8 Energy-Boosting Foods to Help Keep You Alert

Food—not caffeine or sugar—is your body's fuel for long-lasting energy. These top energy-boosting foods and drinks will help you fight fatigue and keep you alert and energized throughout the day.

energy boosting foods

Aside from the high chlorophyll content, there are a variety of beneficial nutrients found in wheatgrass: vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, amino acids, calcium and others.

© Olga Vorobeva | Dreamstime.com

Instead of reaching for an unhealthy energy drink or soda, try one of the following eight energy-boosting foods.

1. Green Tea

Caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, energy drinks) is a drug, a strong stimulant that actually generates a stress reaction in the body. Try going for three weeks without caffeine. Most people feel more relaxed and less jittery or nervous, sleep better, have more energy, and experience less heartburn and fewer muscle aches. What’s a good alternative drink? Green tea may be the best because it contains vitamins A, B, C and E, and improves circulation and metabolism. Most varieties of green tea do have some caffeine but at levels that are a fraction of that of coffee, colas or energy drinks.

In addition, green tea contains 2 nutrients that offer a wide range of positive health benefits: polyphenols and L-theanine. L-theanine is an antioxidant found naturally only in tea and a rare mushroom.  Consuming L-theanine is instantly calming. Stress, lack of energy, and inability to focus are issues all of us deal with in our busy day-to-day lives. This is why you should be sipping on green tea (either hot or iced) throughout the day.

L-Theanine has been fairly well-researched and is believed to:

  • Boost energy levels
  • Decrease stress and anxiety (provides relaxation without drowsiness)
  • Increase alertness and improve memory and concentration
  • Protect brain cells
  • Increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine
  • Lower glutamate activity (which can be high in fibromyalgia)
  • Boost T cell production (which can be low in chronic fatigue syndrome)
  • Help regulate the sleep-wake cycle

2. Wheatgrass

Wheatgrass is a member of the Poaceae family, which includes a wide variety of wheat-like grasses. Wheatgrass is commonly found in temperate regions of Europe and the United States. It can be grown outdoors or indoors and the roots and stems are used in herbal remedies.

How does wheatgrass boost energy levels? First, wheatgrass is loaded with chlorophyll, which gives it its green color. Chlorophyll is similar to hemoglobin molecules in the blood. Iron is the central atom in hemoglobin while magnesium is the central atom in chlorophyll. Consuming chlorophyll helps:

  • Reduce anemia (a major cause of fatigue)
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Detoxify the body
  • Protect against cancer
  • Aids in wound healing[1]

Aside from the high chlorophyll content, there are a variety of beneficial nutrients found in wheatgrass: vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, amino acids, calcium, and others. But for boosting energy levels, three nutrients stand out amount the others: B vitamins, especially B12, iron, and magnesium. If you’re worried about gluten, pure wheatgrass—just the grass with absolutely no seeds—does not contain gluten.

Wheatgrass is available planted in capsules, liquid extracts, tinctures, and juices. Some people buy seeds or kits and grow wheatgrass at home, either indoors or outside. It is most often made into juice but can also be used to make tea. One of the best ways to incorporate wheatgrass into your daily diet is to add an ounce or two in your morning smoothie, which leads to number 3 on our “energy-boosting foods” list.

3. Bananas

The nutrients found in bananas include B vitamins, vitamin C, fiber, and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  But, bananas best fight fatigue due to the amount of electrolytes they contain: potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium and phosphorus.

Your body needs the right balance of electrolytes to function properly. Why? The body is about 70 percent water, and small fluctuations in that percentage can be felt quickly. As water levels decline, so do the levels of electrolytes needed to keep the body functioning, such as sodium and potassium. This is when the body becomes dehydrated.

As dehydration progresses, the body has a harder time diffusing internal heat, and tension is created in muscles, joints and organs. That tension often first manifests itself as fatigue.  In fact, dehydration is one of the most under-recognized leading causes of fatigue.  As dehydration progresses, other symptoms develop: muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, thirst, dry skin, confusion, decreased urination and increased heart rate. So, one of the primary ways to prevent fatigue in the body is to stay properly hydrated and consume an adequate amount of electrolytes, which can be achieved by eating bananas and drinking plenty of water.

4. Water

Since dehydration is the sole reason may people experience fatigue, it makes sense this can be reversed easily by simply drinking more water throughout the day. Unfortunately, many people don’t drink water at all during the day. Instead they drink soda, energy drinks, and coffee, all of which can cause even further dehydration. Ideally, you should consume half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, a person weighing 140 pounds should consume 70 ounces of water per day. Your water source is important too. Tap water and even some bottled waters contain many impurities include chlorine and fluoride. So you should use at home some form of reverse osmosis filtering or distilled water and take it with you as you head to work or play.

5. Spinach

Spinach is a very nutrient-dense food. Most importantly, spinach is loaded with iron and B vitamins which are key ingredients for feeling more energized! And, it too contains a good supply of chlorophyll. To get out of an afternoon slump, try eating a spinach salad for lunch or add it to your favorite smoothie. (View our smoothie recipes here and our Healthy Happy Gluten-Free Pancake Recipe which contains a variety of the top energy-boosting foods.)

6. Yogurt

Digestive issues are another major cause of fatigue. And, yogurt is one of the best foods you can eat to improve digestion. You can take all the vitamin and mineral supplements in the world, but if you are not properly digesting and absorbing these nutrients, it will all be for naught.

So, how does yogurt fight fatigue? Yogurt is full of vitamin B12 and probiotics—beneficial bacteria that help strengthen immunity and aid digestion by balancing normal flora bacteria in the gut. Because yogurt aids improves intestinal health, the B12 vitamins it contains get absorbed more rapidly by the body, making it great for a quick energy boost. Additionally, many studies have shown that taking probiotics can help fight chronic fatigue syndrome.

7. Nuts

Nuts are rich in protein, which stabilizes blood sugar levels. Having fluctuating blood sugar is often the cause of feeling lethargic after lunch. So, eating protein at lunch (instead of sugar or junk foods) can prevent afternoon fatigue. Additionally, nuts such as walnuts and almonds are high magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, which leads to the final delicacy on our list of energy-boosting foods…

8. Wild Fish

Fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fat that helps you fight fatigue (and chronic illness).  The fish highest in omega-3 content include:

  • Salmon
  • Caviar
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tuna

While all of these seafood varieties contain omega-3s, it is important to know where the fish came from. That is, before you chow down on a seafood platter, learn whether the fish is wild or farm-raised. Farm-raised fish contain less omega-3’s than wild fish. Also, farm-raised fish are often injected with hormones or dyes.  So, if you’re looking for the best energy-boosting foods, go with wild fish.


[1] Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute

Originally published in 2013, this post is regularly updated.

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Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

Jami Cooley is a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant as well as a Registered Nurse, but her interest in integrative medicine grew out of her experience in conventional medicine. Cooley … Read More

View all posts by Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

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