10 of the Best Energy Boosting Foods
Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD
These days, we all lead busy lives, and many of us are looking for ways to boost our energy levels to feel more alert and productive throughout the day. While black coffee and various carbonated drinks are definitely energy boosters, the foods listed here offer better ways to increase your energy levels — and they’re actually healthy for you.
Whole grains are a great source of energy because they contain lots of fiber. These complex carbohydrates provide a steady supply of energy without the spikes in blood sugar caused by simple carbohydrates, which usually come in the form of refined white flour or sugar. Whole grains are also a good source of B vitamins, which provide energy and may lead to lower stress levels. In addition, whole grains elevate serotonin levels in your body, helping to boost energy while also improving your mood.
Nuts have a variety of compounds in them that increase energy. They’re a great source of omega-3, omega-6 and monounsaturated fats, which are all good for your heart. Nuts are rich in selenium and magnesium, which your body uses to convert sugar into energy. Selenium, like other vitamins and minerals, helps boost your mood and can help combat depression. Nuts, however, are easy to overeat, so portion control is important. A typical single serving of nuts is roughly 1 ounce, or about 12 almonds or walnuts.
Dark chocolate contains several different substances that boost your energy. A study from the University of Nottingham found that dark chocolate (more than 70% cocoa) may increase energy levels by boosting blood flow to key areas of your brain for up to three hours. In addition, dark chocolate has been shown to have a number of other benefits:
- Chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine and another stimulant called theobromine, which is what makes chocolate toxic to dogs.
- The flavanols in dark chocolate, several studies have found, are beneficial phytochemicals that act like antioxidants.
- The rule with chocolate is the darker, the better. That’s because it contains more of the beneficial compounds and less sugar.
Bananas are great energy boosters because they contain easily digested carbohydrates that your body can use for energy. In fact, they’re one of the few fruits that contain both complex and simple carbohydrates. They also contain potassium, a necessary electrolyte that your body often loses during strenuous activity due to excessive sweating. Without potassium, which doesn’t stay in your system very long after consumption, your body can't maintain normal functions.
There’s a good reason that dates have been a popular snack since ancient times. One serving (usually about five or six) of these little power-packed fruits contains a whole lot of health benefits. Dates are high in fiber and prevent blood sugar spikes. They may also help prevent heart disease. They’re even loaded with potassium, which is essential for muscles and the nervous system, and they’re full of B-complex vitamins, which help with energy metabolism and mood elevation. Just be sure to remove the pits or buy them with the pits removed.
Lean meats are a great source of protein and the amino acid tyrosine. This amino acid is responsible for boosting dopamine and norepinephrine, two brain chemicals responsible for alertness. Protein is essential for healthy muscles, and lean meat also contains vitamin B12, which helps combat insomnia and depression. Lean meat can even help you feel full longer because it takes your body longer to digest protein. The trick is to keep tabs on the fat content of the meat, because it can contain saturated fat — and you’ll want to keep those levels down.
Salmon is perhaps one of the healthiest sources of protein available. Salmon is a fish loaded in beneficial fats: Its omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to improve heart health and boost mood, which may help in turn boost energy levels. However, pregnant people and children should be careful when eating salmon that’s wild caught. Large, ocean-dwelling fish that eat smaller fish, such as salmon, have been shown to have elevated levels of mercury, so these groups of individuals shouldn't consume more than two 4-ounce servings per week.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables like spinach have a number of health benefits in addition to helping boost your energy levels. Leafy green vegetables are rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as folate. Folate is essential for a whole host of bodily functions, most notably for the rapid division of cells, which is why pregnant people are advised to take folate or folic acid supplement. Folate has also been shown in several studies to reduce the risk of depression.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are great for energy because they’re high in fiber and protein. The fiber helps you feel full longer and keeps blood sugar spikes and crashes at bay. They’re also a very healthy form of protein, which is essential for muscle development and maintenance. Most foods that are high in fiber do produce gas when consumed, but you can often avoid this by rinsing canned beans well. If you’re using dried beans or lentils, soak them for several hours before cooking them, and then discard the soaking water and rinse them well. Over time, as your body adjusts to the increased intake of fiber, gassiness will subside.
Tea is not only a great alternative to coffee, but it also contains a small amount of caffeine and has been shown to reduce stress, a major energy sapper. Tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which also helps people feel more alert and can improve memory and reaction time.
These 10 foods don't increase energy by overloading your body with potentially harmful and habit-forming stimulants. They increase energy by improving the overall health of your body, and better health is good for everyone.