How Your Diet Can Boost Your Energy Levels

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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How Your Diet Can Boost Your Energy Levels

Having endless energy to power through normal daily tasks and reach optimal performance in workouts would be every athlete’s dream come true. While that isn’t exactly possible, you can boost your energy with these easy diet dos and don’ts.

Being concerned with your physical health and athletic performance means fitting training sessions into an already busy life, which can be exhausting. When your energy levels start to decline, you’re less able to be productive, keep a positive outlook, focus on tasks at hand and perform well.

Lacking energy and being too tired are often used as excuses to not achieve fitness goals, and rightfully so. You can’t expect your body to tackle a hard workout when you’re exhausted. Luckily, fatigue can be fought by maintaining a healthful diet. Technically, all foods provide energy by supplying the body with calories used to create ATP through metabolic processes.

However, the specific foods you choose to consume can have a big impact on keeping energy levels boosted all day long to keep you focused, efficient and able to tackle physical accomplishments.

Skipping meals starves the body of necessary calories and nutrients needed to support active bodies. When intake is too low, your body acts to preserve what it has by going into a type of hibernation, promoting sleepiness and fatigue.

Consuming smaller portions more frequently throughout the day provides the body with a consistent supply of usable energy. When small meals are healthful, balanced and well-spaced, they blood glucose levels steady throughout the day and avoid any energy crashes or spikes.

Bakery items tend to be high in sugar, low in fiber, low in protein and high in fat. This combination works against the body, creating a sluggish system that will crave another meal soon to get the nutrients that were missed.

Aim for a breakfast rich in complex carbs and protein. Complex carbs have fiber, which digests slowly, promoting satiety and steady glucose levels. Protein helps stimulate muscle building, metabolism and promotes satiety. When you’re not craving more food an hour after eating, your body can focus its energy on more important tasks.

The ingredients in many energy beverages claiming to provide a boost are poorly researched and unregulated. While they might provide energy, they also might cause serious health problems like jitters, anxiety and heart palpitations.

It’s no secret caffeine stimulates the mind and body by blocking fatigue receptors in the brain. Since caffeine’s effects can last roughly six hours, aim to consume caffeine throughout the morning to keep your mind alert and focused without sacrificing a restful night’s sleep. Black coffee and herbal teas also contain antioxidants that help provide a natural boost.

Overeating and consuming rich, heavy meals ramps up insulin production and diverts energy to deal with digesting the large amount of food, leaving you craving a nap. While this is true any time of day, midday is when our energy levels need to be at their highest to tackle daily demands.

Stick with a simple lunch with clean, bright ingredients to fuel your day without weighing your body down. A turkey sandwich on sprouted bread, apple and cup of minestrone soup or quinoa tabbouleh with grilled salmon and an orange are two examples of such meals.

Processed snacks are a disaster for your energy levels. The excess simple sugars spike blood glucose levels only to leave you crashing soon after. Most candy bars offer more calories than necessary for a snack, promoting sluggishness and excess storage of body fat.

Eat it, drink it or just smell it. Research shows this fruit can help ramp up metabolism and even smelling the essential oil can stimulate alertness. Do note that those taking medication should check with their physician to see whether they need to avoid this otherwise healthful habit.

These drinks, like candy bars, are loaded with simple sugars and have zero nutrients. Your body gets an immediate surge of usable energy, which is great if you’re using that sugar by running a 5K. If you’re not immediately exercising, all those empty calories are converted to storage and you will experience an energy crash.

Active bodies need to be well hydrated outside of training sessions. Having cold water throughout the day can work to perk you up by giving cells the water they need to transport nutrients throughout your body. Individual needs vary, but aiming for 8 cups a day is a good general rule.

Depriving your body of certain food groups common on fad diets can create nutrient deficiencies that zap the body of its ability to stay energized. For example, limiting carbohydrates keeps you from having immediately usable energy and limiting animal products can lead to iron deficiency. A body without a useable energy supply can’t handle fast, intense workouts, and a lack of iron means limited oxygen is transported to working muscles.

Regardless of your diet style, work to include a high variety of ingredients from different food groups to consume all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients and phytonutrients your body needs for efficient metabolism.


A high-energy diet is one that keeps you feeling light, focused and ready to move. For most, this is a diet based around complex carbs, produce, lean protein, healthful fats and water. Keep in mind diet is only one piece of the puzzle, there are many other factors that contribute to energy levels such as health conditions, medication, sleep, hormones, stress and physical activity.

To figure out how your diet and lifestyle interact with your energy levels, keep a log of your lifestyle habits, food, drink and workouts along with energy levels throughout the day. This provides insight to ramp up your energy based on your individual needs.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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