How to Choose Food for Lasting Energy

We've all been there...

The afternoon drag hits and it's hard to finish off the workday.

I've written before that the best way to beat it is a nap, but napping is not always possible. In these instances, I often turn to food to help keep me stimulated and energized enough to carry out the tasks at hand. Here's the thing, certain foods make for better choices than others.

Today, I'm going to fill you in on some of the best foods to help you beat the afternoon energy dip. Eating these foods will give you a healthy boost of energy without the energy crash you get from other food (let's call it junk, because it is) that spikes your blood sugar. Their effects are also mild enough to avoid impacting your sleep later in the evening.

For good sources of energy, you'll want to reach for these three things: complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

1. Complex carbohydrates

When most folks think of carbs, they picture things like bread, pasta, and sugar. But carbs are much more diverse than that...

Carbs constitute the sugars, starches, and fibers that can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and even dairy products.

When we digest carbs, our bodies break them down into a sugar called glucose. Your cells absorb the glucose to make an energy-source molecule called adenosine triphosphate ("ATP"). Your cells then use the ATP energy to carry out normal activities... like thinking and moving. ATP acts like the batteries to your body.

Carbs are the body's preferred energy source because they fulfill our energy needs the fastest – whereas fats and proteins offer a long-term energy solution. Just make sure you stick to complex carbs.

Complex carbs get broken down by the body much slower than simple carbs because they have longer chains of sugar molecules. The energy (glucose) they offer lasts much longer because there is more of it.

Some great carb choices include quinoa, oats, buckwheat, bananas, sweet potatoes, beetroot, blueberries, oranges, apples, grapefruit, kidney beans, and chickpeas.

2. Healthy fats

Many people have an irrational fear of the word "fat" that is reinforced by our society's perception of people who are overweight. However, your body relies on certain fats to function properly. And fat is a great source of energy...

Fat is the body's most concentrated source of energy. It provides twice as much energy potential than carbs and protein offer.

When we exercise, the fat that's stored in our bodies gets converted into fatty acids. Those fatty acids then move through the blood stream to your muscles, where they are used as energy. There is also some fat stored within our muscle fibers that is easily accessed as an energy source during exercise.

There is a nearly unlimited supply of fat stored in our bodies that can be used for energy. By some estimates, nearly 20 marathon runs worth of energy. Our bodies convert excess calories (those we consume and don't burn) into fat to use later as fuel. (That's why carbs are so bad for us... The body already has enough fat stores, so why make more with too many carbohydrates?)

Seek out mostly monounsaturated fats – found in olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, nuts, and peanut butter – and polyunsaturated fats – found in sunflower oil, walnuts, fatty fish, and some seeds. These forms of fat are considered healthy. Other sources of healthy fatted foods include avocado, egg yolk, olives, yogurt, dark chocolate, and flax seeds.

Avoid the harmful forms of fat... trans fats, which are found in processed foods like microwave popcorn, margarine, frozen pizza, desserts, and coffee creamer.

3. Lean proteins

Proteins are considered the body's "building blocks" because they are used to build and repair tissue. They also help fight infection and are a good source of energy.

When protein gets broken down by the body, it turns into amino acids. Proteins are complex molecules, so it takes the body longer to break them down and – as a result – they offer a lasting source of energy.

Protein is not usually used for energy... unless the body isn't getting enough calories from other nutrient stores in the body. However, eating protein helps slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood, preventing an energy crash and instead giving you long-lasting stamina.

For good sources of protein, eat white fish, Greek yogurt, beans, peas, lentils, skinless white-meat poultry, low-fat cottage cheese, lean beef, low-fat milk, port, shrimp, egg whites, and bison.

Creating the Perfect Snack

Given all the benefits of complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean proteins, your ideal energy-packed snack is going to incorporate all three nutrients. This combination will provide you with both quick (carbs) and long-lasting (fat and protein) energy solutions.

Seek out whole foods – as opposed to prepackaged snacks – to avoid hidden ingredients (like added sugar). Fresh vegetables and fruits paired with cheese, Greek yogurt, or natural nut butters is a great option. Or you could munch on an egg and avocado on a piece of whole-grain toast.

Also keep in mind that solid foods are better choices than smoothies or juices because liquids tend to make you hungrier – whereas solid foods will fill you up.

So, the next time you need a little boost and can't squeeze in a nap, enjoy a healthy meal or snack featuring carbs, fat, and protein to keep yourself going. What are some of your favorite snack combos that incorporate these three elements? Let us know at [email protected].

What We're Interneting...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 25, 2021