You know energy drinks are a no-go when it comes to getting an afternoon jolt (especially when there are alternatives). We get it: It's not easy getting eight hours of sleep every single night. Fear not. For those of you who are overstressed and sleep-deprived, there are healthy ways—10 actually—to boost energy and fuel workouts without the pending sugar crash that accompanies energy drinks.
Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, shares the very best energy-boosting foods. Hint: They're 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," Moskovitz says. "Plus, they’re one of the best sources of protein, which is essential after an intense training session when muscle breakdown occurs the most.”
Expert tip: If you're trying to cut back on your calorie intake, stick to 1 whole egg plus 2-3 egg whites for a lean energy-filled breakfast. Want the added nutrients found in egg yolks? Stick to whole eggs.
This isn't news for you: When you need a quick pick-me-up, a little caffeine can go a long way. But there's something you might not know about coffee. “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.”
Expert tip: A small amount of caffeine is all you need to get the benefits. Order an 8-ounce hot or iced coffee; and use these healthy add-ins rather than artificial sugar and creamers.
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,” Moskovitz says. "At the same time, they help transport oxygen throughout the body. Both copper and phosphorous are also involved in converting food into energy so it's 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 over 8g of filling fiber and 17g of protein."
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,” Moskovitz says. "Sudden increases 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. Insulin is responsible for getting the glucose out of your blood and into cells. When glucose levels get high too quickly, so do insulin levels.”
Expert 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,” Moskovitz says. "While refined carbs, void of fiber, quickly break down into glucose for short bursts of energy, fiber helps slow down glucose-release so there's 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 known 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."
Expert 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 and dried fruit. Add in some whole grain cereal or pretzels to pack in more fueling carbs. Here are some ideas you can make yourself.
One of the most important determinants of your energy levels is hydration status, Moskovitz says. “Dehydration kicks in much sooner and harder than starvation," she explains. "Water is responsible for transporting all nutrients in the blood that we use for energy, as well as getting rid of waste buildup that leads to fatigue. Without enough water, we can't 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.”
Expert tip: Divide your total weight by two to get the total fluid ounces you should drink per day, Moskovitz recommends. Add an additional 20-30 ounces per hour of exercise to ensure adequate hydration.
“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, 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 counter the over-stimulating effect of caffeine and makes it ideal for long-term use to boost energy.”
Expert tip: “Visit your local health foods store and ask 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,” Duncan says. "The grain is so rich in amino acids, that it's considered a complete source of protein, high in lysine, methionine, and cysteine—ideal for post-workout meals to help build muscle. It's also high in folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, making it a nutrient-packed source of carbs for long-lasting energy."
Exper tip: Quinoa is a great replacement for wheat or refined carbs, 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, Duncan adds.
“A handful of raw pepitas or dry roasted pumpkin seeds can give you a natural jolt to power through a workout,” Duncan says. "Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber—keeping you feeling full and energized longer. They also contain manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, which provide additional energy support to maximize gym time.”
Expert 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. 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,” Duncan says. "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. Goji is also beneficial for increasing blood flow, which helps to oxygenate all the cells and tissues of your body, including the sex organs. You can experience increased libido to boot. That’s why they call goji the ‘Viagra of China.’”
Expert 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,” Duncan says.