It’s quite easy to feel energetic when the sun shines bright, you don’t need to put on layers of clothes every time you go out, and when your senses are stimulated by the bright colors of the flowers and trees. During winter, though, everything seems to be going to sleep, including your energy levels!
I personally experience a huge energy drop at around 2 p.m. and the urge to take a nap is oh so hard to resist! Most of us often reach out for sugary snacks, biscuits and energy drinks, which usually lead to unnecessary weight gain.
Unfortunately, these, as well as stimulants like caffeine won’t sustain energy over the long haul. But smart nutrient picks can. “Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy, but they also need protein and fat to help slow the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream and to build and repair the body,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD.
To strike the ideal nutrient balance for sustained energy, Gerbstadt recommends 30 percent to 40 percent of total calories from mostly polyunsaturated fats (such as olive oil,nuts, and seeds), 20 percent to 30 percent protein, and 40 percent to 50 percent carbohydrates, preferably whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. In a pinch, the best energy bars hit these ratios, but experts say most of the time you’re better off eating whole foods.
Here are our top healthy fuel foods
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Loaded with stress-reducing B vitamins and soluble fiber, this whole grain offers more sustained energy than the refined grains in cold cereal or refined-flour toast. “Oatmeal breaks down into the type of energy you actually can use in the body,” says Gerbstadt. “So if you don’t need the carbohydrates for energy right away, your body will store up to 400 calories of the excess in the liver as glycogen, a molecule that acts like an energy reserve.”
On your plate
For breakfast try oatmeal topped with apples, cinnamon, and almond slivers; make low-sugar granola by lightly coating rolled oats with apple juice, adding dried fruits and nuts, and baking at 325 degrees, stirring occasionally, until toasted.
You’ve probably had edamame — a.k.a. immature soybeans — as an appetizer, but there’s a reason to make the protein-packed snack at home, too: they’re rich in phytoestrogens, which give you a whole lot of energy. For the tastiest prep method, simply boil them and sprinkle with sea salt.
Since this grain is rich in manganese — the mineral that helps produce energy from protein and carbs — it will help you maintain high energy all day. Brown rice can be served as a side dish with your nutrient-packed veggies for a filling lunch or dinner.
High in carbohydrates and loaded with beta-carotene (vitamin A) and vitamin C, these will help fight off midday fatigue. Bonus: Kids will love this sweet treat at mealtime. Try them mashed or cut into strips, tossed with a little oil, and baked for a healthier alternative to french fries.
Not only will an apple a day keep the doctor away, it’ll also give you a powerful jolt of energy. High in fiber, apples take longer to digest, so they’ll give you a more prolonged lift than other fruits. Snack on slices with nuts for an especially effective pick-me-up.
These fruits are loaded with vitamin C, which your body needs to make a compound called carnitine. “Carnitine shuttles fat into the muscles where it can be used for energy,” explains Carol Johnston, PhD, RD, director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University. “And when you use fat for fuel [instead of glucose], you can exercise for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued.” In onestudy, taking a 500-mg vitamin C supplement also increased physical-work efficiency.
On your plate
Squeeze lemon juice over greens and pasta salads, and in your water or tea; top salads with mandarin or clementine sections; and scoop out half a grapefruit for breakfast. Other vitamin C–rich foods: peppers, broccoli, papaya, and mangoes.
Sipping caffeinated tea throughout the day can help you think more clearly, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition; it can also stave off age-related dementia. When paired with caffeine, L-theanine (a unique amino acid in tea) increases alertness, reaction time, and memory.
In your cup
Keep an electric kettle plugged in at work, and sip oolong, white, green, and black teas throughout the day.
While this is technically also not a food, but a drink, it deserves a spot on this list for being nature’s energy drink. Not only is it refreshing, the liquid is full of potassium and vitamins. However, the energy jump comes from lauric acid, which increases the metabolism and the electrolytes, which get your body going again.
Good-to-go energy snacks
In your purse: almonds
Protein and fiber in almonds can help you power through the afternoon. They’re loaded with calcium, zinc, vitamin E, and immune-boosting alpha-linolenic acid (a precursor to omega-3s), all of which promote optimal brain function.
In the car: water
Dehydration can sap your stamina and cloud your thinking. In fact, experts claim that even 2 percent dehydration interferes with performance. You should drink enough water so that your urine is clear or light yellow. For most people, that’s 8–10 glasses a day.
In the office fridge: raw veggies and hummus
High in fiber, protein, and alpha-linolenic acid, hummus is the perfect snack to have on hand. It’s also a good source of iron, which is critical during an afternoon energy slump (low iron can translate to low energy). Pair it with some raw vegetables for a crunchy, tasty treat.
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