FOOD IS FUEL FOR YOUR CELLS AND THEREFORE IS ENERGY
Maybe you are reading this post because you have been feeling more fatigued than usual and just cannot escape that afternoon slump, or perhaps you want to go into this summer feeling energetic and ready to bike, hike, swim, and whatever other activities the summers. Either way, you are in the right place! This post breaks down foods that energize you, foods that slow you down, the key for steady sustained energy, and more!
FOODS THAT WILL ENERGIZE YOU
We know that we need food to keep our bodies fueled and functioning. However, many often miss the mark when making the mistake that all food is created equal and, therefore, no matter what food you choose to consume will give you energy. While this may be true from a calorie-density point of view, the truth is each food is made up of its own unique set of molecules which the body processes differently even if the calories are seemingly the same. So, how does this relate to energy? Well, now that you understand that each food is metabolized differently based on its ingredients and subsequently their molecules, you can better understand how the body responds differently to each food: some resulting in steady energy and others resulting in immediate energy followed by a crash.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we recommend whole-unprocessed foods for sustained energy. The reason being is they are full of vitamins and minerals (which fuel your cells), high-quality protein (which drives chemical reactions via amino acids and enzymes), healthy fats (which decrease inflammation and are good for heart health), complex carbohydrates (the bodies preferred source of energy, and fiber (which helps balance blood sugar).
Our favorite food for prolonged energy:
- Fruits (berries, kiwi, apples, and pears) – great source of fiber and antioxidants
- Veggies (dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, zucchini, asparagus) – rich in vitamins and minerals helping to fuel the mitochondria (powerhouse of our cells), good source of fiber, and helps keep you hydrated!
- Healthy fats (avocado, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, brazil nuts, chia and flax seeds) – all rich in omega 3’s which are anti-inflammatory and support hormone health. Additionally, all contain specific vitamins and minerals that help keep the body happy and energized. Plus avocado, chia and flax seeds are great sources of fiber for blood-sugar balance.
- High-quality protein (pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, organic chicken) –
- Complex Carbohydrates (sweet potato, carrots, beets, parsnips, wild-rice, oatmeal) – contain glucose alongside fiber and antioxidants to instantly fuel and protect the bodies cells
- Electrolytes – (coconut water, sodium, dark leafy greens) – electrically charged minerals in your body that are dissolved in your body’s fluids like blood, sweat, and urine that help to carry out essential metabolic processes (hello energy!)
- Water – (aim for half your body weight in ounces per day) your brain and body are highly dependent on staying hydrated, with even subtle dehydration impacting your energy and performance!
We recommend basing your diet around these foods with your plate consisting of around ½ veggies, ¼ high-quality protein, ¼ complex carbs, and 1-2 tbsp of healthy fat. Additionally, I recommend sneaking fruit in during breakfast, a snack, or dessert and always pairing it with a source of fat and fiber!
FOODS THAT WILL SLOW YOU DOWN
On the flip side, many foods will make you feel depleted, even if they make you feel energized in the moment. These foods are often processed foods that contain added sugars (high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, cane sugar, etc.), inflammatory oils (canola, vegetable, sunflower, rapeseed, etc.), and artificial flavorings. Additionally, these foods will often be carbohydrate-heavy, containing refined carbohydrates (often stripped of their fiber and nutrients) with little protein, fat, and fiber. These foods not only set your body up for an inflammatory state, but puts stress on your mitochondria (power-house of your cells), and affect hormones leaving you on an energy roller-coaster.
We realize avoiding these foods in whole might feel unrealistic and extreme, which is why we recommend primarily focusing on whole, unprocessed foods – helping you to avoid the above ingredients. Then on the side, you may want to incorporate some of the above-processed foods every so often, so you do not feel deprived. However, more often than not, we find clients that were longing for their favorite treat eat it and feel horrible afterward; leading them to find a healthier alternative/recipe (there are tons of these on my blog and the internet in general) for their favorite treat that will satisfy their cravings without sacrificing their energy.
BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE
If you have made it this far, then congratulations because blood-sugar balance is arguably the most important and overlooked aspect of eating for steady energy. This is because your blood sugar levels (the amount of glucose in your blood at a specific time) directly impact your energy levels, hormones, sleep quality, mood, weight, and more!
Blood sugar balance is a complex topic; however, it is important to understand the basic mechanisms. Glucose (sugar) is released into your blood when you eat food. Upon the presence of glucose in the blood, your body releases insulin (a hormone that effectively carries glucose from the blood into the cells to utilize energy). This process is critical because it keeps blood glucose from getting too high and gives the cells energy.
However, insulin can only do so much. For example, when we eat meals that are primarily carbohydrates, the body has trouble managing this huge rush of glucose into the bloodstream. This results in a spike in blood sugar followed by a huge dip in blood sugar when insulin catches up – effectively sending our blood sugar on a roller-coaster. This directly impacts our energy levels, which is why many of us feel energized when eating but then crash a couple of hours after (hello, mid-afternoon slump!).
To help your body avoid this phenomenon, it is essential to eat for blood sugar balance which looks like minimizing eating carbohydrates alone and instead pairing them with protein, fat, and fiber (hint: building your plate as we suggested earlier will do just this!). For more tips about balancing blood sugar, click here!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Once you understand the basics and what works for your body, eating for steady, sustained energy is not all that complicated! In fact, you will find it means eating balanced meals with protein, fat, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. Not only will eating this way improve energy levels, but likely will result in improved mood, performance, hormone health, gut health, and more!
Written by Alison Richman MS, RDN