9 Surprising Foods That Will Boost Your Energy

9 Surprising Foods That Will Boost Your Energy

NEXT TIME YOU’RE looking for a quick burstlt of energy, instead of reaching for the coffee or energy drink—try snacking instead.

As Maddie Pasquariello, R.D.N., says that’s because what we eat has a direct effect on our energy levels, and each macronutrient plays a role.

All caloric foods and drinks give us energy in the sense that they provide calories that the body can burn or store as it requires. “How any given food affects our energy levels over the course of a day is primarily driven by the balance of macronutrients they contain,” she says.

Ahead, learn more about what nutrients contribute to raising your energy levels—and why —plus the best foods to eat for an energy lift.

The 9 Best Foods for Energy

Eggs

If you’re low on energy, scramble some eggs (or hard-boil them, make an omelet—the list goes on).

“Eggs are an excellent source of a sustained energy boost due to their high protein content, which aids in steady energy without causing spikes in blood sugar levels, especially when combined with a carb,” says Limor Tabib, R.D.N., of Tasteful-Nutrition.com. “The protein in eggs is vital for building and repairing tissues, making them a perfect choice for post-exercise recovery or a kick-start to a busy day.”

Cottage cheese

If you tolerate dairy, Pasquariello says that cottage cheese is a great option to provide a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats (she usually opts for a full-fat version), while still being balanced in overall calories.

“You can add any toppings you like: olive oil and sea salt, berries and honey, granola and cherries,” she says. “This helps with texture and further promotes satiety and energy levels.”

Sweet potatoes

Tabib says sweet potatoes are a fantastic energy-boosting food, loaded with complex carbohydrates, which provide a steady release of energy throughout the day, helping to sustain you for longer periods.

“Additionally, sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium, all of which support overall health and vitality,” she says. Research that suggests that incorporating sweet potatoes into your diet can contribute to improved energy levels.

close up shot of woman chopping sweet potatoes during cooking class

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Fatty fish

Remember what we said about healthy fats being good for energy production above?

“Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are important for brain health and cognitive function,” says Lauren Manaker, R.D.N.

Sardines

Okay, we know we sardines fall under the fish category . But these tiny fish deserve their own call-out.

“Sardines are a personal favorite energy-boosting food due to their rich blend of protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients like vitamin B12. These nutrients play crucial roles in energy metabolism, helping convert food into usable energy efficiently,” says Tabib.

Research has shown that consuming foods rich in vitamin B12, such as sardines, can help combat fatigue and support overall energy levels.

Not a fan of eating them solo? “Pair them with a salad and balsamic vinaigrette for a quick and easy lunch,” says Tabib.

Spinach

Another top recommendation for energy-boosting foods from Tabib is this popular leafy green. Thanks to its rich nutrient profile, including iron, magnesium, and vitamins B and C, which are essential for energy production and metabolism.

lunch break on fresh air

hobo_018//Getty Images

“Its high content of folate helps in the formation of red blood cells, aiding oxygen transport to cells for energy production,” she adds. “Try pairing your plant based sources of iron with a vitamin C source, such as by squeezing a spritz of lemon, to increase the absorption of iron into your blood.”

Research suggests that consuming leafy greens like spinach is associated with increased energy levels and improved overall health

Walnuts

Tabib singles out walnuts as a brain-boosting energy food due to their high content of healthy fats, protein, and fiber.

“The combination of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols in walnuts supports heart health and cognitive function,” she says.

Whole Fruit with Nut Butter

This combo couldn’t be easier to prepare: Grab fruit, spread on some almond butter.

Pasquariello is a fan of this energy-boosting combination because you get complex carbs and fiber from the whole fruit, plus protein and healthy fat from the nut butter. Try an apple, orange, pear, peach, you name it, and if you don’t have almond butter lying around, accompany the fruit with a handful of nuts.

“The fats and protein take longer to break down than the carbs in the fruit, so you get both quick and sustained energy, making this an optimal snack,” she says.

Avocado with Whole Grain Bread

“Avocados contain healthy fats, lots of fiber, a bit of protein, and carbs as well, so when it comes to singular foods, they provide a pretty solid ‘full package’ of nutrients,” Pasquariello says.

Since they’re a little boring/awkward to eat solo, she prefers to add some avocado slices atop a slice of seedy, whole grain or sourdough bread, flax crackers, tacos, or salads — “in doing so, you can further improve the macronutrient profile of your meal,” she says.

vegan bread with avocado and cherry tomatoes

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What nutrients help boost energy?

“In a world dominated by quick fixes and caffeine boosts, it’s easy to forget that nature has provided us with foods that naturally enhance our energy levels sustainably and healthily. While processed, sugar-laden treats might offer a temporary spike in energy, they often lead to an inevitable crash, leaving us more fatigued than before,” says Manaker. “Conversely, foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients can fuel our body’s energy production processes, helping us feel revitalized and alert throughout the day without the need for artificial stimulants.”

We touched on it a bit above, but all macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) play a role in energy production. Along with those nutrients, there are other nutrients you should look for in food when seeking out something to give you a boost. Here’s the breakdown:

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the body’s main source of fuel, though not all carbs are created equal. “Complex carbohydrates, like those found in whole grains, are essential as they provide a steady release of energy throughout the day due to their slow digestion and absorption,” she explains.

Complex carbohydrates are the way to go if you want energy. Known as ‘slow carbs’, these foods release glucose (which is our main preferred fuel source) into the bloodstream at a more steady rate due to having a bigger molecule chain and usually being intact with fiber, says Tabib. “This makes it longer for our digestion to break down. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.”

man breaking bread

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Protein

Proteins are vital for building and repairing body tissues, says Manaker. “They can also serve as an energy source when carbohydrate reserves are depleted,” she adds. “Foods rich in protein, such as lean meats, eggs, and legumes, are crucial for sustained energy.”

While protein needs differ, generally, 0.8 g to 1.2 g of protein per kg body weight is sufficient as a baseline.

Fat

Pass the avocado and EVOO. “Healthy fats, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, provide energy, and they can help promote satiety, helping keep the ‘fuel’ supplying the brain and muscles over a span of time,” says Manaker.

young man cooking guacamole in light kitchen at home hands close up

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Iron

“An essential mineral, iron helps in the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body,” says Manaker. “Foods rich in iron, like spinach and red meat, can boost energy by increasing the efficiency of oxygen distribution.”

Expanding on that, Tabib shares that iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and decreased energy levels. “Good sources of iron include lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, and fortified cereals,” she says.

Vitamin B12

“Playing a critical role in energy production at the cellular level, Vitamin B12 is necessary for converting the food we eat into usable energy,” says Manaker. “This vitamin is predominantly found in animal products, highlighting the importance of B12 supplements for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet.”

Magnesium

Magnesium is what Tabibs likes to refer to as the underdog of nutrients. “It is a key player in biochemical reactions in the body, including energy production and muscle function. It acts as the converter of carbohydrates, protein, and fat into energy,” she says. “Foods high in magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and legumes.”

Sugar

We all know sugar gives you energy, and sugar tends to get a bad rap but it is actually the body’s ‘preferred’ source of energy.

“It is the most readily-available source of energy to fuel our muscles, brain function, and more, because the body can break it down more quickly than fats or proteins,” Pasquariello says. “As such, a small carbohydrate-rich snack can actually be the best thing to eat right before a workout, and is the reason why distance runners bring things like energy gels with them for consumption during a race or long run.”

That all being said, the digestion of sugar (carbohydrate) on its own is very fast, so you’ll find yourself getting hungry again quickly if you only eat sugar.

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