Maybe you're dealing with a mid-afternoon slump, or maybe it's one of those mornings. Either way, you need an energy boost, stat. And while you could just visit the coffee machine every half-hour, you'll get more lasting energy if you eat energizing foods instead — plus, you'll avoid the caffeine headaches. Plenty of healthy foods not only provide fuel to support your active lifestyle, but also come loaded with nutrients that gently wake you up and increase your alertness. Choose one of these ultra-healthy choices the next time you need an energy boost.
Chocolate — is there anything it can't do?! When it comes to energizing foods, it's tough to beat good ol' cocoa powder. For one thing, it's a natural source of caffeine, so you'll get a modest caffeine buzz without the coffee. And cocoa powder's intense flavor can also perk up your taste buds — and, by extension, your mind. Plus, researchers have found that chocolate boosts the levels of feel-good hormones like serotonin, and that may rev you up to take on the day. Stir a spoonful of cocoa powder into your Greek yogurt in the morning — adding a little honey to make it palatable, if needed — or blend it into your smoothie or smoothie bowl.
Oats might be an old-fashioned breakfast, but that doesn't mean they're dull or boring. In fact, carb-loading with steel cut oats might be just what you need to perk up and feel alert for the rest of the day. Steel-cut oats are a great source of dietary fiber, an absolute must when you're eating to feel more energized. Fiber not only keeps you full — staving off those hunger pangs that can leave you feeling fatigued — but also keeps your blood sugar levels more stable to help you avoid a blood sugar crash that leaves you feeling drained of your energy. Eat traditional steel-cut oats with fruit in the morning, or cook your oats in chicken broth and add frozen veggies for savory version.
Healthy fats are a must when you're trying to keep your energy levels up, and as a source of unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are one of your best options. Fat in general is a great source of calories, so it literally provides energy you need to get through a busy day. But the omega-3 fatty acids offer added benefits — they nourish your nervous system to keep your brain sharp, and help you avoid the depression and fatigue that can stem from an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. Add a handful of chopped walnuts to your steel-cut oats, snack on 'em on their own or add them to salads.
If it's been awhile since you started your day with some scrambled (or fried, or poached, or hard-boiled…) eggs, it's time to give them another chance. Not only do eggs supply energy from their healthy fats and protein, but they're also packed with another energy-boosting nutrient — vitamin B-12. Getting enough B-12 is absolutely crucial for feeling energized, because it's important for the growth and function of your red blood cells, the cells that supply your tissues with oxygen. Without oxygen, your cells can't produce energy — and without enough healthy red blood cells, you'll develop an anemia that can leave you extremely fatigued. B-12 is found in most animal-derived foods, so eat your eggs with a glass of milk on the side for an added boost. Here are 8 easy ways to make eggs.
Green tea might get plenty of attention for its many health benefits, but if you're looking for more energy, consider giving oolong tea a try. Oolong tea is made from leaves that are partially fermented, but not as fermented as the leaves in black tea. That means it occupies a niche between green tea and black tea is flavor and, more importantly, health benefits. You'll get slightly more energy-boosting caffeine than you would with green tea, and more beneficial antioxidants (like catechins) than you do with black tea — not to mention plenty of deliciousness. Steep a mug of oolong for an all-natural pick-me-up, and add a slice of fresh fig for added flavor.
If you've ever temporarily fallen off the "clean eating" wagon and felt the bloating and fatigue that comes along with it, you already know a diet packed with veggies is essential for feeling your best. But some vegetables are more beneficial than others, and broccoli is one of the best. That's because it's loaded with folate, also called vitamin B-9. Like vitamin B-12, folate plays an important role in helping your body make new red blood cells — and low levels of folate can cause anemia that will make you tired 24/7. Lentils and spinach are also great sources of this nutrient, so make your meal a triple threat by combining them in a spicy and comforting broccoli dal.
Managing your sugar intake is important for staying alert and energized, since too much sugar can make you feel drained. But if you need a quick little burst of energy, a little bit is OK. Simple sugars, like honey, are your cells' preferred source of energy, and they digest quickly for an almost-instant energy lift. The trick is to combine simple sugars with complex carbs, fat or protein, which will sustain the energy boost. So add some honey to your steel-cut oats or your smoothie, or use it to make a homemade dressing for a chicken and kale salad.
Cayenne (and Other Spicy Foods)
If you need to wake up, it's time to turn up the heat — in your food, that is. Spicy fare gets your adrenaline pumping, which is why you might notice that your heart rate increases, you break a slight sweat and you're suddenly much more alert. Cayenne, spicy red pepper flakes and hot sauces are the best seasonings to get capsaicin (the spicy compound with those energizing benefits), so include them in your meals whenever you need a boost. Add red pepper flakes to your avo toast in the morning, serve poached eggs with sriracha or add hot sauce to your favorite salad dressing to feel more alert ASAP.
If you're looking for an afternoon snack that's both simple and energizing, you can't go wrong with a tangerine. Like most fruits, tangerines are intensely hydrating — so they can pick up your energy if you're feeling sluggish from mild dehydration. They're also high in vitamin C, a nutrient your cells use to create energy. More than that, though, the scent of citrus gives you a natural pick-me-up. Researchers have found that citrus scents stimulate your nervous system, so taking time the savor the scent of your tangerine should leave you feeling more alert and happy. Tangerines taste amazing on their own, but you can also add tangerine sections to your favorite salad for a burst of sunny flavor.