It’s natural for your energy levels to fluctuate throughout the day. For humans, it’s a subconscious decision made by their internal clock. Everyone has a 24-circadian rhythm cycle that features several peaks and valleys.
Several internal and external factors will influence the exact times of these. After all, energy expenditure for the average day isn’t the same for everyone. However, there will always be ebbs and flows to your energy levels throughout the day.
The tricky thing is trying to get through the periods of low energy in your day. While they’re a good thing when you’re trying to sleep, they can be a tremendous burden when you’re trying to work.
One common remedy is using coffee, energy drinks, or sodas to boost you quickly. There’s no doubt that caffeine in these beverages will amplify your energy levels. The problem is there’s usually a “sugar crash” a few hours later that leaves you even more fatigued than before.
Not only that, but routinely drinking caffeine can have a devastating effect on your sleep. It might help you get through today but may only make the next day harder. Therefore, it might be best to turn to food for an energy boost instead.
How Does Food Give You Energy?
It may come as a surprise, but the primary energy source for your body is sugar. To be more accurate, your body runs on a type of sugar called glucose or blood sugar. The body turns the food that you eat into glucose during digestion. It can take a few hours or a few minutes, depending on what you eat.
The process of creating glucose is relatively straightforward. It begins when you chew food into a more easily digestible mash. When that reaches your stomach, various acids and enzymes will start to break it down.
The sugars and starches inside the food (particularly carbohydrates) will break down into glucose. The stomach and small intestines will absorb the glucose and slowly release it into the bloodstream. Once it hits your bloodstream, it will be used for energy immediately or stored for future use.
Carbohydrates are the most common energy-providing nutrients. However, the body is capable of using other nutrients as fuel sources. For example, the keto diet is built around eating as few carbs as possible.
For keto diet followers, fat is used rather than carbohydrates as the primary energy source. The body uses the fat in your food and in your body to create ketones that function the same way as glucose.
The 25 Best Foods To Boost Your Energy
Technically, any food that you eat will give you energy. However, that doesn’t mean junk food will give you the boost you need.
Instead, you can look for food that contains protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. The benefits of eating foods with these nutrients go well beyond just giving you an energy boost.
We’ve previously created a list of healthy snacks that can give you an energy boost. If you don’t mind a little preparation, you can check out that snack list here. If you just want to know which foods supply the most energy, then here is a list of the top 25 best:
Apples are loaded with fiber which can help to stabilize your blood sugar levels. They are also extremely high in flavonoids which can help manage your body's inflammation levels.
Avocados are a superfood as they contain a vast array of nutrients, protein, and fiber. Another key benefit is they’re an excellent source of healthy fats,which can support positive brain function.
Bananas are an excellent source of natural sugars and fiber, which can give you a sustainable boost of energy. In addition, bananas are rich in potassiumwhich helps to maintain the fluid levels in your cells, support normal blood pressure, and assist with muscle contractions.
Beets aren’t as commonly available as other items on this list, but they’re an excellent source of energy. The primary benefit of beets is that they’re a spectacular source of nitrates. The naturally occurring nitrates in beets can significantly enhance mitochondrial efficiency in your cells, reducing wasted energy.
5. Black Beans
Black beans and other legumes are nutritional powerhouses of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, and folic acid. They’re also an excellent source of antioxidantswhich can be extremely beneficial for your overall brain health.
6. Brown Rice
Brown rice is one of the best natural sources of manganese that you can eat. Manganese is a mineral that helps to break down carbohydrates and protein to produce energy. Also, brown rice has a low glycemic index, which can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent spikes.
Cashews feature a variety of desirable nutrients, including fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, magnesium, and manganese. They’re also an excellent source of copper which plays a role in energy production and the creation of connective tissues and blood vessels.
8. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds might be the tiniest item on this list, but they pack a powerful punch featuring protein, fiber, magnesium, manganese, and several healthy fats. Additionally, chia seeds are loaded with polyphenols which can help regulate energy metabolism, glucose uptake, and mitochondrial function.
Chicken is a lean protein, so it’s very low in fat and features zero carbohydrates. However, it’s positively loaded with energy-boosting nutrients, including potassium, iron, and magnesium. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which helps convert protein, fat, and carbohydrates into glucose.
Dates are very high in antioxidants, copper, selenium, magnesium, and vitamin K. They’re also an excellent source of iron. Iron plays a crucial role in producing hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.
Eggs are another example of a superfood as they’re chock full of protein, healthy fats, and many B vitamins. One of the reasons they’re so good for boosting energy is that they contain an amino acid called leucine. Your muscles can use leucine to provide energy during physical activity and help control your glucose levels.
12. Green Tea
Green tea contains naturally occurring caffeine, so it’s a little bit of a cheat for this list. However, the caffeine is nowhere near what you’d find in coffee and less than the contents of black tea.
More importantly, green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which can have a calming effect on your brain.
Hummus is made from mashed-up chickpeas, an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and other complex carbohydrates. Another key benefit of hummus is its good source of vitamin B9 (folic acid). Folic acid (sometimes called folate) plays an important role in converting carbohydrates into glucose.
Liver is an excellent source of protein as it provides you with all the essential amino acids. It’s also abundant in iron, magnesium, copper, folic acid, and natural cholesterol. It is also the most concentrated natural source of vitamin A (retinol).
Retinol plays a crucial role in synthesizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by mitochondria. Therefore, a retinol deficiency can have a significant effect on the production of energy in your cells.
Oatmeal is a whole-grain, complex carb that is slowly broken down by your body. As a result, it can provide a more sustained energy level than simple carbohydrates that are quickly broken down and digested. Another beneficial feature of oatmeal is its high phosphorus, which helps the body create ATP.
Oranges are renowned for being an excellent source of vitamin C. They’re also full of natural sugars and simple carbohydrates that are trademark attributes of fruit. Oranges are also a potent source of vitamin B1 (thiamin) which helps the body process nutrients and convert them into energy.
Oysters are full of various antioxidants, selenium, copper, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and multiple B vitamins. They’re also one of the best natural sources of zinc that you can eat.
Zinc is a key trace mineral in metabolizing the three macronutrients of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. A zinc deficiency could easily result in reduced energy levels and feeling sluggish.
Popcorn is made from the dried kernels of corn, a starchy and fiber-rich complex carbohydrate. The abundance of fiber is beneficial for the slow release of energy and glucose stabilization.
Popcorn is also a great source of polyphenols and other antioxidants. It’s best to go for air-popped popcorn and be mindful of the salt and butter you add.
Quinoa is a complete protein providing all nine essential amino acids. It’s also loaded with protein, magnesium, zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B2, and fiber. Another key benefit of quinoa is its low glycemic index which can help stabilize your glucose levels.
Sardines (and fatty fish in general) are excellent sources of vitamin D, lean protein, calcium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are on this list because they’re loaded with vitamin B12 (cobalamin).
Cobalamin helps make DNA, keeps your blood/nerve cells healthy, and is heavily involved with converting nutrients into energy.
Water is essential for survival, and you must drink a lot throughout the day. Feeling sluggish is one of the first signs of dehydration. A tall glass of ice-cold water may be enough to give you a boost of energy.
Yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) is an excellent source of protein which can provide more sustained energy than other nutrients. The lactose naturally found in yogurt can easily be converted to glucose. Additional benefits of yogurt include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.
Pick the Right Snack for the Biggest Energy Boost
There are many ways to fuel your body and brain, but food is easily the most important. Eating multiple times a day is essential to give your body the energy it needs to function.
By eating more of the foods listed above, you can supply your body with cleaner energy than what you’d get from caffeine and sugar. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the signature energy crash from those substances. It’s a win-win for your brain, body, and energy levels!
Quinoa | The Nutrition Source | Harvard School of Public Health
Vitamin B12 | Health Professional Fact Sheet
Zinc Status Is Associated With Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, Lipid, and Glucose Metabolism | PMC
Thiamin | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Control of Oxidative Phosphorylation by Vitamin A Illuminates a Fundamental Role in Mitochondrial Energy Homoeostasis | PMC
Phosphorus in Diet | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
Folate | Health Professional Fact Sheet
Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study | NCBI Bookshelf
Leucine | Health Encyclopedia | University of Rochester Medical Center
Iron | National Institutes of Health
The Relevance of Theobromine for the Beneficial Effects of Cocoa Consumption | PMC
Copper | National Institutes of Health
The Potential Role of Polyphenols in Modulating Mitochondrial Bioenergetics within the Skeletal Muscle: A Systematic Review of Preclinical Models | PMC
Manganese | National Institutes of Health
Can Dietary Nitrates Enhance the Efficiency of Mitochondria? | PMC
Potassium | The Nutrition Source | Harvard School of Public Health
Magnesium | Health Professional Fact Sheet
How Cells Obtain Energy from Food - Molecular Biology of the Cell | NCBI Bookshelf
Circadian Rhythms | National Institute of General Medical Sciences
The Impact of Time of Day on Energy Expenditure: Implications for Long-Term Energy Balance | PMC