Energy Boosters: 10 of the Best (and Worst) Foods to Fight Tiredness

If there’s one thing the ever-expanding coffee culture can teach us, it’s that we’re a pretty tired bunch. Many people down cup after cup in order to keep themselves from falling asleep at their desks. Getting enough sleep is a clear way to combat the problem, and it also benefits your health in some major ways.

Still, catching enough Zs isn’t enough on its own. Nutrition plays a huge role in your energy levels and the wrong foods can leave you feeling flat, even if you get a solid eight hours of sleep. In order to help you out, we’re highlighting five foods to skip and five to start eating in order to boost energy.

1. Pastries

Blueberry muffins

You can boost energy by avoiding pastries. | iStock.com

Made from little more than sugar, fat, and refined flour, baked goods are complete energy killers. And it’s not just the cookies and cakes you need to watch out for. Treats like muffins, scones, and croissants masquerade as appropriate breakfast foods, but they’re some of the worst offenders. Starting your day with one of these morning goodies won’t keep you satisfied for long and the sugar crash might leave you feeling more exhausted than before you ate. Digging into a bowl of oatmeal or a plate of eggs is a better strategy.

2. White bread and pasta

Spaghetti pasta, wild asparagus

Pasta and white bread are full of empty calories. | iStock.com

Sandwiches on white bread and spaghetti are among two of our favorite meals, especially when we’re short on time. These high-carb foods definitely give you energy, but it’s short lived. Bread and pasta are made from heavily processed grains that have been stripped of most of their nutrition, so there’s little left other than starch that doesn’t look much different to our bodies than a bowl of sugar. Athletes need simple carbs prior to a competition because they need readily accessible energy, so save these foods for times when you’re gearing up for a race.

3. Fatty breakfast meats

Bacon slices

We all know we should avoid bacon. | iStock.com

Bacon and sausage taste fantastic with a plate of eggs or pancakes, but they’re one of the worst ways to start your day. With loads of fat, these foods are difficult to digest. Your body has to reroute the flow of blood towards your gut, which leaves you feeling sleepy. A better bet? Canadian bacon. It’ll give you the same sort of flavor as those other breakfast favorites without doing as much damage. Just keep your portion small.

4. French fries

Ketchup and fries

French fries have no nutrition. | iStock.com

One of America’s favorite foods, fries are essentially starch cooked in oil and covered in salt. The combination of quick-digesting carbs and fat offers a ton of calories and pretty much nothing in the way of nutrition. Pair them with a greasy burger and you’ll be asleep before you know it.

5. Candy

candy bar

Candy bars will initially give you energy but then you will crash. | iStock.com

Whether you like fruit-flavored treats or chocolate-coated nougat, these sweet treats pack a massive amount of sugar into a surprisingly small package. You’ll get a huge energy surge initially, then soon find yourself feeling more exhausted than ever. If you repeat the process a few times per day, you’ll only make things worse. Those with a sweet tooth should consider keeping an apple or banana on hand.

There’s one candy exception and, thankfully, it’s delicious. Dark chocolate gets the green light as an energy booster. Be aware of portion size, though. A few squares are fine, but more than that will load you with too many calories and too much sugar.

6. Nuts

Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios

Nuts are packed with nutrients. | iStock.com

Everyone dreads the mid-afternoon slump, that period when you have a few hours before the end of the day and you feel completely drained. A little snack might what you need to power through the rest of the day. Instead of grabbing some cookies or chips, reach for a handful of nuts. These crunchy snacks are loaded with both protein and fiber, which will work in tandem to keep you full and satisfied for the rest of the afternoon.

Nuts also provide a good dose of magnesium, a mineral that can affect energy levels. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found women had to work harder during exercise and experienced an increase in heart rate when they were magnesium deficient. This means it took a lot more effort to exercise at the same capacity as when they consumed adequate levels of magnesium.

The only downside to noshing on nuts is the fat content. While most of these fats are good for your heart, they still contains a lot of calories. Rather than eating out of an open container, portion out your snack so you don’t overdo it.

7. Whole grains

Close-up of a bowl of wheat cereal with banana slices together in a bowl.

Consume whole grains for energy. | iStock.com/MSPhotographic

Carbs are not the enemy, so long as you choose the right ones. Refined flours found in white breads and pastas give you an immediate burst of energy, but leave you feeling exhausted shortly after. Whole grains like farro, whole-wheat bread, and oatmeal take a long time for your body to digest thanks to a good dose of fiber. This means you’ll have a steady supply of energy for hours. Whole grains also contain more vitamins and minerals than their more processed counterparts.

8. Fatty fish

salmon

Salmon is good for the brain. | iStock.com

Though the brain accounts for just a tiny portion of our total body weight, it hogs 20% of our energy needs. Protein is a good place to start because it helps build the neurotransmitters in our brains, which are responsible for sending messages to the rest of the body. Without enough protein, these neurotransmitters can’t do their jobs properly.

Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are great sources of protein and also pack the additional brain-boosting power of omega-3s. Often touted for their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, these fatty acids also keep our minds in good shape. The University of Maryland Medical Center explained our brains contain a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Without enough, the brain can’t function properly and the body feels fatigued. Getting your dosage is simple, just dig into some fish.

9. Eggs

eggs

The health benefits of eggs are abundant. | iStock.com

We’ve already covered protein, but it’s worth mentioning one more time. Though we usually look at this muscle-building, energizing nutrient in terms of grams, it’s worth learning about biological value. This measure indicates how efficiently our bodies are able to synthesize the protein from different foods. The higher the biological value, the better your body uses the protein, and eggs are at the top of the list.

Eggs are also a dynamite source of iron, which plays a key role in keeping our blood healthy. Iron deficiency, anemia, reduces our red blood cells’ ability to transport oxygen throughout the body. This condition often manifests itself as extreme fatigue, so getting enough iron makes a huge difference in how you feel.

10. Leafy greens

Salad Greens

Leafy greens are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. | iStock.com/KAdams66

Veggies like kale, spinach, chard, and the like pack a nutritional wallop. No matter which green you go for, you’ll get loads of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Folate, also called folic acid or vitamin B9, is one of the more notable contributions these veggies offer when it comes to energy. Livestrong.com explains all eight B vitamins play a role in converting food into fuel that gives our bodies energy. A folate deficiency often results in fatigue, so eating your greens really does make a difference.