5 Foods That’ll Boost Your Energy (And 5 Surprising Foods That’ll Drain It)

Do you think the protein in steak will give you an energy boost? Think again (Photo: Illustration: Damon Dahlen / HuffPost; Photos: Getty)
The days are getting longer, and whether you're back in the office or still working from home away from the stimuli of co-workers and commuters, maintaining constant energy levels throughout the day can be difficult. While coffee may be most people's source of energy, food is often a better option.
To find out which high-energy foods are best to eat, we asked three registered dietitians for recommendations.
In general, the experts surveyed for this story recommend eating something every three to five hours. "This usually means three meals and one or two snacks," said Amy Gorin, a registered plant-based nutritionist. "If you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar levels can crash and you may feel uncomfortable that you are hungry." Gorin says he should aim for a combination of protein, healthy fats, and fiber for every meal and snack to keep you full and energized for longer.
Energy increasing foods
Black beans
This affordable pantry offers a punch in the nutrition department. "Not only are black beans delicious and versatile, they're also an excellent source of plant-based protein, good healthy fiber, and energy-building carbohydrates," Meredith Price, nutritionist at Plant-Based Priceless Nutrition & Wellness, told HuffPost. "They're also a great source of iron, which is important for energy, as iron plays a role in hemoglobin, which helps move oxygen around the body in the bloodstream." She notes that a black bean dish is a great post-workout meal as it replenishes your protein and carbohydrate supplies and gives you the energy you need for the rest of the day.
"These portable fruits are a great way to get energy quickly from their naturally occurring sugar, fructose, a carbohydrate," said Price. As an added bonus, bananas are easy to digest. "The fructose is converted to glucose and enters our bloodstream where our cells, especially our brain cells, can use it for quick energy," she added.
Eggs can slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream when combined with carbohydrates like bread or pasta. (Photo: Yulia Reznikov via Getty Images)
There are so many easy and delicious ways to make eggs - just throw in a complex carbohydrate and some veggies and you're good to go. "Eggs are a cheap powerhouse of whole protein and nutrients that aid energy metabolism and slow blood sugar absorption when combined with carbohydrate foods," said Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesman for the New York State Academy in New York City for nutrition and dietetics.
While you might not consider water a food, two of the registered dietitians interviewed for this story praised water, so it's worth noting. "One of the biggest signs of dehydration is fatigue, as your body is running out of fluids, which means oxygen isn't getting to where it's needed fast enough," Price said. "If you keep yourself hydrated with water, that fatigue can quickly turn into an energy boost, especially if you drink nonstop all day, regardless of whether you are thirsty." She notes that the general recommendation is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water (75 ounces of water per day for a 150 pound person).
"If your urine is darker than light yellow, you are not drinking enough," said Valdez. He added that often times dehydration can be mistaken for hunger, and it also makes you tired.
For a protein-rich, energy-building snack, pistachios are a great option. "They're a complete plant-based protein and offer 6 grams of protein per quarter cup serving," said Gorin. “This means that they provide your body with essential amino acids. In addition, pistachios provide fiber and unsaturated fats that are better for you. This trio of protein, fiber and fat will keep you full longer and provide sustainable energy. "
Energy-draining foods
Caffeine / energy drinks
While this doesn't seem intuitive, Valdez points out that consuming these types of beverages later in the afternoon can keep you from getting a good night's sleep and make you tired the next day. "Consuming large amounts at the same time can lead to a caffeine crash five hours after consuming it, especially if the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep are not achieved," he said. "It is recommended not to drink caffeine for eight hours after you plan to sleep."
Step away from the candy for a lunch nudge. "I love sweets as much as the next person, but I wouldn't eat them for an energizing snack," said Gorin. "Sugary sweets provide a short burst of energy, but then lead to an energy zap."
If you've ever felt drowsy after a steak dinner, you are not alone - and there is a reason for it. "If you order an 8-ounce steak at a restaurant, you get a ton of protein and a lot of fat," Price said. "Since the body can only use 25 grams of protein in one sitting, after you've eaten a steak, your body has to digest and metabolize that extra protein at full speed." She added that since protein is not the body's preferred source of energy, it is either excreted or stored as fat. "Because of these reasons, your energy is drained and you are likely to feel sluggish and overly full."
Smoothies lack the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, making you more likely to crash or feel cravings later. (Photo: fcafotodigital via Getty Images)
Fruit smoothies
A fruit-filled smoothie may seem like a convenient, healthy meal replacement or snack, but without the right balance of ingredients, your blood sugar levels will rise and you will feel hungry shortly after, accompanied by a burst of energy. "Smoothies remove the natural fiber content of whole fruits," said Valdez. “The fiber and chewing required for whole fruits slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Without the fiber and the time lag in chewing, consuming it quickly can lead to high blood sugar levels, followed by a sugar crash on release and subsequent insulin action. "
Low-calorie frozen meals
"If you rely on any of these frozen dishes for lunch or dinner, you may find that some of them are around 300 calories (or less!) And also extremely high in sodium," Price said. Not only does it not provide enough calories for a full meal (and therefore not fuel your body adequately), it also indicates that the high levels of sodium lead to water retention, gas, and a general feeling of fatigue. "If you're in a rush and don't have time to cook, aim for a frozen meal that has at least 450 to 500 calories and less than 20 percent of your daily sodium value."
Foods that will give you the energy you need to get through the day
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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