Healthy Eating

Eating For Energy: Dos & Don’ts

Ditch the caffeine and lean on natural ways to boost your energy levels!

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

If you are like most people, you can likely use a little extra energy support to make it through the day. From work responsibilities to managing a home, to all of our day-to-day responsibilities, it all can be draining! Tack on trying to process the state of the world to our mental load, and it is no wonder why most of us are completely dragging by the end of the day. 

The good news is that, along with prioritizing sleep and participating in physical activity, our diet can have a profound impact on our energy levels. While there are no magical foods that are a silver bullet to making us stay energized, there are certain dietary habits that may help. Ahead, we’re sharing the dos and don’ts of eating for energy with some actionable tips that you can use straight away!

How Our Diet Affects Our Energy 

While many of us think of eating food as a source of enjoyment, ultimately, the main purpose of eating is to provide our bodies with nutrients that sustain our energy needs — the enjoyable tastes are just a bonus.

Many food and drink choices can contain calories, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that are key for allowing the body to function. The best options? Foods like fruits, veggies, seafood, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that are known to be jam-packed with many essential nutrients needed to support natural energy levels. But of course, not all foods are created equal. And yes, some foods can drain our energy! Eating heavily fried food, ultra-processed items, and even alcohol can make us feel sluggish and not as vitalized as we want to be. 

How to Eat For Energy 

Eating for energy support can be quite simple to do with a little know-how. Nutrient-dense foods that are not fried, ultra-processed, or super sugary are certainly the way to go. If you really want to commit to eating in a way that supports your energy, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Load Up on Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with a slew of vitamins and minerals that help your body use energy. Eating a wide variety of colorful produce every single day (at least 3 veggie servings and 2 fruit servings if you can) can fuel your body with many of the micronutrients your body needs to feel as energized as possible. 

Choose Whole Grain Carbs

Carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients our body uses from our food, is our main source of energy. And while all carbs will give your body a boost, whole-grain choices (think: whole-grain pasta, whole grain bread, and whole-grain crackers) will give you sustained and lasting energy support instead of the quick burst you may feel when you lean on refined options. 

Swapping out your white bread, white rice, and cornflakes with whole-grain alternatives may be the small change your diet needs in order to feel more energized. 

Include Nuts and Seeds With Your Snack

Sure, seeds and nuts may be a surprising energy food, as they don’t contain energy-supporting carbs. But these foods have a dynamic combo of healthy fats, fiber, and plant-based protein, which when combined with carbs, helps create a steady stream of energy thanks to the nutrients’ ability to slow digestion. A trail mix made of nuts, seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit or whole-grain crackers topped with seed or nut butter can make for a perfect energy-supporting snack. 

Stay Hydrated

Some people may feel sluggish not because they need to eat, but because they need to drink! Dehydration can wreak havoc on a person’s energy level, so keeping some water close by and sipping before you even get hungry can be incredibly impactful when it comes to supporting energy. 

Not a plain water fan? Seltzer or infused water can help maintain a healthy hydration level with a bit more excitement than plain still water. 100% fruit juice can be a hydrating option as well.

Supplement if Necessary

If you are eliminating entire food groups from your diet (like animal products) or you are a picky eater, chances are, you have some nutritional gaps that may impact your energy levels. If you fall into this category, consider supplementing nutrients that you may be missing out on. 

Those following a vegan lifestyle may benefit from vitamin B12 and iron supplementation, while those who don’t eat enough fruits and veggies could enjoy the positive effects of a general multivitamin. Take a good look at your diet and fill important nutritional gaps with proper supplementation as needed. 

Eating For Energy Don’ts 

Don’t Drink Too Much Alcohol

No matter whether you indulge in a glass of wine, a can of beer, or a shaken-up martini, know that alcohol is technically a depressant, and as such, can cause people to feel sluggish and sleepy when enjoyed in excess. While the occasional cocktail will likely be fine when included in an overall healthy diet, over-indulgence won’t do you any favors when you are trying to support energy levels in a natural way. 

Considering going booze-free? Try these tasty low-sugar mocktails!

Don’t Overdo the Caffeine Intake

While it is true that caffeine can help you get a little more pep in your step, too much of this stimulant can cause an energy crash shortly after you include it. And if you take in caffeine later in the day, you may have a hard time sleeping at night, which can make you feel tired the next day. 

Starting your day with a cup of Joe appears to be fine to do. But downing a triple-shot latte close to dinnertime may do more harm than good in the energy department. Instead of reaching for that afternoon cup, try these caffeine-free alternatives!

Don’t Skip Meals

Your body needs to be supplied with food in order to have energy. And despite what many popular diets may tell you, skipping meals can leave you feeling less-than-peppy when mealtime comes around. 

Even small “mini-meals” can help people stay energized if there is no time to eat. Fruit and nut butter, ½ a sandwich, or even a smoothie made with protein powder could be just what is needed to help people get in adequate calories midday to support energy levels. 

Don’t Eat Too Many Fried Foods

We’ve all eaten too many fried foods at one point in our life, and we know how that can make us feel shortly after mealtime. While small, occasional servings of fried foods can fit into an overall healthy diet, overdoing it on the fries, chicken tenders, and wings can leave us feeling sluggish and lethargic later in the day. 

Eating The Right Foods Can Keep Your Energized

Even if we are getting the right amount of sleep and are exercising, we sometimes need a little more help when it comes to getting our energy levels up to speed. Instead of grabbing a super-gulp soda at the gas station or the extra-caffeinated energy drink at your grocery store, leaning on natural ways to boost your energy levels can give you the sustainable support that your body craves and needs. So, make sure you are eating your produce, stay hydrated, and lean on whole grains instead of refined options. You will likely feel much less sleepy because of it.