Whether you woke up dead tired, or you just hit a wall in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes you need a pick-me-up to get your body and mind through the day. Luckily, you don’t need to reach for an energy drink or a magic pill. You just need to choose the right meal or snack.
There are three components to keep in mind when it comes to energy-boosting foods, says NYC-based Jackie London, MS, RDN. First, a combination of protein and fiber will keep blood sugar stable, preventing the crashes you’ll get from an insta-boost like caffeine or sugar. Second, choosing high-water-content foods such as fruits and veggies will counteract lethargy and exhaustion caused by dehydrated (you could be thirsty and not realize it!). And finally, loading up on B-vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants will help all your internal processes run smoothly. “These are cell protectors—they aid in nerve impulse and muscle contraction, and blood pressure regulation,” says London. With these three tips in mind, here’s exactly what to eat and how to add it to your day.
1. Beans, lentils, or legumes London suggests edamame, because they are super-high in protein and fiber (17 grams and 8 grams respectively), and packed with minerals like iron, potassium, and magnesium. While most beans makes the cut for their B-vitamin and fiber content, London’s personal favorite is the chickpea because they’re easy to find. “They’re everywhere—look to any salad bar, supermarket, or ethnic cuisine for proof,” she says.
2. Chia seeds This buzzy superfood is an energy superstar. With a stellar antioxidant profile, as well as 10 grams of fiber and five grams of protein per serving, they are a great add to just about anything. “They can be blended into smoothies, used for making desserts like chia pudding, tossed into salads and stir-frys, or sautéed with veggies,” says London. “They also make a great breakfast topping for Greek yogurt or oatmeal.”
3. Unsalted nut butters Peanut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, macadamia, any unsalted nut butter will work for energy, which means you have endless options, says London. With a combination of protein, fiber, and filling fatty acids, nut butter made from “dry roasted [insert nut of choice here]” will deliver a small pick-me-up. “Again, the best thing about nut butters is their versatility,” says London. “Use them for Asian-inspired dishes with peanut sauce, serve them as a dip for veggie crudite or with sliced fruit, or even makeover a standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich—try almond butter with grilled pear and cinnamon on whole-grain bread, or hazelnut butter on a whole-grain English muffin with fresh chopped figs.”
4. Berries The antioxidant profile of berries can’t be beat. They help with cell function and mental cognition, says London. Plus, berries are loaded with fiber and have a high water content. Choose strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, or even boysenberries; one cup generally packs eight to nine grams of filling fiber. “They’re seasonal, but hardy,” says London. “Berry season is summer, but frozen berries pack the same benefits, and keep well for extended periods in the freezer.” Munch them by the handful or add them on top of whole grain cereals, waffles, or pancakes, and toss them into smoothies or parfaits.
5. Leafy greens Similar to berries, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and chard are high in mineral content and have killer antioxidant profiles. The calcium and potassium they provide, in particular, will help to regulate your blood pressure and your fluid-electrolyte balance, so you’re on top of your game all day. Always wash your greens before you nosh—even if the packaged claims they’re “pre-washed.” And don’t just relegate leafy greens to the side of your plate. They can be incorporated into the main dish, says London. “Toss leafy greens into omelets, or add them to soups, salads, and sandwiches. Or add a bag of spinach or baby greens into a sautéd veggie mix.”
6. Greek yogurt With a mineral-rich resume (it’s high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and 18 grams of protein (per 2/3-cup serving), you can’t go wrong with Greek yogurt for breakfast, as a snack, or a creamy treat after dinner. Try mixing cut-up fruit into plain Greek yogurt and freezing it for an ice cream-like dessert. “Greek yogurt can also be used in place of mayo for savory dips and spreads,” says London.
What are your go-to energy boosting foods? Share them in the comments below!