If you can barely keep your eyes open during the workday or have a tough time making it through that dreaded afternoon slump, it might be time to rethink your diet. Instead of popping open a sugary, belly-fattening energy drink or pouring yet another cup of coffee, load up on these nutrient-rich, energy-sustaining foods that give you energy to keep you going all day long.
Foods rich in complex carbs and protein are the best picks for all-day energy, according to the registered dietitians and nutrition experts we talked to. The goal is to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid those drastic spikes and dips that will leave you feeling starving and sluggish. So stock up on these powerful foods that give you energy, and keep your energy levels up from breakfast through dessert.
Ask any nutritionist for healthy and simple breakfast ideas, and oatmeal is sure to make the list. Its high-fiber content is the reason it’s such a filling meal that provides lasting energy.
It contains beta glucan, a soluble fiber that forms a thick gel when combined with water. The presence of this gel in the digestive system delays stomach emptying and the absorption of glucose into the blood (1, 2).
Because fiber takes so long to digest, having oatmeal for breakfast will power you through the entire morning, compared with a breakfast of white toast and jelly. With stable blood-sugar levels, you’ll feel energized and focused without feeling the need to down another cup of coffee.
The combination of all these nutrients makes oatmeal a perfect food for sustained energy release.
Popcorn is rich in carbohydrates. However, it also contains fiber to help slow the digestion. Popcorn may make a person feel full for longer than other carbohydrates.
As a study in Nutrition Journal notes, people who ate popcorn rather than potato chips felt fuller from the snack (4). This may be helpful for dieters, as popcorn usually contains fewer calories than potato chips.
Quinoa is a seed that’s popular for its high protein, carb, and dietary fiber content, as well as its many vitamins and minerals.
Even though this superfood is high in carbs, it has a low glycemic index, which indicates that its carbs are absorbed slowly and can provide a sustained energy release (5).
Additionally, quinoa is rich in manganese, magnesium, and folate (6).
4. Brown Rice
One of the benefits of brown rice may be that it retains much of the fiber from the husk. The husk is not there in white rice, which may cause the body to absorb the carbohydrate content quickly. This may lead to a spike and then a crash in energy levels. By having the husk, brown rice may help slow the digestion of these carbohydrates, therefore, releasing energy more slowly.
5. Fatty Fish
Fish, in general, is an excellent and light source of protein and B vitamins that may give the body sustained energy throughout the day.
Fatty cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, and tuna, tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
As a study in the journal Nutrients notes, omega-3 fatty acids may improve brain function and reduce inflammation in the body, which may be a cause of fatigue in some people (7).
6. Beef Liver
Beef liver may be one of the best meat sources for vitamin B-12, which keeps the body feeling full of energy.
While many cuts of meat contain vitamin B-12, the difference is that beef liver has a large amount. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 3-ounce cut of beef flank steak contains about 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B-12 (8).
The same cut of beef liver contains 60 mcg of vitamin B-12, according to the USDA (9).
Eggs are not only a tremendously satisfying food but also full of energy that can help fuel your day.
They’re packed with protein, which can give you a steady and sustained source of energy.
Additionally, leucine is the most abundant amino acid in eggs, and it’s known to stimulate energy production in several ways (10).
Leucine can help cells take in more blood sugar, stimulate the production of energy in the cells, and increase the breakdown of fat to produce energy (10).
Moreover, eggs are rich in B vitamins. These vitamins help enzymes perform their roles in the process of breaking down food for energy (11).
Beans are rich in nutrients and a great source of natural energy.
Even though there are hundreds of types of beans, their nutrient profiles are very similar. They’re a rich source of carbs, fiber, and protein (12).
Beans are digested slowly, which helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and gives you steady energy. Additionally, beans contain antioxidants that can help fight inflammation and promote energy (13).
Black beans and black-eyed peas are among the most famous kinds of beans. These beans are good sources of folic acid, iron, and magnesium, which are involved in energy production and aid the delivery of energy to every cell in your body (14).
Edamame beans can be an easy and satisfying pick-me-up snack.
They’re relatively low in calories but offer significant amounts of protein, carbs, and fiber. Just 1 cup of edamame beans can pack up to 27 grams of protein, 21 grams of carbs, and about 12 grams of fiber (15).
Additionally, they have high amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and manganese that can help increase energy in different ways (15).
Lastly, edamame beans contain high amounts of molybdenum, a mineral that acts as a stimulus for enzymes and assists in the breakdown of nutrients for energy (18).
Seeds, such as chia seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds, could also increase your energy levels.
These seeds are generally high in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to increased inflammation and fatigue (19).
Moreover, seeds are a good source of fiber and protein. The fiber in seeds contributes to the slow digestion of their nutrients, resulting in a steady, sustained release of energy (20).
Hummus is made with chickpeas, sesame seed paste (tahini), oil, and lemon. The combination of these ingredients makes hummus a good source of energy (21).
The chickpeas in hummus are a good source of complex carbs and fiber, which your body can use for steady energy (22).
In addition, the sesame seed paste and oil in hummus contains healthy fats. These ingredients are also helpful at slowing the absorption of carbs, which helps you avoid blood sugar spikes (23).
You can enjoy hummus as a dip for veggies or in combination with other dishes, such as sandwiches or salads.
Lentils are a relatively cheap form of protein and fiber, which may make them a great option for people on a budget.
One cup of cooked lentils provides up to 36 grams of carbs and about 14 grams of fiber (24).
The fiber may help to manage the digestion of the carbs, keeping the body full and providing a source of sustained energy.
Additionally, lentils can increase your energy levels by replenishing your stores of folate, manganese, zinc, and iron. These nutrients assist in cellular energy production and the breakdown of nutrients for the release of energy (25).
Many nuts contain a blend of protein, fats, and some carbohydrates to provide energy throughout the day. Nuts are typically also rich sources of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, or phosphorus.
Nuts are usually high in essential fatty acids. As a study in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition notes, these fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, which may also reduce fatigue (26).
Nuts are high in calories, as well, so people should be careful not to eat too many.
14. Peanut Butter
Although peanut butter is a calorie-dense food, a little goes a long way in providing a great-tasting energy boost. Its healthy fats, protein, and fiber help stave off hunger and keep blood sugar levels stable. Instead of covering your morning toast with butter or jelly, which are devoid of protein and fiber, top slices with an all-natural nut butter that contains nothing but nuts, Berman suggests. Just be sure to avoid brands with added sugars, and stick to a 2-tablespoon serving.
15. Yams and Sweet Potatoes
Yams and sweet potatoes are beneficial sources of carbohydrates, which provide energy. Yet sweet potatoes are also high in fiber, which may help slow the body’s absorption of these carbohydrates. This may make them a good option for sustained energy throughout the day.
As a study in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology notes, beets may provide the body with a great source of antioxidants and nutrients that help improve blood flow and energy (27). People can consume beets as dried beetroot chips, cooked beets or as a bottle of beetroot juice.
17. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and collard greens are nutrient dense and contain filling proteins, as well as nutrients and antioxidants.
Greens may be difficult to digest raw for some people, so breaking them down by cooking them with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice may help.
Bananas may be the best quick snack for sustained energy. While bananas are a good natural source of sugar, they are also rich in fibers that help slow the digestion of that sugar. Bananas contain helpful nutrients that make the body feel full of energy.
Evidence shows that eating a banana before a long bicycle ride helps performance and endurance just as much as a carbohydrate drink (28). While most people are not cycling each day, bananas may still provide energy.
Avocados are a well-rounded fruit in terms of health values and nutrients.
As a study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition notes, they contain nutrients, protein, and fiber that may help sustain energy levels throughout the day (29).
They also contain good fats that may increase energy levels, and make fat-soluble nutrients more available in the body.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the world, and they’re a good source of carbs and fiber.
A medium-sized apple, approximately 100 grams contains about 14 grams of carbs, 10 grams of sugar, and up to 2.1 grams of fiber (30).
Due to their rich content of natural sugars and fiber, apples can provide a slow and sustained energy release (31).
Furthermore, apples have a high antioxidant content. Research has shown that antioxidants may slow the digestion of carbs, so they release energy over a more extended period of time (32).
Lastly, it’s recommended to eat apples whole to reap the benefits of the fiber in their skin.
21. Goji Berries
Goji berries are small, reddish berries containing many nutrients and important anti-aging and antioxidant properties (33). The specific antioxidants have many possible benefits, including giving the body more energy.
Dried goji berries make a great addition to a trail mix, and many people add a few to a water bottle to drink throughout the day.
Experts say strawberries are a good source of minerals, vitamin C, and folates. They also contain phenols, which are essential antioxidants that may help the body create energy at the cellular level (34).
People can add strawberries to many dishes, and a handful may also be an easy snack to add to a diet.
Oranges are famous for their high vitamin C content. One orange can provide as much as 106% of the RDI for vitamin C.
Additionally, oranges contain antioxidant compounds that can protect against oxidative stress (35).
In fact, one study showed that 13 women who consumed 500 mL of orange juice and did 1 hour of aerobic training 3 times per week for 3 months experienced decreases in muscle fatigue and improvements in physical performance (38).
Yogurt may also be a source of energy. A natural yogurt is rich in protein, fats, and simple carbohydrates, which provide energy to the body.
Yogurt is also very easy to eat on the go, which makes it a great alternative to vending machine food.
25. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate may be an easy way to increase energy. Rich, dark chocolate usually has much less sugar than milk chocolate. Less sugar means less immediate energy, but more cocoa content means more of the benefits of cocoa, including helpful antioxidants such as flavonoids.
Evidence shows that dark chocolate may benefit the cardiovascular system by helping more blood pump around the body (39). This blood carries fresh oxygen, which may also make a person feel more awake and alert.
Coffee is a recognizable energy booster. The caffeine in coffee makes the body and mind feel alert and may make people more productive.
Coffee also contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which may reduce oxidative stress in the cells and help the body function better.
Coffee is a stimulant, however, so people should consume it in moderation. Too much coffee may lead to energy loss as the body withdraws from the caffeine.
27. Green Tea
Green tea still contains small amounts of caffeine, but it also has compounds that may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. The result may be a smoother transition than coffee to a more awake and energetic state.
28. Yerba Maté
Yerba maté is a drink native to South America. Drinking the herb as a tea provides the body with similar stimulating effects as tea or coffee.
Yerba maté contains many active nutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids. People who drink yerba maté say it provides a much smoother form of energy by comparison to the jolt of energy from coffee.
Yerba maté may also improve mood and help people feel full, even after exercise, which may be helpful for those looking to lose weight while maintaining their energy levels (40).
While this list is not exhaustive, the idea behind finding energy boosting foods is to consume a varied, balanced diet. Vitamins, fiber, fats, and proteins are all essential for energy, but it is crucial to find a balance between them.
People should try to choose a varied diet containing many different, nutritious foods that give the body sustained energy.