You can turn to your fridge or pantry to perk up and fight fatigue.
"An energizing food is one that provides sustained energy, either on its own or in a food pairing. This sustained energy can be through protein, fiber and/or healthy fats," Amy Gorin, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, Connecticut tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Aim for foods with no added sugar (or those that contain a low amount of added sugar). Here, 20 delicious options that can help you build meals and snacks that pack in the nutrition — and keep you going strong all day.
Rather than going for egg whites, eat the entire egg. "The yolk is where most of the vitamins and minerals are found," she says.
In addition to their trifecta of plant-based protein, fiber and healthy fats (such as omega-3s), walnuts are also mentally energizing.
According to a December 2014 study in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, eating walnuts may improve performance on cognitive function tests for memory, concentration and information processing speed in adults. Add them to grain-based salads, as a yogurt topper or toss them into a snack mix.
It may be the most basic substance out there, but sipping on H2O all day does the body and brain good.
In an April 2014 study in PLOS One, people who only drank about 34 ounces of water a day increased their intake to 84 ounces and felt less fatigue and sleepiness and more mental sharpness. The study was small — about 50 people — but it gives us even more reason to stay well-hydrated during the day.
"Quinoa is one of my favorite whole grains because it is packed with nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and complex carbs that provide sustainable energy," Melissa Mitri, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
One cup of cooked quinoa also packs 8 grams of protein. "Protein provides more long-standing energy," she says.
Iron is an energy-supplying nutrient because it's a component of hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells that's responsible for ferrying oxygen to your tissues, per the National Institutes of Health.
To rev up your engine at lunch, reach for foods that supply blood sugar-friendly protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates. You can find all of that in chickpeas, which pack 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup.
Gorin likes them because the legumes supply plant-based iron, too. "Getting enough iron helps to prevent anemia, which can be energy-depleting," she says. Vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron, Gorin adds, so pair your chickpeas with vitamin C-rich foods like spinach.
7. Greek Yogurt
A perennial breakfast (or snack) favorite, "Greek yogurt has a perfect combination of protein and carbs for sustainable energy," Mitri says. A cup of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt provides 9 grams of carbs and an impressive 23 grams of protein for 166 calories.
However, flavored versions are packed with added sugar, so top yours with fresh or dried fruit to save on the added sweet stuff.
Matcha is green tea powder, Michalczyk says. "Matcha contains the compound L-theanine, which helps to promote a more relaxed alertness, rather than the caffeine jitters."
She points to a small, randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in May 2017 in Food Research International that found consuming matcha tea can improve attention and memory to a small extent compared to a placebo.
9. Coffee and Tea
No matter how you take your cuppa, it may help you get more exercise.
In a study of more than 7,500 women, those who sipped 1 to 2 cups of coffee per day were 17 percent more likely to meet recommended physical activity levels compared to those who drank less than 1 cup, while those who drank more than 1 cup of tea per day were 13 to 26 percent more likely to meet the recommendations, per September 2018 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Brew sippers report feeling less tired and having more energy.
To kickstart your day high on energy, opt for a bowl of oats.
"Oats provide fueling fiber," Gorin says. One cup of oatmeal cooked in water gives you 166 calories, 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. For more staying power, Gorin likes to add nut butter for healthy fats and protein as well as fruit for more fiber.
Fruit is one of the top foods that give you energy because they provide natural sugar and fiber, which slows down the blood sugar response for more lasting energy.
Wild blueberries are it for Gorin. "You get a more intense blueberry taste from them and they have significantly more antioxidants than traditional blueberries," she says.
12. Peppermint and Rosemary
Next time you're fighting through a midday slump, pour yourself a tall glass of water and stuff in a few fresh mint leaves. Or, for a dinner perk-up, add some rosemary to your water when you're cooking that chicken breast.
Peppermint and rosemary have been found to decrease drowsiness and grogginess, reports a November 2016 review in Scientia Pharmaceutica. Plus, peppermint improves mood, too.
Yep, bananas contain a good amount of carbs (27 grams per medium 'naner). But those are energy-revving carbs — there's a reason why it's a pre-run staple.
"Bananas may be one of the best fruits for energy. They contain a mix of complex carbs, potassium and vitamin B6, which can all boost your energy," Mitri says. A small May 2012 study in PLOS One found that eating bananas before or during exercise was a good way to fuel and support performance.
For one, radishes are hydrating — after all, they're 95 percent water. That makes them a perfectly perky mid-afternoon snack when you're feeling sluggish.
Gorin also likes the crunchy, slightly spicy veggie because they're a great vehicle for a refreshing (and protein-packed) Greek yogurt dip. A snack that combines both protein and carbohydrates is the best to carry you through the afternoon.
15. Olive Oil
This heart-healthy oil might not be energizing in itself, but it's a mainstay of healthy eating patterns. A small 2019 study in Nutrition found that truck drivers who ate foods like root veggies, eggs, dairy and olive oil (and less fast food and animal fat) experienced less sleepiness during the day compared to those who were following a Western-style approach to eating (characterized by fast food, processed meats and soft drinks).
Even if you're not driving a truck cross-country this afternoon, take this as a reason to grab a hearty salad with whole grains and chicken drizzled with olive oil.
16. Dark Leafy Greens
More salads, please. "Dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach or collard greens, are wonderful energy-boosters," Mitri says.
These leafies are also rich sources of dietary nitrates, substances that your body converts into nitric oxide, which opens up blood vessels to boost blood flow and improve muscle function, suggests a May 2021 study in The Journal of Nutrition. Spinach also supplies iron, for a bigger energy-revving boost.
The sweet root veggie shares something in common with dark leafy greens: an abundance of nitrates.
A January 2018 review of nine articles in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that drinking beetroot juice before short bouts of high-intensity exercise helps reduce muscle fatigue. It can't hurt to toss some beets into your next morning smoothie.
Tofu is another plant-based protein that's packed with iron. One cup of extra firm tofu contains 37 percent of the daily value for iron.
One symptom of iron deficiency anemia is fatigue. However, even if you don't have anemia, your energy levels may still benefit from eating more iron-rich foods, concludes an April 2018 study in BMJ Open.
Grab a handful of these nuts for a mid-morning power-up.
"Unlike many other plant-based proteins, pistachios are a complete plant protein, providing all nine essential amino acids," Gorin says. One serving (1 ounce or 49 kernels) has 159 calories and nearly 6 grams of protein, making them one of the highest-protein snack nuts, she adds.
20. Brazil Nuts
The Brazil nut might be the most neglected nut in the nut mix, but you'll want to pluck out this large, oblong nut.
Brazil nuts are packed with unsaturated fats that are good for your heart, fiber that's good for regularity as well as selenium, a powerhouse antioxidant. A small December 2019 study in Nutrire looked at what happens when adults eat the same amount of calories as pretzels or Brazil nuts. The researchers found that both snacks improved satiety, as well as anxiety, but only the Brazil nuts kept blood sugar and insulin levels steady. For you, that can translate into lasting energy rather than taking a ride on a blood sugar roller coaster.
- PLOS ONE: “Effects of Changes in Water Intake on Mood of High and Low Drinkers”
- The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging: “A cross sectional study of the association between walnut consumption and cognitive function among adult us populations represented in NHANES”
- The Journal of Nutrition: “Dietary Nitrate Intake is Positively Associated with Muscle Function in Men and Women Independent of Physical Activity Levels”
- PLOS ONE: “Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach”
- Nutrition: “Prudent diet associated with low sleepiness among short-haul truck drivers”
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: “Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts”
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “A Daily Cup of Tea or Coffee May Keep You Moving: Association Between Tea and Coffee Consumption and Physical Activity”
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- BMJ Open: “Efficacy of iron supplementation on fatigue and physical capacity in non-anaemic iron-deficient adults: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials”
- Nutrire: “Brazil nut consumption promotes satiety without increasing blood glucose and insulin responses in healthy adults”
- Food Research International: “An intervention study on the effect of matcha tea, in drink and snack bar formats, on mood and cognitive performance”
- Scientia Pharmaceutica: “Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalogrpahic Response”