If you find yourself feeling frequently tired and sluggish, you may turn to coffee, caffeinated tea, or sugary energy drinks just to get you through your day. But, these short-term fixes never last for long, leaving you crashing hours later. Did you ever stop to think that your diet itself might be the culprit?
When combined with a full night’s sleep and regular exercise, eating right can provide a much-needed energy boost without the empty calories and potentially dangerous side effects of caffeine. But when you’re just starting to rethink how you fuel your body and mind, simply finding your way through the grocery store alone can be overwhelming in a world full of endless options. We’ve put together the ultimate guide to a super-fueled diet which will have your energy levels soaring in no time!
Eat Small Meals
As caloric deprivation inevitably leads to fatigue, eating meals at regular intervals throughout the day is vital to maintaining a feeling of fullness and those desirable increased energy levels you so desperately crave. This rule applies particularly to breakfast. The morning meal sets the tone for how you feel throughout the rest of the day. Healthbeat, Harvard University’s health newsletter, advises eating small meals and snacks throughout the day to give your body a steady supply of nutrients. Avoid overeating though, as overloading on food often leads to an after-meal energy slump.
Load Up On Antioxidants
Like their name reflects, antioxidants fight the oxidation process, a natural chemical reaction that can cause damage to cells in your body. Though, of course, oxygen alone isn’t dangerous, oxygen triggers the formation of free radicals in your body. Unfortunately, this process can be further accelerated by stress, cigarette smoking, alcohol, and eating foods (such as processed meats and fried foods) that are high in free-radicals.
According to The Atlantic, “Free radicals are also suspect in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, kidney disease, and age-related blindness.” Antioxidants combat these free radicals and protect the cells from attack before permanent damage is done. There are a number of delicious antioxidant sources available. Here are some of the our favorites:
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts
- Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries
- Black, kidney, pinto, and red beans
- Plums and cherries
- Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious apples
Don’t Skimp On Your Omega-3’s
While omega-3’s are necessary for human health, your body can’t make them. Instead, they must be acquired through food sources. These highly respected fatty acids are associated with a diet rich in fish, but they can also be found in plant-based sources. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research shows that:
“Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression, and poor circulation.”
Want to boost your omega-3 intake? Here are a few sources sure to please:
- Fish (particularly salmon)
- Flaxseed, hemp, and fish oils
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, and watercress
Cook Up The Complex Carbohydrates
Eating a diet rich in complex carbohydrates provides a lot of vital health and wellness benefits–such as improved digestion, metabolism, brain health, sleep, and feelings of fullness–but the immediate boost of energy they give you is perhaps most notable. However, complex carbs are not to be confused with their less-beneficial counterpart, simple carbs– i.e., white bread, enriched flour, and sugar. Though they, unfortunately, may taste delicious, simple carbs have been so highly processed that little to no nutrition remains. To take full advantage of their energy boosting abilities, eat complex carbs early in the day. Here are some delectable sources of complex carbs that you probably already love to eat:
- Whole grains
- Fruits and veggies
Of course, our bodies require water to run efficiently, but a lot of us overlook this need out of simple neglect in our busy lives. We do this by not drinking almost anything at all or by replacing water with other fluids like soda, energy drinks, or juice. Instead of imbibing beverages high in sugary calories or suffering the ill effects of drinking plastic-bottled water, carry a refillable water bottle at all times, and remind yourself to drink up throughout the day.
What Not to Eat for Energy
Believe it or not, sugar and caffeine are not where to turn when you’re feeling fatigued. While both provide sudden energy boosts, the results are short-term and can end in a sudden sense of fatigue known as a “crash.”
Alcohol also tends to undermine alertness and energy levels. This depressant tends to give us a lethargic feeling almost immediately, so it’s especially important to avoid if you’re looking for an increase in energy levels and alertness.
Remember that moderation is key! If you must drink caffeine, do so earlier in the day to give it a chance to wear off by the evening…and wait to have that antioxidant-rich glass of red wine until dinnertime.