In this fast-paced world, we too often choose convenience over health when it comes to selecting a midday pick-me-up. Quick and easy energy enhancers—in the form of sugar-laden coffees and energy drinks—may jumpstart your day, but they're often accompanied by energy crashes. Luckily, some simple additions to your diet can act as natural energy boosters and help you fight fatigue—no Starbucks necessary.
Indulge in these wholesome foods that will feed your body with key nutrients shown to improve energy and alertness.
Larabars (the original version, at least) are great for when you’re on the go, because they're naturally sweetened by an important bodybuilding fruit—dates. Dates not only provide the chewy, sweet backbone for these simple bars, but will also supply quick-acting energy to a fatigued body. Additionally, dates are an excellent source of potassium—gram-for-gram they contain nearly double the potassium of a banana.
Potassium plays an extremely important role in energy metabolism and muscle contraction. Larabars can be found at grocery stores nationwide—or better yet, make your own. Blend dates, nuts, and the unsweetened dried fruit of your choice in a food processor, and then form the mixture into bar-shaped pieces, letting it chill in the fridge.
Loaded with an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, a green smoothie can provide a kick-start to your morning—something that a cup o’ Joe can’t compete with. Simply blend some of nature’s best green energy-boosters: dark, leafy greens, frozen fruit, and a zero- or low-calorie liquid of your choosing.
Dark, leafy greens are rich in iron—a mineral that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout the body, making it essential for energy production. Adding vitamin C-rich citrus fruits, like papaya and mango, can also help boost energy levels, while at the same time masking the often bitter taste of the greens. Vitamin C helps maintain proper functioning of the adrenal gland, which regulates hormones involved in stress and energy levels. Additionally, your body needs Vitamin C to help properly absorb the iron from the dark, leafy greens.
When assembled correctly, trail mix can serve as a portable, lightweight snack made up of energy-dense ingredients, like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Instead of buying pre-packaged versions, purchase energy-boosting ingredients separately, and combine them yourself. Nuts in trail mix often contain magnesium, a vital nutrient for your body vital for the breakdown of glucose into energy. (That's why a magnesium deficiency can result in low energy levels.)
Pumpkin seeds are one of the richest sources of magnesium, as are nuts like almonds, which also supply protein and fiber to better stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate energy. Eating nuts in combination with unsweetened, dried fruits, like mangoes or apricots, makes trail mix the ideal treat for quick-acting, long-lasting energy. And if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, top the trail mix off with some dark chocolate chips for a little extra energy.
Fatty fish, like salmon, are one of the best natural sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to improving heart health, omega-3s boost levels of EPA and DHA in the brain, and therefore help increase energy and focus.
Salmon is also an excellent source of tyrosine—an amino acid that functions as a precursor in the production of the body’s “fight or flight” hormones: norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. These hormones can influence mood, energy, and alertness. Lastly, salmon provides vitamin B12, a vitamin capable of boosting energy levels. A cooked serving of Atlantic salmon provides over half of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B12.
Kefir is one of the latest foods to join the fermented superfood trend, and it’s highly nutritious. Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains. It’s said to yield more probiotic power than yogurt. A daily dose of kefir can boost both your immune system and stamina.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that will keep your gut healthy. The bacteria’s positive effect on the digestive system can help improve absorption of nutrients and removal of waste, making you feel more energetic. Kefir is also a good source of the energy-boosting vitamin B12, commonly found in energy-enhancing supplements. Instead of purchasing flavored kefir at the grocery store, opt for the plain version and add fresh berries to mask the sour taste. You’ll get the added benefit of energy-enhancing natural sugars, fiber, and antioxidants from the berries.
Although coconut oil contains a relatively high amount of saturated fat, over two-thirds of it is a unique form of saturated fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike other saturated fats that are in the long-chain form, MCTs are sent straight to the liver from the digestive tract instead of being stored, where they can be used as a quick source of energy. Also, coconut oil doesn’t require bile to be assimilated, and is therefore easier to digest than other fats. It’s thought that this helps conserve energy, since the digestion of coconut oil is less taxing on the digestive system. “Bulletproof coffee,” which involves adding coconut oil to coffee, emerged somewhat recently as a new trend in morning beverages. Some swear by its ability to extend energy throughout the day.
Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder made from grown green tea leaves. While all green tea naturally contains caffeine, matcha is unique in that the energy boost it provides extends over a longer period of time. The amino acid l-theanine works synergistically with the caffeine found in matcha to produce more energy, while eliminating common negative side effects from stimulants, such as nervousness. Matcha can be enjoyed in more ways than just as a hot beverage – add it to a green smoothie, use it to flavor ice cream, and even bake with it!
Making lunch out of refined-grain foods, like white breads and pastas, can often leave you feeling sluggish for the rest of the afternoon. Choosing the right grains—those that are less processed and with a lower glycemic index—can provide your body with the nutrients it needs for good health and sustained energy.
Pearled barley has the lowest glycemic index out of all of the ancient grains, and most other grains as well, due to its high content of soluble fiber. Low-glycemic-index foods are broken down more slowly than foods with a higher glycemic index, providing a steady stream of glucose into your system over time and stabilizing energy levels. Pearled barley is also a good source of iron—a mineral essential for oxygen transport and energy production.
Make a cold, pearled barley Greek salad using cooked pearled barley, feta, chopped tomato, bell pepper, and kalamata olives, and a drizzle of red wine vinaigrette.