Everyone has to eat—food is the only source of fuel your body has. But, not every food is equal in providing energy.
Sluggishness is caused by all sorts of factors, but poor nutrition is major. However, if you balance your daily diet correctly, the resulting energy boost will be readily apparent. Vanessa Provins, a registered dietitian at Porter Hospital in Valparaiso, Ind., had some advice on how to keep going throughout the day. “Everyone is going to need different levels of nutrients and calories depending on how active they are,” she says. A teenager playing soccer is going to need a much higher level of calories in order to keep energized than a white-collar office worker who will spend most of the day sitting at a desk. But Provins suggests the best way to sustain a high level of energy throughout the day is by maintaining a steady level of blood sugar. One easy way to keep your glucose level steady is sticking with regular meal and snack times.
Provins offers additional recommendations for getting the most energy out of your diet:
• Breakfast is an especially important meal. It’s one of the easiest and most common meals to skip—but it breaks the overnight fasting period (hence “break-fast”) to replenish your glucose supply. When you wake up, your body has likely gone as long as 12 hours without food, and skipping breakfast will keep your body in a reduced metabolism mode to conserve energy.
• Snacks are also a great way to refuel your body. They get a bad rap sometimes, but as long as they’re not full of empty calories they can be the difference between remaining alert or nodding off throughout the day.
• “Get five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” Provins says. Yes, this advice is everywhere, but it’s honestly the easiest way to eat healthier. Forget about fancy diets, just eat more fruits and vegetables—that’s it. The more colorful and varied the vegetables, the better. Often, differently hued fruits and veggies offer particular nutrient combinations.
• Unsaturated fats are better than saturated—it’s easy to tell the difference because saturated fats are solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are liquid. Try olive oil—or better yet, sunflower or sesame oil—instead of butter. Avocados are another superb choice.
• Lean meat is an important part of diet, but should be limited: “Six to seven ounces or less per day,” Provins says.
• Eat more whole grains. Oatmeal is a perfect example—oats are low on the glycemic index, which means energy is released more steadily throughout the day rather than a quick and short-lived rush. She recommends whole grain pastas and brown rice for meals, and popcorn for a good whole grain snack.
• Legumes go hand-in-hand with grains. Beans, peanuts, peas. They provide fiber, are good sources of protein and stabilize blood sugar. Peanut butter on wheat bread is a great combination. Try some raisins or chocolate chips in the middle for a sweet treat.
• Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration. You don’t need eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, but you do need to make sure you’re getting enough fluids.
• Stay away from so-called energy drinks. They’re simply not necessary if you’re getting proper mealtime nutrition, and they’re filled with empty calories that give you a quick but short-lived jump in energy, leading to a crash.