"I'm always so tired," a co-worker said yesterday, with a yawn. "Even after eight hours of sleep." She reached for a donut. And I reached for her hand.
Wanda needed a wake-up call.
If you can barely keep your eyes open during the work day or have a tough time making it through that dreaded afternoon slump, it might me time to rethink your diet. Instead of popping open a sugary, belly-fattening energy drink or pouring yet another cup of coffee, load up on these nutrient-rich, energy-sustaining foods to keep you going all day long.
Foods rich in complex carbs and protein are the best picks for all-day energy, according to the registered dietitians and nutrition experts we talked to. The goal is to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid those drastic spikes and dips that will leave you feeling starving and sluggish. So stock up on these powerful foods, and keep your energy up from breakfast through dessert. To keep up your energy levels and burn fat, check out The 55 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
“One cup of cottage cheese contain 25 grams of protein, and a study published in the journal Appetite shows that the satiating effects of cottage cheese are similar to the satiating effects provided by eggs. I love how cottage cheese is a no-cook way to add protein to a variety of different meals and snacks.” — Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CDN
“One of my favorite energy-boosting foods is salmon. Chock-full of nutrients, salmon is a food that contributes to many positive health benefits, including energy levels, thanks to B vitamins, particularly B12 which may help boost energy and fight fatigue naturally. Additionally, salmon is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which may also help combat fatigue, causing you to feel more energized.” — Rima Kleiner, MS, RD
Steel Cut Oats
“Steel cut oats raise blood sugar less than rolled oats and have more health benefits due to the way they are processed. Steel cut oats are never cooked and start from the whole grain that is passed through sharp, steel blades that cut the oats into thin slices. This helps the oats retain more fiber and protein and provides a dense and hearty texture, so I find them more satisfying than a bowl of instant or traditional oats.” — Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CDN For an easier on-the-go breakfast, check out our 50 Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss.
“My favorite is plain, Greek yogurt because it has 18 grams of protein per 6 oz serving. I like to add fresh fruit on top and a tablespoon of chopped almonds. This is a great afternoon snack and can also serve as an on-the-go breakfast. As an added bonus, Greek yogurt provides calcium to help strengthen bones – extremely important for anyone who might not get enough calcium during the day or for those at risk of osteoporosis.” — Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CDN For the best options, check out our 20 Best and Worst Greek Yogurt
“Almonds are a great go to snack for a quick satisfying pick me up to give you a boost of energy. They are full of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats to keep you satisfied along with minerals and vitamins such as manganese, copper, riboflavin, and magnesium to help support energy production.” — Jen Flachbart MS, RDN
“Instead of crackers, chips, or pretzels, I like to roast chickpeas in Thrive culinary algae oil. Half a cup of chickpeas provides 15 grams of protein which helps to hold me over until my next meal, and algae oil provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. You can also add roasted chickpeas to a salad in place of croutons for some extra crunch.” — Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CD
Tuna with Whole Wheat Crackers
“While it’s important to eat simple and easy to digest carbs, you don’t want to do so without complementing them with a little protein and fat. This will prevent a sugar spike and then crash, which makes us tired and moody.” — Rebecca Lewis, MS, RD, Head Dietitian at HelloFresh
“I'm an RD in private practice. For all-day energy, I love my matcha latte. Matcha has a significant amount of caffeine and is a great alternative for folks who hate coffee or put horrible things in there (creamers!). Take 1 tsp chef grade matcha powder and stir it into foamed/warmed unsweetened cashew milk. Tons of EGCG, an antioxidant implicated in weight loss and cancer control.” — Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of Essence Nutrition
“Everyone needs a little chocolate fix! Aim for dark chocolate with a cacao content of 75% or more as this indicates a higher amount of flavanols are present. Pair with a cup of tea for a nutritious, satisfying treat that will give you that extra boost of energy you need to get through your day.” — Chelsea Elkin MS, RD, CD
Whole Wheat Bread with Ricotta
Judy Barbe, RDN, likes to combine protein and fiber to feel fuller, longer. She enjoys her whole wheat toast topped with ricotta and jam or sliced fruit. “Ricotta has 14 grams protein in 1/2 cup,” she says. Plus, the fiber from the whole wheat bread fills you up and keeps your blood sugar stable.
“Avocado is full of fiber and healthy fats, both of which are digested slower than simple carbohydrates, and provide more sustainable energy.” — Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN
“Eggs, the whole egg, with the yolk, are my top pick. Starting your day with eggs, or choosing a hard-boiled egg as a snack are two easy ways to get lasting energy. The protein and healthy fats in the whole egg help to keep blood sugar levels stable. This is absolutely key to preventing afternoon slumps and sugar cravings which tend to come after carbohydrate dense foods are eaten. Eggs are so versatile and can truly be eaten any time of the day. People shouldn't miss out on this nutritional powerhouse or the energy benefits they can get.” — Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN
“One of my favorite foods that provide lasting energy is sweet potatoes because they contain fiber and complex carbohydrates. Plus, sweet potatoes contain vitamins A and C for an immune boost too.” — Chelsey Amer, MS, RDN
Quinoa has more protein than any other grain, which pairs nicely with its natural carbohydrates for lasting energy. This superfood is also packed with folate, magnesium, and manganese, which gives you a much-needed boost. For inspiration on how to make this powerful grain, check out our 30 Quinoa Recipes for Weight Loss.
“Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids which will keep you satisfied and energized.” —Lauren Manganiello MS, RDN, CPT
High Fiber Cereal with Milk
Andy De Santis, RD, MPH, recommends combining a high-fiber cereal, such as bran cereal, with a protein, like milk. “When you are looking for sustainable energy, what you really want to look for is foods that are high in dietary fiber and rich in slowly digested carbohydrates,” he says. “Carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel for your brain and body.”
“I find dehydration can quickly sap a person of energy and have us reaching for food and often caffeinated beverages. Choosing foods such as citrus, frozen berries, cucumbers and fresh herbs can add a burst of flavor to water and release some of the nutritional benefits within those foods while providing hydration and therefore sustained energy.“ — Liz Blom, RD
“Watermelon and cantaloupe have a high water content (about 90%) which can help you stay hydrated and feeling your best. When we’re dehydrated, we may feel extra tired or fatigued.” — Lauren Manganiello MS, RDN, CPT
Homemade Trail Mix
“One of my favorite consumable items that help sustain energy is homemade trail mix. I can control what goes into it keeping it nutrient dense as well as balanced in the macronutrients carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It's also travel-friendly. My favorite mix includes raw almonds, dried cranberries or cherries, and dark chocolate chips. If I am craving a more savory mix, I will choose lightly salted pumpkin seeds, soy nuts, and sunflower seeds, and possibly toss in a pinch of garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.” — Liz Blom, RD
One quick way to get the ideal mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is with a smoothie. Pick energy-sustaining ingredients like almond butter, leafy greens, low-fat milk, fruit and even your favorite protein powder. For healthy options, check out our 56 Smoothies for Weight Loss.
“A versatile ingredient, brown rice is a great food to have if you are running low on energy. It is rich in manganese, a mineral that helps your body produce energy from the carbs and protein that you consume, leaving you feeling energized for longer.” — Frida Harju, nutritionist
Hummus and Whole Wheat Pita
"Including a protein with carb source extends energy and satiety," Sara Colman, RD, says. "Longer acting carbohydrates with fiber are digested slower, extending energy." She recommends a serving of whole wheat pita for the fiber and hummus for the additional fiber and complex carbs.
“Bananas are great if you need an energy boost. Bananas are made up from three different types of sugar (fructose, glucose, and sucrose) which get absorbed into your blood at different speeds, meaning that you will get a quick boost of energy and won’t suffer a slump as the sucrose will keep your blood levels steady.” — Frida Harju, nutritionist
“Rich in iron, spinach is essential if you are craving an energy boost. A lack of iron in the body can decrease the oxygen flow to the brain, leaving you feeling fatigued. To avoid an energy slump add some spinach to your lunch, or alternatively, if you aren’t a fan of salad, add a few spinach leaves to your morning smoothie.” — Frida Harju, nutritionist
Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN recommends dried beans for their high fiber count that will stabilize blood sugar. “A high insulin response to foods can lead to a sugar drop in the blood. This drop leads to tiredness and a loss of energy,” she says. “Soluble fiber increases transient time in the gut, therefore decreasing digestion and absorption time and leading to a sense of satiety longer."
String Cheese and an Apple
Michelle Stewart, RD, MPH and CDE likes the combination of protein from the string cheese, and fiber and carbs from the apple. “You want to choose snacks that satisfy your hunger and supply important nutrients. Including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can help add missing vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that you might miss at mealtime,” she says. “ When carefully chosen, they help keep your metabolism revved, your blood sugar steady and your energy at its peak.”
“A common cause of diet-related fatigue is iron-deficiency anemia. Iron is important for making red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron also helps the body make energy; if you do not consume enough iron you will likely feel tired and lethargic. Dried beans, peas, and lentils are good sources of iron as are lean meats, iron-fortified cereals, liver, green leafy vegetables, poultry, fish, whole grains and dried fruits. Vitamin C helps the body absorb the iron from some foods.” — Diana Cuy Castellanos, Ph.D., RD
“Maca is a native Peruvian plant that grows in the Andes resembling a small rough stone the size of a walnut. Maca has a positive effect on energy and mood as studies have shown that it can support continued exercise because it increases glucose in the blood stream. While rich in amino acids, phytonutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals, maca functions as an adaptogen thus aiding in adrenal function to increase energy, reduce stress, and create an overall revitalizing effect. I usually take maca in my pre-exercise shake or as a shot mixed with coffee in the afternoon before I continue work.” — Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD author and founder of Whole Body Reboot
Kimberly Gomer MS, RD, LDN, and the Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa likes edamame for the plant protein, which she says keeps her full and energetic. Plus, it has the perfect combo of protein, carbs, and fat to keep blood sugar stable and give you an energy boost.
Rice Cake with Sliced Turkey
Michelle J. Stewart MPH, RDLD/N, CDE likes combining a protein and a carb to sustain energy throughout the day, and brown rice cakes topped with deli turkey is one of her favorite ways to get both macronutrients. “It is very important to always include some protein when you eat a carbohydrate,” she says. “It [also] helps to eat every three or four hours to ensure adequate energy.”