It’s that time of day again. Suddenly, your eyes get droopy. You start yawning almost as often as you inhale. Focusing on what you’re actually supposed to be doing seems more like a fantasy than a realistic probability. Though you could go for yet another cup of coffee, you know that’s only going to lead to a total caffeine crash later. Isn’t there something more you can do to stay awake without drinking coffee too late in the day? There is, actually: you could add more energy boosting foods to your diet.
And no, we’re not talking about candy or power bars or energy drinks. There are plenty of whole, fresh foods that are naturally capable of giving you energy that lasts — and they are healthy for you in many other ways, too. Let’s take a look at how your body uses the energy you get from food, and the best foods to eat to help you get through your afternoon as awake and alert as ever.
How your body uses energy from food
Though plenty of us eat for pleasure nowadays, at its roots (pun intended), food is meant solely for fuel. It is how we provide our bodies with the energy it needs to function. As upset as so many get about calories, every calorie serves a very specific purpose in your body. You need energy to exercise and walk to work and navigate the grocery aisles. But you also need energy to keep your brain alive; to keep your heart beating; to continue breathing. Food is to people what gas is to cars. Without it, we’re not going anywhere.
However, energy is also about choosing the right sources. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the body’s primary sources of fuel. But no matter what you eat, your body converts it into energy. The trick is, different nutrients are processed, used, and stored differently in your body. A diet high in carbs can lead to more energy stored than burned. A diet too low in protein can leave you feeling achy and exhausted as your body literally starts breaking itself down.
Energy that digests slowly and gets used in increments, instead of all at once, is the best kind — and the kind you will want to eat when you are struggling to keep your eyes open. Think fiber. Think protein. Think carbs that come from real grains, instead of processed ones.
Now that you know how your body uses food to provide your body with essential energy, it’s time to dive deeper. Here are some of the best energy boosting foods you can eat. Incorporate these into your afternoon snack so you will never have to fight the urge to fall asleep at your desk ever again.
You probably mostly think of breakfast when eggs come up in conversation. Omelettes and frittatas are perfect for starting your day off healthy. However, eggs are energy boosting foods you can eat anywhere, anytime.
The 6 grams of protein in an egg — found in both the white and the yolk — is more than enough to keep your brain and body on high alert between lunch and dinner. Foods high in protein energize you because they contain amino acids. Amino acids break down into energy just like carbs do, but the process is a bit more complicated, so protein’s energy boost is much more beneficial than that of carbohydrates.
Eggs are extremely versatile, making them easy to add to your lunch or even a healthy mid-afternoon snack. Hardboiled eggs typically take less than 15 minutes to make, and are perfect to snack on while sitting at your desk or while taking a quick break.
Sometimes, protein and fiber together are the key to energy that lasts all afternoon. Energy boosting foods tend to have one or both of these nutrients. Those that don’t usually contain mostly sugar, which your body digests quickly — which doesn’t keep you full for long.
Beans’ protein content makes them a worthwhile addition to your diet, but it’s not just protein that makes them a great source of energy. Another nutrient found in beans, fiber, can contribute to long lasting energy you won’t find in a bag of chips or a salad made of mostly iceberg lettuce. There are about 10 grams of fiber per 100 grams of cooked navy beans — almost half the recommended 25 to 30 grams per person per day. Because fiber is a slow digesting carbohydrate, you’re less likely to struggle to keep your eyes open around 3 p.m.
Don’t limit your bean intake to just your home kitchen. There are many different ways to eat beans besides baking them in a slow-cooker. You can add beans to your salad, make a black bean burger to take to work, or make your own snacks out of beans.
Whole grain toast
When your body and your brain need a burst of energy before a late afternoon meeting, it’s tempting to head to the nearby vending machine for a power bar or a small bag of pretzels. While these aren’t necessarily the worst snacks you could choose, you could still do better. Instead of sweet and salty snacks, pack a few healthy grains to save for these critical moments.
Unlike refined grains, whole grains provide important sources of energy naturally formed within. For one thing, refined grains simply don’t have the B vitamins, fiber and protein whole grains do because they have their most nutritious part removed during processing. For another, refined grains contain sugar and saturated fat, which aren’t very good at providing energy that lasts. You need grains your body will digest slowly — and it can’t hurt to leave the extra sugar behind.
Whole grain toast is perfect for making a healthy sandwich for lunch. However, you can also treat toast as a snack, spreading nut butter over one slice to boost your energy even more. Whole grain bagels can also act as a healthy snack, as long as you are adding the right toppings.
Though you can’t eat this fruit’s peel, what’s inside could change your life. Well, it could manage to keep you awake long enough to power through your usual afternoon slump before you leave the office, at least.
Bananas are best known for their abundance of potassium, but that’s not all they are good for. A single banana will provide 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein. This means eating a banana at lunch or having one as an afternoon snack can significantly boost your daily fiber intake, making you more energetic than you’ve ever been before.
You could keep things simple and eat a whole banana at your desk. But you could also mix things up, and add fresh banana slices to a bowl of dry cereal, or dip them in nut butter. Fresh bananas are your best bet, since dried banana chips tend to be higher in sugar and other unwanted ingredients. Dried fruit might serve as an energy boosting food for awhile … but the energy certainly will not last.
Salmon is rich in protein, which does a lot more than build muscle after physical activity. Diets high in protein (20 to 30 percent of daily calories) have been shown to improve feelings of fullness and energy balance. In short, including protein in your meals and snacks can make you feel fuller, faster. But the energy high-protein foods provide is enough of a boost, in tandem with other nutrients like fiber, to keep you energized all day.
That’s not the only reason salmon is good for you, though. Salmon also contains omega-3 fatty acids. According to The Nutrition Source, omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart. Eating heart-healthy fish, like salmon and tuna, can decrease your risk of developing heart disease — and improve your cholesterol, too. Want to lose weight, while keeping up your energy levels at the same time? Salmon is also relatively lean, so one serving won’t pack on excess calories, carbs, or fat.
Incorporate salmon into your lunch to give you energy that lasts the rest of the day. These salmon recipes might give you a few simple (and delicious) ideas.
Plant based foods are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. They contain zero cholesterol, don’t have saturated fat, and typically rank low in the calorie department. Foods that originate from plants tend to contain healthy fats, protein, and plenty of fiber. As you already know, all of these nutrients are important for providing your body with energy. Chia seeds are certainly no exception.
Chia seeds are especially beneficial for you, since you can pretty much add them to almost anything. They contain fiber for optimal digestion, protein for maintaining energy balance, and omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. Separately, these are all benefits that can provide you with a much-needed energy boost later in the afternoon. However, this combination of nutrients makes them one of the best things you can try to help you stay awake.
You don’t even have to eat them on their own — pair them with other foods. Add chia seeds to yogurt, oatmeal, or a refreshing afternoon smoothie. You can even bake chia seeds into homemade muffins and breads to add more texture and healthy fat to whatever you are snacking on. Once you get used to the texture, you barely even notice they are there.
Nut butters are excellent spreads for those who like a little substance on their breads or bagels. However, they’re not very convenient to pack or eat on the go. However, these butters originate from nuts — which are often healthier than nut spreads.
Like chia seeds, nuts come loaded with all the energy-boosting essentials. They are packed with protein and high in fiber. Nuts also contain healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, which keep your heart healthy so blood can supply oxygen to all your organs. Transportation-wise, nuts are some of the easiest foods to take with you to work. There’s no prep, refrigeration, or reheating required. Just grab a small serving out of the container at home, dump it into a plastic baggie, and carry that with you wherever you go.
The only thing to watch out for is their calorie density. Nuts pack a lot of calories into each bite-sized piece. Almonds, for example, have 7 calories each. Peanuts are 160 calories per ounce; cashews have 157. You can toss a few nuts into a salad or your bowl of oatmeal, but try not to overdo it. Though it may seem impossible, you can take a small handful of nuts out of a container and walk away. Believe in yourself. You can do it.
Like beans, bananas, chia seeds and nuts, oatmeal belongs in the plant based food category. Oatmeal is one of many energy boosting foods because oats have plenty of fiber and them — and very little sugar. As long as you are choosing the right oatmeal to have for your afternoon snack, you will find these benefits are important for both energy and overall health.
Instant oatmeal likely won’t give you long lasting energy. This is because most “just add water” cups and packets are made to last a long time on shelves. Added sugars commonly appear in instant oatmeal to preserve both the product and its flavor. Added sugars neither provide sustainable energy nor any nutritional value whatsoever. You can’t count on processed oatmeal to help you make it through the day fully awake.
Steel-cut oats typically provide the most benefits and the fewest harms when it comes to choosing the right oatmeal. It takes longer to make, but the benefits are worth it. If you want a little more protein in plain oatmeal, just use low or nonfat milk instead of water. However, you can also boost the fiber and protein content of your oatmeal with fresh add-ons. Nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, and spices like cinnamon can improve the taste, texture, and nutrition of an already excellent snack.
There is no more need to struggle through a long, dreary afternoon. Choosing the right foods for lunch and snacks can completely change the way you feel. Skip the extra cup of coffee, and leave the sugar loaded candy bars in that vending machine. These foods will help you stay awake no matter what.