Food is fuel for the body and it's what keeps us going all day. True, there are many other contributing factors--sleep, exercise, general health, but food is perhaps the factor over which we have the most control. Our energy levels depend a lot on what we eat and how much of it we take in. A person on a diet may not be getting the amount of nutrients they need and feel drained, while someone else who's eating too many foods that provide few nutrients will also feel sluggish.
- When you choose steel-cut oats or regular oats instead of quick-cooking or instant oatmeal, you're getting a lot of benefits from this food. Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, a long-lasting source of energy that can keep you feeling fuller longer and can also help lower cholesterol levels. Complex carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy, and the complex carbs in oatmeal contribute to slowing down the digestion process. So if you cook up a bowl of oatmeal in the morning instead of reaching for a sugary breakfast bar or toaster pastry, you may be less likely to need a mid-morning snack before lunch.
- Squash and other starchy natural foods, such as potatoes and carrots, are like oatmeal in that their complex carbohydrates can fill you up quickly and make your energy last for a longer period of time. Squash also has the benefit of being very versatile---it can be roasted, cooked into a casserole or pureed for soup. It's a vitamin-rich food and can give you a boost of fiber, carotenes and vitamins B1 and C.
- In addition to foods with complex carbs that give you energy lasting for a long time, other natural foods with simple carbohydrates are important to include in your diet. Apples are a natural source of fructose, a sugar that's also found in some vegetables. The fructose in apples can give you a quick burst of energy when you need it and the fiber in the fruit will make you feel more full than if you had chosen a cupcake.
- Carbs may provide most of the energy for your body, but protein provides endurance and helps your body successfully control the output of the energy you gather. Meat is an excellent source of protein, but too much of it can be harmful for the body. An alternate source is eggs. They may be high in cholesterol, but their health benefits more than make up for that, and if you monitor your cholesterol intake throughout the rest of the day, eating up to two eggs daily provides the body with a source of healthy fat and all essential amino acids.
- Though not technically a food, water is often overlooked as a vital part of a healthy diet. Staying hydrated is imperative to gaining and retaining energy, and when the body is lacking water it's more likely to make you feel fatigued. Even if you're not exercising, keep a bottle of water handy and take generous sips throughout the day.
Meat and Seafood
- Choose lean meats and fish for the most energy. If you add a source of protein to each meal you eat, you'll feel satisfied longer and have more energy between meals. Choose chicken breasts, lean beef and fish fillets. Prepare these items without a lot of added fat or salt. You can use herbs for extra flavor, and bake or grill the items instead of frying. For an alternate source of protein when you snack, try a small handful of sunflower seeds or nuts such as almonds. They offer sustained energy as well as heart-healthy fats that leave you feeling satisfied.
Vegetables and Fruits
- Many vegetables and fruits are good for energy levels. Eating a large salad at lunch can fill you up without leaving you feeling bloated. Greens are loaded with B vitamins as well as iron and magnesium. Fruits are sweet, but since the sugars are natural and have fiber and a good amount of vitamin C, they are a good choice for snacks or light desserts. Or puree them with milk or yogurt for nutritious smoothies.