On the most exhausting days when you’re in need of a serious energy boost, it can obviously be tempting to continually reach for a cup of coffee throughout the day. And while a few cups in the morning are perfectly fine for most people, coffee doesn’t often provide you with long-lasting energy, and you may instead find yourself feeling sluggish later on. Instead of loading up on too much coffee, you can try snacking on foods that give you energy all day long.
But what types of food give you lasting energy? Naturally, all food provides your body with some level of energy because of the way it’s converted into calories, but some are more energizing than others. For starters, carbohydrates give the most energy to your body, but it doesn’t mean you can load up on cupcakes and expect to be energized. Refined carbs (think added sugar and white bread) will spike your blood sugar quickly and actually lead to more fatigue, but complex carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, whole grains) take a lot longer to digest, therefore more gradually raising your blood sugar and giving your body more sustainable energy.
Along with carbohydrates, healthy fats like omega-3s have been found to provide lasting energy, and protein-rich foods can sustain energy levels by taking away hunger and leaving you feeling full for longer periods of time.
To learn more about specific foods that contain the qualities listed above, we talked to a few expert dietitians about foods that give you energy. Then, for more more healthy eating advice, make sure to check out 7 Vegetables That Reduce Inflammation and Slow Aging.
According to Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements, Greek yogurt can be an excellent snack to help give you energy throughout the day. “A perfect food to keep you energized, Greek yogurt contains protein to keep you satisfied for hours,” says Best. “I suggest 2% instead of the fat-free kind for helping keep you full. You can also add fiber-rich berries and slivered almonds, which contain healthy fats, for a healthy breakfast or well-balanced snack.”
Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author at Fit Healthy Momma adds that because most yogurt naturally contains carbohydrates, “it offers the boost of energy from carbs with a sustained effect from the protein, because protein helps digest carbs more slowly, ensuring a steady stream of energy.”
If you’re looking for a lunch dish that will help sustain your energy levels, our dietitians suggest salmon. “This fish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids to help keep blood sugar steady and prevent fluctuations,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, registered dietitian, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, and member of our Medical Expert Board.
According to the National Institute of Health, omega-3s provide your body with helpful energy, as well as benefits for your heart, eye, and brain health.
Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, if you’re looking to get more of this nutrient with fish but aren’t in the mood for salmon, tuna is another great choice. “Fatty fish like salmon and tuna can give sustained energy throughout the day due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Best. “Also, these healthy fats help to regulate insulin levels and reduce inflammation in the body, which can help maintain energy levels and improve overall physical and mental health.”
Beets are an earthy-tasting root vegetable that you either love or hate. Those who love them are in luck because these are full of helpful nutrients and antioxidants—even ones that will help sustain your energy levels. According to a report published in Food Science & Biotechnology, beets contain high levels of phenolic compounds, antioxidants, and nitrate, all of which have been found to help with exercise performance and energy levels. Also, beets contain complex carbohydrates, which again means that your body will digest them more slowly and provide more sustainable energy levels.
Another carbohydrate-heavy food that can give you healthy, sustained energy is quinoa—something you can incorporate into any meal during the day. “Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate that is high in fiber and protein, providing a sustained release of energy throughout the day,” says Best. “It also contains important nutrients like iron, magnesium, and B vitamins, which help to maintain energy levels and support overall health.”
“Whole grains offer a boost of energy through their healthy carbs, and the fiber helps to digest the carbs more slowly, which maintains a steady blood sugar, thus keeping up energy,” adds Clair.
“Bananas are another food high in healthy carbs, protein, and B vitamins, which makes them a top choice for a sustained and slow energy release,” says Clair. “The natural sugar in fruit provides an immediate energy boost, while the fiber slows down digestion for longer-lasting energy. Along with that, the vitamins and minerals in fruit also help to maintain energy levels and prevent fatigue.”
In fact, a study published in PLoS One found that bikers who ate a banana before a long bike ride had more sustained energy and endurance than when they just consumed a sugary drink.
When you’re hungry and in need of an energy boost, our dietitians suggest some nuts, because these snacks “provide a slow release of energy throughout the day, keeping you alert and energized,” says Best.
“Nuts contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber —a perfect blend to keep you feeling full and preventing your blood sugar from fluctuating,” adds Young. “All nuts are great, but walnuts also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats.”
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA, EPA, and ALA. According to Harvard Health, ALA is the kind found in plant foods like walnuts, and this specific omega-3 is used by the body for energy.
According to Best, eggs are another food that can give you energy throughout your day. “Eggs are a protein-rich food that provides sustained energy throughout the day by keeping you feeling full and satisfied,” says Best. “They are also high in B vitamins, which help convert food into energy. Additionally, eggs contain a nutrient called choline, which can improve cognitive function and reduce fatigue.”
You can enjoy eggs for breakfast, but a hardboiled egg makes for a great midday snack to grab on-the-go that will help sustain you until dinner time.
For another snack option that can give your body an energy boost, Clair suggests a handful of berries. “This fruit is one of my top picks for energy,” says Clair. “Not only do these have healthy carbs, but they offer sustained energy with fiber and a good dose of often-needed electrolytes.”
Clair also adds that in particular, “berries can provide energy by way of their potassium and B vitamins.” In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, not getting enough of your B vitamins can lead to weakness and fatigue. So, consuming these vitamins through the food you eat can help ensure that you’ll have boosted energy levels.
Avocados are a versatile superfood that can be enjoyed on its own, in a smoothie, spread on top of toast, or mashed into a bowl as guacamole. On top of this fruit being versatile, it is also considered as a food that can your body energy to help sustain you during the day.
According to a report published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, avocados contain protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and magnesium, which all combine to help give you more energy.
Because of the lasting energetic effect that healthy carbs can have on your body, another useful (and delicious) option is a bowl of oatmeal. “Oats are rich in complex carbohydrates, which provide long-lasting energy,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD. “They also contain fiber, which helps slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, resulting in steadier energy levels throughout the day.”
For caffeine that will give you longer-lasting energy without the jitters you may normally experience with coffee, matcha powder is a great addition to your daily routine. According to the journal Molecules, matcha is high in compounds like rutin, theanine, quercetin, and chlorophyll, as well as caffeine. But even though matcha contains caffeine, it also has L-theanine, which acts as a stress reliever and counteracts the jittery effects that some people may experience when the drink caffeinated coffee.
So, to enjoy the energetic perks of matcha powder, you can blend some up with milk to make a latte, mix it into a cookie or cake recipe, or blend it into a smoothie.