy veggies like peppers paired with bean dip or spicy salsa.
Other Short-Term Energy Foods
According to WebMD, another good short-term energy food is a complex carbohydrate paired with protein. Try one of these tasty snacks:
- A whole grain cracker spread with nut butter
- A slice of whole wheat bread topped with a gourmet cheese
- A small cup of low-fat granola with yogurt
Food for Long-Term Energy
Although short-term energy foods can get you through a sluggish afternoon or tide you over until it's time for dinner, they won't necessarily have a long-term impact on your day-to-day energy level. For that, you'll need to make some bigger changes in your diet.
"The goal is to have nutrient-dense foods regularly during the day to keep your energy going," Ashley says.
Ashley's Long-Term Energy Pick
As a general rule, Ashley recommends "carbs for quick energy and protein for lasting energy too." She says you can get even longer-lasting energy by adding plant fibers and healthy fats to your diet.
Ashley recommends a light lunch of fair-trade-certified quinoa with avocado and fresh veggies. You can drizzle the dish with olive oil for added healthy fat and flavor.
More Long-Term Energy Foods
Here are a few more light meals that comply with Ashley's suggestions for carbs, protein, healthy fat, and fiber:
- Wild rice topped with chicken, snap peas, and olive oil
- A grilled sandwich with whole grain bread, cheese, and avocado
- Tofu and bok choy sauteed in olive oil and served over brown rice
High-Energy Almond Cherry Granola
Looking for a tasty breakfast or snack that will give you the energy boost you need? This granola, which is based on the principles Ashley recommends, make a great option.
- 4 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup dried powdered milk or soy milk
- 3/4 cup wheat germ
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 cup grated coconut
- 3/4 cup chopped almonds
- 3/4 cup dried cherries
- 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 cup corn oil
- 1 cup honey
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Warm the corn oil and honey in a saucepan.
- In a large bowl, mix all the other ingredients together.
- Pour the honey and oil over the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.
- Spread everything on two or three cookie sheets and bake for 30 minutes.
More Tips for Adding High-Energy Foods to Your Diet
Even if you have the best intentions about making your diet more energy-friendly, it's easy to get overwhelmed when it's time to go to the grocery store or grab a quick snack. Keep these tips in mind to help.
Shop Around the Edges
At the grocery store, shop mostly in the produce section and deli. You can add dried grains and legumes to your diet, but try to avoid packaged foods as much as possible. Often, these packaged foods offer a quick carb burst without the protein you need to sustain your energy later in the day.
Make Small Portions Convenient
Sometimes dishing out a small serving of food from a large container can seem time-consuming, especially when you're making lunch of snacks for your family. Ashley notes that "...an easy way to incorporate energy-giving foods is to assemble nutrient dense 'grab and go' foods like a homemade trail mix or cut up fruits and veggies and place portions in baggies to quickly take them with you when you're short on time."
Switch to Green Tea
If possible, try to avoid drinking a cup of coffee to augment your energy level late in the day. If you really need a hot, caffeinated beverage, reach instead for green tea. With only 24-40 milligrams of caffeine, it's less likely to keep you up at night.
Ashley also recommends avoiding pesticide-laden foods. "Some pesticides have been shown to be hormone disrupters which can negatively impact energy so avoiding them altogether is ideal," she says. "For optimal energy, the easiest way is to eat organic."
Choose Non-GMO and Fair Trade Certified Food
It's also possible that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may have an impact on energy, since the body must use effort to determine whether it recognizes and can process a particular gene sequence. As a proponent of Fair Trade, Ashley also believes that eating for energy involves eating foods that are as good for the planet and farmer as they are for your body. She says, "Fair Trade has very rigorous environmental standards, which restrict things like harmful chemicals and GMOs, and many Fair Trade Certified products are also certified organic."
Energy Is About Quality Food
To improve your overall energy level, it's important to consider the quality of the food you put in your body. Quick foods and packaged meals simply don't provide the balance of nutrition your body needs to keep you feeling energetic.
"For optimal health, be a qualitarian," Ashley says. "This means making every purchase matter - both for your health and for the health of others around the world who are making better quality products for you and your family."