By David Grotto, RD, LDN
For the most part, your daily food and beverage choices determine whether you achieve optimal energy and performance or crash and burn. To feel your best, the body needs to be replenished with high quality food from different calorie sources several times throughout the day. The key to not feeling “the dip” is keeping blood sugar levels steady. This is accomplished by mainly eating meals that contain carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans coupled with protein sources such as nuts and seeds, dairy, beans, eggs, fish, and lean meat to maintain steady blood glucose levels throughout the day. Fat and protein take a back seat to providing your body with energy when compared to carbohydrates, but it’s important to choose foods that are loaded with nutrients that support energy balance and not just sugary treats that may give you an initial boost but let you down later. Here are some simple but effective foods to infuse your body with quick and sustaining energy.
Hydrate to be Great: Correct! Water is not a food but it’s amazing how many people’s energy levels are tapped daily from not getting adequate hydration. Fatigue is only one symptom of dehydration. Lightheadedness, headache, dizziness, and confusion can also result from inadequate water intake. Drink non-caloric fluids throughout the day, adjusting to your level of activity and time out in the sun.
Muesli: Oats combined with fruits and nuts topped with milk makes an ideal all-in-one energizing meal. Loaded with b-vitamins and complex carbs, oats also contain the plant nutrient beta-glucan, which helps decrease insulin response and increases satiety. A study of adults who ate five different types of breakfasts found that those who ate meals that contained oats produced optimal blood glucose regulation and also felt the most satisfied with fewer complaints of hunger hours later. Here’s one of my fave recipes that makes me feel like an energy factory after eating a bowl!
1 teaspoon honey
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup skim milk or low-fat vanilla soy milk
1oz mixture of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios
1/8 cup mixed dried fruit
Mix all ingredients and eat immediately or cover, refrigerate overnight, and eat the next day.
Calories: 330; Total Fat: 8g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 90mg; Total Carbs: 56g; Dietary Fiber: 6g; Sugars: 10g; Protein: 11g
Trail Mix: Some trail mixes are more candy than healthy goodness, so be careful which ones you choose. Try making your own mix from nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Include dried fruit like banana chips, dates, dried cherries, and raisins. Granola and dark chocolate chunks add great texture and flavor, but remember to use sparingly to keep sugar grams to the lower end of the single digits. Trail mix, if assembled right, can have an ideal proportion of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat. The best ones will have at least five grams of protein and fiber.
Sweet Potatoes: For only 160 calories, a large sweet potato is a nutrition powerhouse. Baked in its skin without salt or sweetener, it is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, niacin, and the B vitamins. It is an excellent source of manganese and vitamins A, B-6 and C. A sweet potato has more than twice the recommended daily value of vitamin A and is a great vegetable for long-lasting fuel. Out of the top five high-fiber vegetables, it has the most carbohydrate, at 37 grams, which makes it a great bang-for-your-buck choice. Try topping a baked sweet potato with peach or tomato salsa. The vitamin C in salsa enhances iron absorption from plant foods.
Dairy: Milk, yogurt, and kefir provide a unique package of essential nutrients, including calcium, protein, vitamins D and B-12, riboflavin, and phosphorus. A cup of milk also has 12 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of high quality protein, which makes it one of the best choices for sustained energy. Additionally, research has demonstrated that whey protein in milk improves insulin response for better blood glucose control while reducing appetite, resulting in decreased calorie intake at the next meal.
Those are just a few foods that I’ve found to be great for cranking up the energy. What foods and beverages do you like to consume to keep you going?