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July 23, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 1

Eating for Optimal Energy

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Have you ever noticed that certain meals tend to boost your energy levels while others seem to do just the opposite? Although any food or beverage has calories will yield energy (calories = energy), some accomplish the task more efficiently than others. It is up to us to navigate the supermarket aisles using a bit of detective work to separate energy producing food from the energy vampires. Once you understand a bit more about the energy boosting qualities, the search for energizing options, and how best to break up those foods throughout the day, will become second nature.

Get Back to Basics

To find the best options, get back to basics. Dining on whole, unprocessed food will leave you feeling light and energized while also burning additional calories in the process. A study in the scientific journal Food & Nutrition Research found our body uses more calories when breaking down whole food than for processed, packaged goods. This may simply be because processed food has already been processed or broken down in some form.  

In the sea of processed foods, plenty are loaded with fat, sodium, additives, or artificial sweeteners. These ingredients tax our organs even more compared to the whole ingredients our body was designed to digest. Plus, when food choices are high in fat, our body will take longer to digest them. These types of foods may leave us in a mental fog, leaving a craving for a lazy afternoon of TV. A great mantra to avoid such energy vampires is, “if you can’t read it, don’t eat it.” Rather, seek out nutrient-rich whole foods to put you in the mood for a walk instead.  

Establish Proper Timing of Your Meals

As you are making your dietary selections, it is important to establish proper timing of your meals. To maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day, eat every 3-4 hours – beginning with breakfast. After your body has been in starvation mode all night long, a nutritious meal will help to get your metabolism rolling. Now, I am not talking about grabbing any random package from the vending machine.  I’m suggesting a variety of balanced snacks or meals to garner more energy throughout the day. While any type of calories will help to get your metabolism rolling, the energy it provides would be short lived, potentially leaving you hungrier than you were pre-snack. Ideally, each meal will consist of healthy fats, protein, whole grains, and produce.

A Healthier Breakfast

When it comes to breakfast, a healthy start to your day might consist of a combination of fiber-rich carbohydrates (for quick energy) and protein/fat (longer lasting energy). This is a satisfying meal to help jump-start your day and hold you over until lunch. Quite the opposite of the typical fruit juice and breakfast pastry, estimated to be filled with ten teaspoons and eight teaspoons, respectively. This sugary surplus and apparent lack of fiber and protein would most likely lead to a crash in energy levels as blood sugar would quickly plummet. A healthy alternative (and one of my favorites) is bowl of whole grain oatmeal topped with a dollop of nut butter, a sprinkling of dried cherries, and a dash of cinnamon (great for stabilizing your blood sugar!). Delicious and nutritious!

A Good Balance

As I mentioned earlier, balanced meals will ensure your body receives the essential nutrients it needs to perform its best. Certain nutrients may play more of a role when it comes to energy levels than others, yet if you enjoy a variety of foods in your diet, you will be sure to capture those energizing components.  A balance of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, salmon), protein (lean meats, beans, eggs) and carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) will provide an initial burst of energy from the quickly digested carbohydrates while also sustaining energy as our body takes its time to break down the protein and fat. When it comes to carbohydrates, fiber-rich options, such as whole grains or produce, will help to prevent a crash in blood sugar and the resulting crash in energy levels. An apple with peanut butter would be a great combination for a healthy snack. It provides fiber and carbs from the apple, plus fat and protein from the peanuts – offering both quick (carb) and long-term (protein/fat) energy.

Stay Hydrated

Just as selecting the right foods holds the key to energy, it is equally important to rethink our drink. Dehydration is a commonly overlooked reason for feeling tired. This makes sense, as water makes up around 60% of our body weight and plays essential roles throughout the entire body! Water has the ability to ease many of the processes continuously taking place in our body and brain. Dehydration may cause headaches, lethargy, crabby moods, even hunger! While the difference between hunger and thirst may seem obvious, the two are often confused, leading us to overeat when our body is only trying to signal the need for water. The next time you think you may feel a hunger pain, enjoy a cold glass of water and you may quickly feel your energy rising.

The long and hectic days are a lot to handle. Thankfully, a nutritious, well-planned diet will help provide us with the energy necessary to tackle the day.  I hope that this article will help guide you toward the best options to jump-start your day! Remember, calories are energy, so choose your calories wisely and your body (and family) will thank you.

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on the matter!

What are your favorite foods to help your energy last throughout the day?

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  • Thanks, this is what I need to keep me motivated to loose my 5lbs. I will bring in some walnuts as one of my snacks to give me a boost.

  • That sounds like a brilliant idea, Nancy! Those last 5 pounds can be extremely tricky! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help :)

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