The Top 10 Best Foods to Boost Your Energy Levels


We’ve all experienced that mid-afternoon slump. Your eyes get heavy, it takes effort just to get yourself out of your chair, and you’re just not feeling motivated! Your first instinct might be to reach for a cup of coffee or a sugary snack to give you a quick boost – and this desire is completely understandable. But while you may get a quick energy boost, that feeling fades quickly and can leave you depleted and craving more sweets.

While it’s true that your body converts food into energy, different kinds of foods are converted to energy at different rates. There are certain foods you can eat — such as candy and other simple sugars — that will give you a quick lift. Others — such as whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats — give you more sustained energy to draw on throughout the day.

Top 10 foods for an energy boost

Here are the top 10 foods to boost your energy levels. They’re high in protein, vitamins, and minerals to help you feel alert, awake and functioning at the top of your game all day long. Bonus, they taste great too!

1. Nuts

Almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts are high in magnesium, a mineral that plays a key role in helping the body convert food into energy. (1)

close up of hands holding almonds

Almonds contain a lot of healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Nuts are also filled with fiber which helps to keep your bowels regular and makes you feel full (important if you’re trying to manage your weight). They’re also a good source of protein to help fill you up and keep your muscles strong. The fat found in nuts is mostly monounsaturated, the kind that may help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. (2)

Their higher fat content also comes with higher calorie content, so portion control is key! Keep a bag of mixed nuts in your desk drawer and snack sensibly to keep your energy levels up.

2. Fatty fish

There’s nothing fishy going on here! Not only is fatty fish a great source of muscle-building protein but it’s also a good source of omega-3 fats that can lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. (3)

Fatty fish like salmon are also a good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B6, niacin and riboflavin— all of which are important for making sure the body’s cells are functioning properly. Consuming fish also helps the body convert food into energy. (4)

Did you know?
Grilled salmon served on top of salads is an easy and fast meal. Use low-sodium sauce, orange-ginger or lemon-dill for seasoning.

3. Low-fat dairy

Packed with calcium and protein, yogurt makes a great snack choice! Some yogurts also contain probiotics (good bacteria for a healthy gut) and vitamin D (an important bone-building nutrient). (5)

Greek varieties can deliver nearly twice the amount of hunger-satisfying protein as regular varieties, making them a great way to fuel your day! (6)

The carbohydrates in yogurt are mainly in the form of simple sugars, including lactose and galactose. When broken down, these sugars provide the body with a read-to-use source of energy. (7) But don’t worry, the protein in the yogurt will help to slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, helping you avoid the dreaded sugar crash.

almond and oats in yogurt

The high protein content of Greek yogurt makes it a more filling and hearty snack, helping to keep you energized. It’s also great added to smoothies or mixed fruit and whole-grain cereal for breakfast.

Did you know?
Overall, it’s best to choose low-fat varieties of yogurt, with little added sugars. (6) Amp up the flavor by adding some granola, nuts or fruit.

4. Leafy green vegetables

The good news about greens — they are nutrient-dense! This means that they are low in calories but high in nutrients. They are rich in calcium, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C. (8) They also contain high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium. (9)

Because of their high antioxidant content, green leafy vegetables — including spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy — may be one of the best cancer-preventing foods. Studies have shown that eating 2 to 3 servings of green leafy vegetables per week may lower the risk of breast, skin and stomach cancer. (9)

Broccoli, bok choy and mustard greens are rich in many of the B-vitamins which we already know helps our body convert food into energy. (4)

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency. (10) Leafy greens like spinach and kale are good sources of iron to replenish your body’s stores, and a good source of vitamin C to help enhance the absorption of iron in the body. (11)

Iron plays an important role in the production of red blood cells which effectively deliver oxygen to all the cells of your body. This process helps to fight fatigue. (10)

There are many ways to enjoy those leafy greens! They make a great addition to sandwiches, soups, stir-fries, and omelets!

5. Whole grains

Whole grains are grains that have undergone the least amount of processing. This means that all three parts of the grain are intact, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. (12)

Whole grains are found in foods such as amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, kamut, millet, quinoa, rolled oats, spelt and wheat. (12)

Eating whole grains provide the body fiber which helps to prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar after your meal. This means a more sustained release of energy and fewer energy-crashes compared to when you eat refined carbohydrates in sugary or highly processed snacks. (13)

So start your day with a hearty bowl of oatmeal to help keep you full until lunch. Or snack on some whole-grain crackers to help keep you going throughout the afternoon.

6. High-fiber fruit

Many areas in nutrition tend to elicit controversy, but dietary fiber isn’t one of them. Consuming a variety of fibers is the best way to maximize the benefits of a high-fiber diet. (14)

The US Dietary Guidelines suggest a daily dietary fiber intake of 14g per 1000kcal which is about 25g a day for women and 38g a day for men. (15)

Whole grains are not the only way to reap the benefits of a sustained release of energy from fiber and meet your daily fiber goals. Certain fruits can help you realize your full fiber potential. Fruits that are higher in fiber include avocado, blackberries, dried figs, dried prunes, elderberries, guava, pears, and raspberries. (14)

pears in a bowl and on the table

Pears are a mildly sweet fruit with a fibrous center. They are rich in important antioxidants and dietary fiber and increase your feeling of satiety after a meal. Pears also decrease the rise in blood sugar after a high-carb meal.

Keep your energy levels up all afternoon by including some avocado in your sandwich at lunch, snacking on some trail mix with dried figs or enjoying some Greek yogurt topped with raspberries.

7. Seeds

Seeds, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds can also help boost your energy levels.

With a nutritional profile similar to nuts, these super seeds are chock full of heart-healthy fiber, essential fats, and protein to help give you long-lasting energy. (2)

Eating a variety of different seeds throughout the week will ensure that you get a healthy dose of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc which help the body carry out chemical reactions such as breaking down food to give you energy. (16)

So go ahead and sprinkle some seeds in yogurt, cereal or salads to boost your energy levels.

8. Pulses

Pulses are part of the legume family (any plant that grows in a pod), but the term ‘pulse’ refers to only the dry edible seeds within the pod. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas are the most common types of pulses. (17)

Pulses are rich in nutrients and a great source of natural energy. Even though there are a variety of pulses, their nutrient profiles are similar. They provide protein and fiber, as well as a significant amount of folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc — which are all involved in energy production and help with the delivery of energy to cells in the body. (18)

Additionally, pulses are a complex carbohydrate, so they take longer to break down and digest than other carbohydrates (simple sugars), which helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels and give you a steady release of energy. (19)

mixed raw legumes pulses on wooden spoon

Everyone can benefit from eating pulses. Pulses are high in protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates, and low in fat. These nutrients make pulses an important part of any healthy diet.

Pulses add flavor and nutrition to any dish. Try making a sandwich with hummus, or add a scoop of beans, chickpeas or lentils to a salad or burrito.

9. Lean protein

The concept of eating more protein is no longer just followed by bodybuilders. Today, it’s a mainstream concept that is followed by people all over the world.

Protein takes longer than carbohydrates to break down in the body, providing a longer-lasting source of energy. (20) Protein also helps to satisfy hunger by increasing your satiety. (21) As a result, you’re more likely to skip that mid-afternoon donut in the office break room that will spike your blood sugar and end up crashing your energy.

Lean sources of protein include eggs, fish, lean red meat, milk, pulses, poultry, tofu, and yogurt. (22)

Evenly spreading your protein intake throughout the day is an important factor in promoting protein utilization in the body. (23) So make sure you’re including a source of protein at all of your meals and snacks throughout the day.

10. Water

Although not really a food, it is an important component of food and plays so many vital roles in the body. Water makes up more than two-thirds of the weight of the human body. All the cells and organs in your body need water to function properly. (24)

One of the symptoms of dehydration is fatigue. Even mild fatigue can make you feel tired or lethargic. Your blood volume is lower, which means you don’t get as much blood to your brain and your heart has to pump harder. (25)

So next time you’re feeling sluggish, consider drinking some water to boost your energy levels.

The bottom line

There are many foods that can help to naturally boost your energy levels.

Some are packed with carbohydrates for a readily available source of energy, others are packed with fiber and protein for a slower release of energy. Many of these foods also contain a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help give you the stamina to power through your day.

So if you want to beat that mid-afternoon slump, incorporating these foods into your diet is a great place to start!

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  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  2. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Protein/Your-Challenge-%E2%80%93-Choose-Nuts-and-Seeds-More-Often!.aspx
  3. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids
  4. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/what-are-b-vitamins-and-folate
  5. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Grocery-Shopping/How-to-Choose-the-Best-Yogurt.aspx
  6. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-to-look-for-in-yogurt
  7. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/eating-with-diabetes/diabetes-food-myths/yogurts
  8. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Cooking/Food-Preparation/All-about-dark-leafy-greens.aspx
  9. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/dark-green-leafy-vegetables/
  10. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw166953
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25369923
  12. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Cooking-Food-Preparation/Cooking-with-Whole-Grains.aspx
  13. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
  14. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/063008p28.shtml
  15. https://www.fiberfacts.org/benefits-of-high-fiber/
  16. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
  17. https://pulses.org/nap/what-are-pulses/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25061763
  19. https://pulses.org/nap/health-nutrition/
  20. http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=2180
  21. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/5/1558S/4650426
  22. https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/protein
  23. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
  24. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002471.htm
  25. https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-re-dehydrated