As we close in on 2016, it becomes more and more clear that energy drinks are a no-go when it comes to getting an afternoon jolt. We get it, it's not easy getting eight hours of sleep per night. Fear not. For those of us who are overstressed and sleep-deprived, there’s a healthy way—10 actually—to boost energy and fuel workouts without the pending sugar crash that comes along with energy drinks. Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, shares 10 top energy-boosting foods that are probably already in your kitchen.
“Egg yolks are naturally rich in B-vitamins, which are responsible for converting food into energy and they also have Vitamin D to maintain strong bones. Plus, they’re one of the best sources of protein, which is essential particularly after an intense training session when muscle breakdown occurs the most,” Moskovitz says.
Energy Tip: To cut back on saturated fat and excess calories, stick to 1 whole egg plus 2-3 egg whites for a lean energy-filled breakfast.
When you need a quick pick-me-up, a little caffeine can go a long way. “Shown to be effective for improving exercise performance, a cup of coffee might serve as the perfect pre-workout beverage,” Moskovitz says. “Adding skim milk not only offers plenty of calcium and vitamin D for stronger bones, but it also provides carbohydrates for fuel.”
Energy Tip: A small amount of caffeine is all that’s needed to get the benefits. Order an 8-ounce hot or iced coffee.
Soybeans are high in energizing nutrients, particularly B-vitamins, copper and phosphorous. “B-complex vitamins work to break down carbohydrates we consume into glucose for fuel. At the same time they help transport oxygen throughout the body. Both copper and phosphorous are involved in converting eaten food into energy and releasing into cells so its available for use by the body. Edamame also delivers exercise-friendly carbs, fiber and protein for muscles. Just 1 cup of shelled soy beans packs in over 8g of filling fiber and 17g of protein,” Moskovitz says.
Energy Tip: To aid in recovery, snack on a handful of edamame after a tough endurance training session. You can also add a touch of salt to replenish lost electrolytes.
“High-fiber whole grain cereals slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream which ultimately translates to more consistent energy levels throughout the day. Sudden increase of glucose in the blood, which occurs after eating refined carbs like candy causes spikes in blood sugar, and excess insulin production from the pancreas,” Moskovitz says. “Insulin is responsible for getting the glucose out of the blood and into cells. When glucose levels get high too quickly so do insulin levels.”
Energy Tip: Some fortified whole grain cereals are loaded with nearly all the important vitamins and minerals. Moskovitz recommends General Mills Fiber One. Look for a cereal that has at least 5g of fiber or more per serving. Pour over a glass of skim milk or nonfat Greek Yogurt for extra protein.
“Nuts and dried fruit are the ideal combination of healthy fats, fiber and protein. While refined carbs that are void of fiber quickly break down into glucose for short bursts of energy, fiber helps slow down glucose-release so there is always a steady supply. Similar to fiber, protein also slows down metabolism of carbs and repairs muscle damage to prevent post-training soreness. Fats such as nuts, seeds and oils are notorious for providing long-lasting energy particularly for longer runs or swims over an hour. Since carbs are the first macronutrient to get used during activity, they can become easily depleted at which point the body relies on energy from fat,” Moskovitz says.
Energy Tip: To avoid excess sugars and oils that can be added to many popular trail mixes get creative and make your own! Combine all your favorite raw nuts such as pistachios, almonds or peanuts with seeds plus dried fruit. Add in some whole grain cereal or pretzels to pack in more fueling carbohydrates.
One of the most important determinants of your energy levels is hydration status Moskovitz says. “Dehydration kicks in much sooner and harder than starvation. Water is responsible for transporting all nutrients in the blood that we use for energy as well as getting rid of waste build-up that leads to fatigue. Without enough water, we cannot metabolize the food we eat into fuel and ultimately cease to function properly. Always drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially before and during workouts.”
Energy Tip: Divide your total weight by two to get the total fluid ounces recommended per day, Moskovitz recommends. Add an additional 20-30 ounces per hour of exercise to ensure adequate hydration. Think that sounds like a lot? “Most people need a minimum of 8-10 cups per day without exercise,” says Moskovitz.
“Guarana is a small round red fruit commonly used in supplements and beverages to boost energy, and increase stamina and physical endurance,” says Dr. Lindsey Duncan, celebrity nutritionist (he’s worked with Tony Dorsett and Reggie Bush), naturopathic doctor and co-founder of Genesis Today superfood products. “Guarana’s energy boosting benefits come from its seeds, which are the richest natural source of caffeine, containing about 2.5 times the amount of caffeine found in coffee. They also contain theophylline and theobromine, which counters the over-stimulating effect of caffeine and makes it ideal for long-term use to boost energy.”
Energy Tip: “Visit your local health foods store and asking for a truly all-natural energy shot with no sugar added, "My favorite is the Genesis Today Organic Acai Pure Energy Shot which combines the guarana with Acai and B-Vitamins for a truly powerful burst of energy,” Dr. Duncan says.
“Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that contains more protein than any other grain or rice. The grain is so rich in amino acids, that it is considered a complete source of protein, high in lysine, methionine and cysteine—ideal for post-workout meals to help build muscle. It is also high in folate, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, making it a nutrient-packed source of carbohydrates for long-lasting energy levels,” Dr. Duncan says.
Energy Tip: Quinoa is a great replacement for wheat or refined carbohydrates as it can help support a healthy cardiovascular system, blood pressure levels and bowel health. Simply switch out a grain, like bread, rice or pasta, for quinoa and feel those energy levels rise, Dr. Duncan recommends.
“A handful of raw pepitas or dry roasted pumpkin seeds can give you a natural jolt to power through a workout. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, healthy fats and fiber, keeping you feeling full and energized longer,” Dr. Duncan says. “They also contain manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, which provide additional energy support to maximize gym time.”
Energy Tip: If you don’t want to keep the pumpkin seeds handy, another way to get these benefits is to get a supplement that contains pumpkin seed oil. Dr. Duncan recommends the GenEssentials Superfruit Oil 3-6-7-9 Blend found at Whole Foods.
“Energy boosting goji berries have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to help increase energy and enhance the release of hormones. Goji increases the body’s ability to handle stress and support healthy mood, mind and memory—all while giving you the get-up-and-go energy needed to get your workout to the next level,” Dr. Duncan says. “Goji is also beneficial for increasing blood flow, which helps to oxygenate all of the cells and tissues of the body, including the sex organs, which increases libido—that’s why they call goji the ‘Viagra of China.’”
Energy Tip: “Get goji in liquid form as liquids are more easily assimilated into the body—you would have to eat hundreds of times more dried goji berries to get the same benefits,” Dr. Duncan says.