Whether you’re an athlete or you’re just trying to have enough steam to get through your day, your diet strongly influences your stamina level. Whereas eating too much of the wrong kind of food might quickly lead you to run out of fuel, eating well-balanced meals and certain nutritious snacks will help keep you energized.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Generally, simple carbohydrates – also called simple sugars – break down and easily enter your bloodstream to give you a brief burst of energy for activities such as workouts. Simple carbs are in healthy foods such as dairy, but you will also find them in less-nutritious foods such as candy and cakes. Complex carbs are in foods such as whole grains and vegetables. Because your body digests and absorbs them at a slower pace, you get a slow and steady boost in blood sugar. This gives you sustained energy if you’re in for a long day ahead. Fruits have properties of both types of carbs because they contain simple sugars, but they also have fiber, which slows down their digestion. Whereas fruit juice tends to cause a rapid increase in energy, you will tend to get a more gradual increase when you eat a fiber-rich piece of fruit, such as an apple or a pear.
Fats are a big source of energy after carbs. Your body typically uses up all of your carb calories within 20 minutes of the start of physical activity, then starts to use fat for fuel, according to MedlinePlus. As a result, you can improve your performance during a long low- to moderate-intensity workout if you regularly eat healthy fats from avocados, olives, fatty fish, seeds, nuts, and vegetable and nut oils. A healthy pick-me-up snack with good fats is 1 oz. of almonds or walnuts, which offers about 160 to 170 calories, according to “Fitness” magazine. Limit your consumption of saturated fat from foods such as fatty hamburgers and high-fat cheese to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Carbs and fat offer your body most of its energy, but proteins are also used as minor fuel for endurance activities. Protein is also important because it helps you maintain a healthy fluid balance and helps repair and build muscle tissue. Another benefit of eating protein-rich foods is that they often contain other energy-boosting properties. For instance, poultry, red meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds contain iron and B vitamins, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Iron transports oxygen to your organs and alleviates fatigue, and B vitamins help release energy. Combine a low-fat source of protein with a complex carbohydrate, such as a turkey sandwich made with whole wheat bread, to combat energy crashes.
Don’t buy into ads for energy or “power” bars. Although marketers say their bars can help increase your physical performance and build muscle, they likely are more hype than help. In reality, eating an energy bar might be just as effective as drinking a cup of skim milk or eating a piece of whole wheat toast when you are feeling hungry and fatigued, according to Health Services at Columbia University. And in some cases, energy bars can contain more calories than the average candy bar and don’t contain the high-quality fiber, protein and other nutrients you will find in less-processed snacks.