Are you looking for a way to avoid the afternoon slump? Want to boost your energy without relying on another cup of coffee? Here are 5 Nutrition Tips to Eat for Energy so that you can feel like your best self and maximize your effort.
Think of energy as a tree. Just as a tree’s growth is impacted by a number of factors (sunlight, water, the strength of roots, environmental stress, etc.), your energy is impacted by a number of factors.
What you eat is not the ONLY influence on your energy. Your energy is also influenced by stress, sleep, and physical activity. Optimal conditions among each of these factors result in optimal energy!
Although the remainder of this post focuses on food for boosting energy, don’t overlook the importance of quality sleep, managing stress well, and adding movement breaks into your day.
5 Nutrition Tips to Eat for Energy
Pay attention to how food makes you feel. Eat in a way that supports your energy, goals, and lifestyle. There’s no need to count, measure, or restrict – only nourish.
1 – Blood sugar balance.
Tiredness can be a result of low blood sugar. So eating to balance your blood sugar is key for stabilizing your energy level. Like Goldilocks would say – not too high, not too low…just right – is best when it comes to blood sugar.
So how does blood sugar really work? When you eat carbohydrates, whether that be from an apple or candy bar, your body breaks it down to glucose (sugar). But before that glucose can be used for energy, it must be absorbed into the cells. This is where insulin comes in. Insulin helps bring glucose from the bloodstream, into the cells, where it can be used for energy. When and what you eat can support or hinder this process.
Applicable tips to support blood sugar balance so that you can avoid the spike & crash feeling:
- Pair carbs with fats and/or protein. Healthy fats and protein help slow down the digestion of carbs and absorption of glucose. Think apple + peanut butter or crackers + cheese.
- Aim for more complex carbs. Complex carbs, like whole grains, are higher in fiber. Fiber slows down the digestion of carbs, too!
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals causes your blood sugar to drop and cravings to go up. Eat balanced meals and snacks during the day.
All of these tips help the energy from food to be released gradually so that you can feel alert for a longer period of time.
2 – Eating (& drinking) enough.
Are you eating enough food? Are you drinking enough water? The answer to improving your energy could come down to these 2 simple points.
For example, one of my clients thought that she needed to start an elimination diet to find out what foods were causing fatigue. Instead of jumping to an elimination diet, I guided her to track her current dietary intake for a few days – just to get a better idea of what was really going on.
Upon reviewing this food journal, my client could clearly see that she wasn’t eating as much as she thought. Our work together focused on adding enough food into her diet that she found both satisfying and energizing!
Dehydration could be another cause of fatigue. Start drinking more water! Listen to your body’s thirst cues prompting you to drink more water. It’s a great excuse to buy a cute, new water bottle that you can carry with you at all times.
3 – Variety is key.
In addition to quantity (eating enough calories), focus on quality (eating nutrient-dense calories) for better energy.
One way to ensure quality in your diet is by eating a variety of foods from the main food groups. The main food groups are:
- Dairy (or non-dairy alternatives)
Reflecting on this list, are you limiting yourself by restricting any of the main food groups? Do you feel like you have enough choices within each category?
In other words, if the only 2 fruits you eat in a typical week are apples and bananas, try changing it up. Purchase frozen berries and oranges on your next grocery run. More variety = more color, which indicates a wider range of micronutrients, supporting your metabolism.
One food isn’t the miracle to better energy. Focus on a variety of foods from the main food groups!
4 – Micronutrients of importance.
There are specific vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy production. To name a few, let’s look at the importance of Vitamin D, B vitamins, and iron.
First, vitamin D. Fatigue is a common symptom among people who don’t get enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D-rich foods include eggs, fatty fish (salmon, tuna), shiitake mushrooms, and fortified products (milk, cereals, juices). If you feel like you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, speak to your doctor about getting your levels tested before adding supplements.
Second, iron. Iron is critical for a number of chemical reactions in the body including oxygen transport, amino acid metabolism, and thyroid hormone synthesis. There are 2 forms of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme is the type found in animal products. Nonheme is primarily found in plant foods. Food sources include meats, seafood, beans, dark leafy greens, dried fruit nuts, and enriched grains.
Lastly, B vitamins. B 12 is required for proper red blood cell formation and neurological functioning. It is primarily found in animal products (meat, fish, eggs), which is why this is a nutrient of concern for vegetarians and vegans. Some plant-based foods, such as soymilk, come fortified with vitamin B12. Vegans/vegetarians should talk with their doctor or RDN about supplementation.
Please note: this is not an exhaustive list of minerals essential for energy. Always speak to your doctor or dietitian before adding supplements.
5 – Curb the caffeine.
Most adults can safely consume 200-300 mg of caffeine per day and enjoy its perks. However, the timing of caffeine consumption is important as it relates to regulating energy.
Drinking caffeine too late in the day can negatively impact your sleep by disrupting sleep quality. Prioritize better quality sleep by determining your caffeine cut-off time. This time will be personalized to you because the effects of caffeine are impacted by gender, body weight, and overall sensitivity.
Questions to consider:
- Do you rely on caffeine to wake you up?
- Are you having trouble sleeping?
- Do you notice any undesirable side effects such as anxiety, rapid heartbeat, or increased breathing rate?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to change up the amount and/or timing of caffeine that you consume.
The Bottom Line
Reflect on your current eating habits. Do you eat in a way that supports your energy level? If not, what are 1-2 small changes you could make? Although this article focused on nutrition, don’t forget the impact of sleep, stress management, and physical activity!
Looking for 1:1 support with a dietitian? Schedule your free discovery call today to learn how to nourish your body with intuitive eating.