Superfoods you should eat for more energy
Beat the 3 p.m. (or anytime) slump with these expert tricks to eat for more energy
Increase energy levels
We’ve all been there: You could swear you’d had a good night’s sleep, when suddenly, in the middle of a meeting, you can barely keep your eyes open. The reason? It might have to do with what you’re eating, says nutritionist Julie Daniluk, author of Meals That Heal Inflammation. So what can we do to make sure the foods we’re eating will help our energy levels rather than depleting them?
Balance blood sugar
“Energy production starts in our cells,” Daniluk says-and eating too much sugar or high-GI food can contribute to insulin resistance and a “roller coaster of energy highs and lows.” The trick, she says? If you must eat refined foods-that means “white food” such as sugars, flours and other refined grains-balance out the glycemic index of your meal by including sources of fibre (think ground flaxseeds), fat (good-quality fish or seed oils) and lean protein. “If you’re not a big cook,” suggests Daniluk, “supplement meals with protein shakes that balance your blood sugar and ensure an even energy flow throughout the day.”
Get enough nutrients
It’s not just about what you eat too much of. What you eat too little of will affect energy levels, too-especially in combination with refined foods such as sugar. “Refined foods like white sugar and flour deplete your energy,” Daniluk says. “Think of them like a debit card. When you ‘insert’ white sugar into your body, you have to cough up the funds in your account, such as B vitamins and chromium, to complete your transaction (that is, to metabolize it).”
The result? Those same vitamins and minerals are needed to create energy-and you’ll simply run out of them. “If you fail to continually top up your vitamin and mineral reserves,” Daniluk says, “you may end up with an overdrawn account and that can lead to exhaustion.” So if you do have an afternoon “accident” at the bakery, make up for it at dinner by eating a meal rich in vegetables-and the vitamins and minerals that come with them.
Eat this: Quinoa
Among Daniluk’s favourite foods is the gluten-free South American grain quinoa, which is actually a seed-and, like all seeds, high in both protein and fibre, which help keep you full and give you energy. “One cup of quinoa has about as much protein as two deli slices of chicken breast,” Daniluk says, and “its high fibre helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of complex carbohydrates into sugar.”
Eat this: Hemp seeds
They won’t make you high, but these little green seeds are excellent for your energy levels. Canadian triathlete Brendan Brazier, author of Whole Foods to Thrive, recommends whole hemp seeds or hemp protein powder as a complete protein that’s easy to digest, meaning your body doesn’t waste any energy processing the calories. Plus, notes Brazier, “protein ingestion instigates the release of a hormone that enables the body to more easily utilize its fat reserves, thereby improving endurance and facilitating body fat loss.”
Eat this: Broccoli
“Broccoli is a good source of many of the B vitamins,” says Daniluk, which “are required for a number of metabolic reactions in the body, including fat and carbohydrate metabolism for proper energy production.”
Eat this: Dates
They’re full of sugar-Brazier notes they’re almost pure glucose-but that sugar is an important source of energy when you’re exercising. “Glucose is rapidly converted to glycogen in the liver,” he says. “Maintaining an adequate glycogen supply in both the muscles and the liver is imperative for sustained energy.” Brazier recommends snacking on dates immediately before, during or after exercise.
Eat this: Ashwagandha
This herb, also known as Indian ginseng, is an adaptogen, says Daniluk-meaning a food that “helps you adapt to stress while enhancing your energy.” It also improves thyroid function-and low energy levels can be associated with decreased production of hormones in the thyroid.
Daniluk suggests a standard daily dosage of half a teaspoon of powdered ashwagandha (available at health food stores). While some people can take it at any time of day, others may find it too stimulating to take in the evening and should limit usage to earlier in the day.
Try ashwagandha in this buttery paste recipe from Daniluk’s website:
Blend 2 tbsp ashwagandha powder, 1/3 cup raw coconut butter and 1 to 2 tbsp honey. “I find it as addictive as chocolate,” Daniluk says.
Eat this: Green tea
For an energy boost from caffeine without the crash, Brazier and Daniluk both recommend green tea over coffee. It “causes a slow, steady release of energy over the course of several hours,” Brazier says. “Therefore, it does not cause caffeine jitters and places less stress on the adrenal glands.” While Brazier recommends drinking green tea only before exercise, it’s certainly a better choice energy-wise than coffee. If you’re a big java drinker, try cutting back and subbing in a few cups of green tea instead.