What are the best foods to eat for energy?
Need more energy? Check out these foods
If you’re feeling low on energy mid-morning or need a quick pick-me-up to fight the 3pm slump, grabbing something to eat can be a great, easy way to put a spring back in your step.
But while all foods provide fuel for our bodies to move, to grow, to heal and to function, not all foods provide the same amount of energy – and some are better at keeping us energised for longer than others.
Your first port-of-call for energy: carbohydrates
Carbohydrates – which are found in fruit and vegetables, bread and grain products, and sugary foods – are the body’s preferred source of energy. But not all carbs are created equal, with some giving us a boost that lasts longer than others.
Carbs are often grouped into either ‘simple’ or ‘complex’.
“Complex sources of carbohydrates are like the premium petrol for our body,” explains accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist Jamie Rose Chambers. “Complex means the carbohydrate is minimally processed, so it gives us energy slowly over time, keeping us feeling fuelled up for longer.”
You’ll find complex carbohydrates in foods such as brown rice, quinoa, rolled oats, beans, legumes, fruit and starchy vegetables like sweet potato, shares Jaime, as well as in whole grains and cereals.
Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, can give us a quick hit of energy, but the effect doesn’t last as long, and it can leave us feeling even more sluggish and tired soon after we’ve consumed them. Foods that are high in refined sugar, such as cakes, biscuits, lollies, soft drinks and white bread, are examples of simple carbs.
Choosing good carbs for lasting energy
The glycaemic index (GI) is another way we can determine how quickly a carbohydrate-rich food absorbs – and whether it’s likely to fuel us for a long time or lead to a short-lived energy spike.
Foods with a lower GI break down slowly, providing longer-lasting energy than those with a high GI, and are the top choice when your energy is lagging. If food has a GI less than 55, it’s considered low, a GI of 55-70 is considered medium, and above 70 is considered high GI.
However, there can be too much of a good thing!
“The amount of carbohydrate you consume a day is very personal and individual,” advises Jaime. “Too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, so it’s important to match your carbohydrate needs to your activity levels, age and weight goals.”
Does coffee give you energy?
When it comes to a quick energy boost, coffee and tea are the go-to for many of us. That’s because both contain caffeine (as do cola and many energy drinks) which stimulates activity in the brain and nervous system.
In small doses, caffeine can make you feel refreshed, focused and energetic – however, consume too much, and you could be left feeling jittery and anxious, and you may have difficulty sleeping, which impacts your energy for the next day.
Limit your lattes to no more than four, and stop at eight cups of tea a day
“Some people do not do well with caffeine, but generally, the research shows that freshly ground coffee and black or green tea can provide us with a healthy boost of energy, along with some beneficial antioxidants,” shares Jaime.
But, she adds, “as a general rule, you don’t want to exceed 400mg of caffeine per day. One regular coffee with a shot of espresso has around 100mg of caffeine, and a cup of tea generally has around 50mg of caffeine.”
So limit your lattes to no more than four, and stop at eight cups of tea a day, Jaime says. Also, be aware of when you're consuming caffeine – and, in fact, any high-energy foods and beverages.
“It makes sense that where we need energy is during the day and where we don’t need it is towards the end of the day when we’re winding down for sleep,” advises Jaime, adding that the general recommendation is to stop drinking caffeine after lunchtime.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
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Jamie Rose Chambers
Jamie Rose Chambers is an accredited practising dietitian, nutritionist and aspiring cook, who is passionate about how food affects our bodies and our health. With two small children in tow, she has published several best-selling books and has special expertise in intermittent fasting. Jaime likes her coffees BIG, as to delay the sadness she feels when they're empty.