Sometimes, it seems impossible to be motivated to do much of anything. So, it’s a normal inclination to reach for carbs instead of foods that give you energy.
Our body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates, but it’s a fine line; if we eat too many it can backfire and make us feel sluggish. Though they provide a quick burst of energy, these are the foods that also lead to a “sugar rush” and crash after we are done eating or drinking.
Luckily, there are certain foods and drinks that can boost your energy, rather than tire you out.
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How can you use food to increase energy?
When you’re feeling low, you may ask yourself normal questions like: How can I increase my energy? What food does my body need? What can I do to feel more energized?
Well, tuning into what your body really needs is a good start. Take some time to investigate your natural pattern. You may be more productive and feel more balanced and rested.
“We each have our own unique ultradian rhythms — periods during the day when we are naturally more alert and able to focus, and periods during the day when we are more naturally tired,” says Anna Glennon, health coach for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN).
“Consider acknowledging it and working with those natural rhythms. Making time throughout your day for rest and disengagement can benefit your physical and mental energy levels.”
What foods help with tiredness?
Low energy can lead to fatigue, making simple tasks feel impossible. And it has a lot to do with what you aren’t eating.
Fatigue is caused by a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B levels. To help with lethargy, Glennon advises, “Consider adding fatty fish, like salmon or tuna, cage-free eggs, avocado, and nuts and seeds to your diet to boost your energy.”
What food gives you energy the fastest?
Carbohydrates are the best food to give your energy fast. Known as fast-digesting carbs, they are digested so quickly that they can immediately be absorbed into your bloodstream, causing a burst in energy.
“If you want to boost energy levels, avoid simple carbohydrates like sugary drinks, pasta, and bread,” Glennon suggests.
Instead, “Focus on complex carbohydrates which raise blood sugar levels for a longer amount of time, and therefore give us more sustained energy. Foods like quinoa, sweet potatoes, oats, lentils, and other legumes (like chickpeas) and beans are all examples of complex carbohydrates.”
But carbs aren’t the only foods that can give you a much-needed energy boost!
40 Foods That Give You Energy
1. Apple cider vinegar
“The best morning drink to start the day with to increase your energy is 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in 1/2 glass of water with a 1/8 teaspoon of Honeybunch Naturals Manuka honey,” recommends certified nutritionist Shelley Gawith.
Manuka honey benefits include boosting the immune system, healing skin conditions such as acne and dry skin, improving digestion, and more.
If you’re feeling fatigued, apple cider vinegar helps boost your energy levels. Adds Gawith, “It contains potassium and enzymes, acting as a natural electrolyte solution. Also, the amino acids counteract lactic acid build-up in the body, relieving fatigue.”
Water is essential to staying healthy and hydrated; it’s a biological need! Water protects your body tissue, keeps your organs functioning, lubricates joints, regulates your body temperature, and more. Plus, it can give you an energy boost.
“Drinking water throughout the day is so important. Most people are dehydrated and the main symptom of being dehydrated is fatigued,” Gawith says.
Walnuts are great to add to your breakfast or sprinkle on your lunch. Gawith says they are beneficial because “They are filled with omega-3s, a type of fatty acids our bodies need, but they have alpha-linolenic acid which our body uses for energy.”
This is almost like having chocolate. And who doesn’t love something sweet, whether it’s dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
“I like to have this as a drink, but you can make your own chocolate. Cacao is packed with magnesium, a mineral many people are deficient in,” Gawith advises, thus improving your energy.
What fruit gives you energy in the morning? According to Glennon, “Vegetables are lower on the glycemic index scale, meaning they won’t spike your blood sugar as high or as fast, but will provide you with all of the vitamins and minerals you need to get going in the morning.”
Dehydration is often a cause of fatigue, so eating melon — such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew — is incredibly hydrating. Consider vegetables instead of fruits, like adding vegetable juice or a smoothie to your morning routine.
6. Dark leafy greens
Doctor of clinical nutrition and nationally recognized health expert Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, recommends nutrient-dense produce, along with healthy fats, including omega-3 rich foods, to boost energy.
In addition to providing a range of important nutrients that promote energy (like B vitamins), fresh fruits and veggies also provide fiber to aid in keeping you full for longer, making you less likely to hop back into the kitchen for a snack.
“Dark leafy greens not only provide many of the B vitamins that are critical for energy production in the body, but also provide a whole host of other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to help restore your energy and boost productivity,” says Dr. Scheller.
Beets are always fun in a salad or roasted as a side at dinner, but this vegetable is quite powerful, too.
Adds Dr. Scheller, “Beets help to increase nitric oxide production, which increases blood flow to the brain. This means sharper thinking and more productivity.”
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An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but this fruit is also great for a boost of energy due to its natural sugar content. Foods that are balanced in carbohydrates and fiber are a good way to get a steady source of energy in the morning.
“Apples are high in fiber and contain more moderate levels of sugar than some other fruits, providing a nice balanced release of energy,” Dr. Scheller says.
Adds Glennon, “Apples and all kinds of berries are a good balance of complex carbohydrates and fiber to give you steady energy as you wake up.”
Pair an apple with a few shakes of cinnamon (which also helps with blood sugar), or even a few nuts or a scoop of nut butter, to keep you feeling full and focused.
9. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds rich in omega-3 fat (as well as protein) help to stabilize and balance energy and blood sugar levels to keep us full of energy.
“Your brain is made up of 2/3 fat, with a high percentage of those fats being from omega-3 fats,” warns Dr. Scheller. “Fats also help to absorb important nutrients, like vitamins A and D, and also provide the essentials needed for hormone production, including the hormones that help us feel alert and awake.”
Avocados are rich in omega-3s. So, mix up quick guacamole with half an avocado, lime juice, salt, pepper, and enjoy with fresh chopped peppers or carrots.
Adds Dr. Scheller, “Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel), walnuts, chia seeds, and a handful of other foods. I love making a salmon salad with wild canned salmon, mixing it with a bit of olive oil and spices, and tossing it into butter lettuce or romaine boats.”
Try crunchy almond butter on a toasted whole grain waffle, or a handful of almonds and some dried fruit like cranberries, raisins, or prunes.
“The goodness of almonds provides protein, fiber, and calcium, while the carbs from whole grains or dried fruit supply energy that satisfies, while also providing vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” suggests Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.
12. KIND Bars
If you’re in a hurry or want a snack that takes no time to prepare, go for a KIND Bar, which gives a trifecta of protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
“There are an overwhelming number of bars on the market these days, so be sure to check food labels. KIND Bars come in transparent wrappers and their ingredients are easy to see and recognize,” says Taub-Dix.
13. Halo Top ice cream
You can also find energy in the frozen food section with ice cream. But not all frozen desserts are alike.
“Whether it’s pops or pints, Halo Top Ice Cream is creamy and indulgent, and it also supplies less sugar and fewer calories than traditional ice cream. Plus, it’s a good source of protein,” Taub-Dix recommends.
Whether hot or cold, cereal can provide a wealth of nutrients, including fiber that most of us don’t get enough of. Just swirl a spoon of almond butter or a scoop of cottage or ricotta cheese into your hot cereal, or add chopped nuts to your cold cereal to boost protein and satiation.
“When you’re running low on energy, you might need a little B12 ‘injection.’ You can get this from chlorella, green algae,” says registered holistic nutritionist, Brandi Black, creator of Feel Best Naked.
Chlorella is an incredible food for boosting energy levels, especially for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Why? “Because it’s one of the only known plant foods to contain active B12: the form of B12 that’s easiest for your body to absorb. In comparison, most plant-based foods that contain B12 (such as nutritional yeast) have the inactive form of B12, which can be harder to absorb,” adds Black.
To take chlorella, add it to smoothies. When pulverized in a smoothie, it maximizes nutrient absorption without damaging any of chlorella’s precious vitamins and minerals.
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Not only are oysters loaded with zinc, a mineral that helps fight off germs that can make you feel tired, but they contain B12 vitamins and iron, both of which give you energy.
So, eat a few of these protein-packed sea creatures for some much-needed energy.
Matcha tea is a concentrated source of green tea.
According to nutritionist and founder of Essence Nutrition, Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN, “Matcha is full of antioxidants like EGCG, which have been studied for anti-inflammatory effects. Matcha uniquely contains l-theanine, which can bind to caffeine receptors and cause a serene energy boost, rather than the jolt from coffee. Though it is bitter, when sweetened and mixed with other foods, it can be a glorious flavor to oats, baked goods, and smoothies.”
18. Hot liquids
We psychologically associate warm liquids with energy. Since we normally gain energy from tea/coffee, our brains may interpret any hot liquid, even without caffeine, as stimulating.
Adds Moreno, “It’s a Pavlovian response, a psychological association. Try seeing if even hot water with lemon will do the trick in perking you up. Plus, you’ll have better hydration there without caffeine.”
However, caffeine consumed even early in the day may disrupt nighttime sleep, so rely on a hot liquid and this psychological trick.
19. French grapes
“French grapes, or champagne grapes (the variety hailing from the province of Champagne), have super-high antioxidant activity (or ORAC: Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity),” reveals Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN.
Polyphenols are micronutrients that we get through certain plant-based foods. “The polyphenols in French grapes happen to provide way higher amounts of flavanol monomers and oligomers, compared to other grape varieties, especially wild American grapes,” adds Moskovitz.
It turns out the extracts from these antioxidant-packed French grapes are actually extremely rich in essential polyphenols, specifically for cognitive function, and have been clinically tested for short-term and long-term memory retention, learning, focus, and alertness.
Mint, especially peppermint, is an herb known for its stimulating effect.
“Smelling mint can enhance alertness and reduce fatigue. Savor a cup of mint tea or add a few refreshing mint leaves on top of your salad,” suggests Sheri Vettel MPH, RD, LDN, INHC, from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
21. Yerba mate
Yerba mate is a nutrient-rich herbal tea known for providing increased energy and focus.
“While yerba mate does contain caffeine, it contains less than coffee, making it an option for those wishing to cut back on caffeine intake,” Vettel says. Enjoy yerba mate warm in the cooler months, and chilled in the summer.
22. Fatty fish
“Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat for reducing feelings of fatigue,” Vettel says. So, swap out your usual burger for a salmon burger, or enjoy homemade tuna “meatballs” dipped in pesto.
Edamame, or whole immature soybeans, is an excellent source of the trace mineral molybdenum. Snack on shelled edamame by itself or toss a handful into a salad or noodle bowl.
As Vittel mentions, “Molybdenum serves as a cofactor in various enzymatic processes in the body, including those that yield energy from nutrients.”
Bananas are an easily digestible source of carbohydrates, the body’s preferred source of energy.
“They also contain potassium, which helps reduce muscle cramping so you can power through your exercise. Frozen bananas are perfect to throw into a smoothie to add a nice creamy texture,” suggests dietician Mascha Davis MPH, RDN.
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“Spirulina, blue-green algae, is a vegan source of iron and B12, both important nutrients for energy,” Davis says. To add spirulina to your diet, sprinkle it into a smoothie as an added nutrient boost that will give your breakfast a beautiful color.
26. Moringa leaves
“These are nutrient-packed with various antioxidants, vitamin C, and other active plant compounds like chlorogenic acid,” Davis adds.
In addition, this plant has been shown to boost resistance to cancer and regulate blood sugar levels. Due to its nutrient profile, this plant is a caffeine-free energy booster. It can be thrown into smoothie bowls, oatmeal, or yogurt.
27. Beetroot juice
Rich in vitamin B6, which is important for metabolism and the production of red blood cells, beetroot juice also “Contains nitrates, which convert to nitric oxide in the body,” says Davis. “This promotes better blood flow and oxygenation, making it a perfect natural energy booster.”
This is especially great to use right before exercise. Simply mix beetroot powder with water and enjoy.
28. Brown rice
The health benefits of brown rice are mostly due to it being a whole grain. Brown rice gives us the energy to burn and helps break down carbohydrates and protein to produce energy.
“The fiber in brown rice helps lower cholesterol, moves waste through the digestive tract, promotes fullness, and may help prevent the formation of blood clots,” reveals TV host, author and chef Christina Pirello. “It’s rich in manganese, a mineral that is essential for energy production and antioxidant function.”
An ancient grain or seed (all whole grains are seeds), quinoa is a complete protein.
“It contains nine essential amino acids that our body can’t produce on its own,” says Pirello. “Rich in riboflavin (vitamin B2), quinoa improves energy metabolism within the brain and muscle cells, and is known to help create proper energy production in cells.”
Quinoa can be enjoyed as a morning hot cereal, main course, or side dish to any meal. And since it cooks in 20 minutes, it’s great for people on the go.
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30. Sweet potato
According to Pirello, “Sweet potatoes are a nutritious source of delicious energy for those looking for an extra boost. A 1-cup serving of sweet potatoes gives us about 25 grams of complex carbs, 3.1 grams of fiber, 25 percent of the RDI for manganese, and a whopping 564 percent of the RDI for vitamin A.”
Because sweet potatoes have a rich fiber and complex carbohydrate content, your body digests them slowly, which gives you a steady supply of energy.
When carbohydrates are broken down into their basic building block, glucose (sugar), our body is able to utilize this to create quick energy.
“When you’re feeling a bit low on energy, it may be because your blood glucose (blood sugar) is too low. Finding a quick source of carbohydrates can give your body and brain the jolt they need to keep going,” says Lance Parker, creator of health coaching company, Parker Peak Performance.
“If you have the ability to juice your oranges or grab orange juice off the shelf, the glucose in these drinks will get absorbed into your bloodstream even quicker due to its more processed state, as well as having the fiber removed.”
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up that will help satiate you just a little bit longer, however, opt for an orange smoothie as it will still have all the fiber in it. It might take just a tiny bit longer to give you that jolt of energy you’re looking for when compared to the juice, but it will help you feel fuller for longer.
“Dates are an awesome source of quick energy, especially pre-workout or for a mid-afternoon snack, due to their high carbohydrate composition and high caloric density,” states Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CLT, IFNCP.
Dates also have the highest antioxidant content compared to other popular dried fruits. For the best blood sugar balance, cut the date in half, stuff it with almond butter, and roll in unsweetened coconut flakes.
Eggs are a great source of protein, in addition to other nutrients that are found in the yolk.
“Egg whites contain protein and water, and the egg yolks are where you get all of the other nutrients such as CoQ10, vitamin E, and other B vitamins. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is essential for energy production, as are the B vitamins,” says Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, IFNCP.
“Spinach is a great source of B vitamins and alpha lipoic acid, which are very important for energy production and can help provide stability throughout the day. B vitamins like thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B2) are important cofactors for enzymes that are involved in energy production from food,” Titgemeier adds.
Whether you add spinach to a dish or smoothie, you’ll get the proper serving of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
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Oats are a good source of sustained energy due to their fiber content. “Oats are also incredible for heart health and digestion, thus helping your body to run like a well-oiled machine,” Bogden adds.
36. Goji berries
Goji berries are a great source of antioxidants, chemicals that fight damage at the cellular level. Says Bogden, “Goji berries are also touted for their phytonutrient and trace mineral content. Try adding Goji Berry powder to your morning smoothie.”
37. Greek yogurt
“If you’re feeling the 3 pm slump and need a quick energy boost, snack on full-fat Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries,” says Jenn LaVardera, MS, RD, CDN.
“Greek yogurt is packed with both natural sugars and protein, and opting for the full-fat version will help promote satiety and keep you energized throughout the afternoon.”
Maca is an incredible superfood from Peru. Try adding a teaspoon to your morning oats.
Reveals Bogden, “Maca contains 11 percent protein and several amino acids. It is also a significant source of B6 and a natural adaptogen, thus boosting energy by decreasing stress and helping the central nervous system response.”
“Berries are loaded with natural sugars, fiber, and antioxidants, compounds that can combat inflammation and oxidative stress, which may be beneficial in warding off fatigue,” LaVardera says.
Dr. Goglia recommends strawberries as another one of his favorite foods for easing stress, adding, “Foods like strawberries and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which not only help the immune system but can help lower levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone.”
Coffee is energizing mainly because of its caffeine content, but also because it is an awesome source of antioxidants.
Try adding a cup of coffee as your liquid base to your morning smoothie instead of water. A frozen banana and chocolate protein powder (or add peanut butter) is a great energizing treat in the morning.
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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyle writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly.
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