Put down the mug and step away from the coffee maker. While a cup of caffeine can jolt you awake and help clear away the morning fog, when you need a midday boost, food will always be your biggest ally.
No matter what you eat – healthy or not – each and every food you consume translates into fuel for the body. A balanced, healthful approach to eating can naturally keep your energy levels steady. But, as with all things, not all calories are created equal.
How your body turns food into efficient energy fuel
While any food can be turned into fuel for energy, not all foods are equal. Your body converts different foods into energy at different rates. As a result, some can deliver super-speedy energy lifts (like caffeine and sugars) while others create an energy reserve that you can use throughout the entire day. Opting for these longer-term energy-boosters is key, as you’ll get a steady supply – all while avoiding that dreaded afternoon sleepy spell.
Which foods offer the best all-day energy increase? These are the hallmarks of energy-enhancing foods and the nutrients you should look for.
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When it comes to long-lasting energy, protein is the number-one nutrient to reach for. While protein is perhaps best known for building muscle, it’s also a key player in the digestion process, and it can help you feel fuller and more energized for longer lengths of time.
Protein slows down the rate at which sugar, or glucose, is absorbed into the bloodstream. That helps prevent those dreaded energy crashes that come after a brief spike. This slower sugar absorption keeps blood sugar levels under control and stabilized, helping to sustain your energy for longer as well.
If you’re running low on iron, you’re likely also feeling pretty sluggish. When you aren’t getting enough of this nutrient, your red blood cells can’t carry oxygen throughout the body as efficiently – which can leave you feeling weak, depleted and tired.
Upping your iron intake won’t necessarily deliver an immediate burst of extra energy, but it is key to prevent a lack of energy going forward. Iron-rich foods can help prevent a deficiency and keep energy levels consistent day in and day out.
Fiber – specifically, the soluble kind – is a must-eat for energy. It’s super filling and extra satisfying, adding bulk to your meals without adding a whole bunch of extra calories. And soluble fiber is absorbed and digested by the body slowly, which draws out your satiety to keep you fuller for longer.
When it comes to energy, the filling nature of fiber helps you keep your energy levels more consistently stable. You won’t experience the dramatic ups and downs of carb-, caffeine- or sugar-loaded crashes. Instead, you’ll experience a slower metabolization of the energy-producing perks hiding in fiber-rich foods.
If there’s one vitamin that you can’t overlook when it comes to energy, it’s B vitamins. All eight B vitamins have a connection to your energy levels, as this class of nutrients affect everything from cell creation to metabolism to brain health to mood. And when you’re running low on energy, you may also be short on your B vitamins. Research suggests that low levels of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 can increase your risk for irritability and mood issues.
Vitamin B12 in particular is crucial for energy. It’s nicknamed “the energy vitamin” because it’s so pivotal in helping you stay energized and firing on all cylinders. Foods that offer up plenty of B12 can help you generate more energy on a cellular level.
Overall, opt for nutrient-dense foods
Highlighting the above nutrients in your daily diet can help you get more energy out of every meal. But when it comes to achieving a better energy balance overall, it’s simple. Just opt for nutrient-dense foods over those that are rich in calories but lacking in vitamins, minerals and other must-have nutrients.
There are countless benefits to eating nutrient-rich whole foods – they’re fantastic for your overall well-being and health. But when it comes to energy in particular, opting for nutrient-dense veggies, fruits, grains and proteins can help you achieve sustainable, all-day-long energy. You’ll get a more consistent, gradual energy release that helps you stay steady and perform at your best and brightest even on your longest, busiest days.
Recipes that can deliver the energy increase you need
These meals feature foods rich in all of the essential energy-boosting nutrients mentioned above. When you need to power up, put these dishes on your menu.
Grain-Free Sweet Potato Biscuits with Lemon Herb Butter
Made with almond flour, these biscuits are packed with nutrients. Get the recipe here.
Spring Greens Salad with Walnut-Coated Goat Cheese
A bite of crisp greens and melty, nutty cheese? Yes, please! Get the recipe here.
Chicken Thighs with Cherry Marsala Pan Sauce
This dish’s name hails from its most exciting ingredient: marsala, which is an Italian fortified wine. Get the recipe here.
Mussels in Miso Ginger Broth
It’s difficult to find a more perfect food than miso. Just a tiny bit delivers protein, B vitamins, manganese, vitamin K, copper and zinc. Get the recipe here.
Turkey Meatball Tikka Masala
There are infinite ways to blend garam masala spice, which is used here to deliver health benefits like smooth digestion and a metabolic boost. Get the recipe here.
Chocolate Goji Berry Nut Clusters
Tiny but mighty, goji berries pack a wallop of goodness into their small packages. Get the recipe here.
This story originally appeared on Clean Eating.