Eating for Energy: Foods That Fuel

At some point, most of us have trouble finding steady level of energy. Foods can help—if you choose the right ones, among them whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

energy foods

It should come as no surprise that the best "energy foods" include fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain choices.

© Julián Rovagnati |

We encounter a never-ending stream of products that claim to be energy foods. Energy drinks, energy bars, candy, and processed snacks fill grocery and convenience store shelves everywhere, always promising to provide a delicious jolt of energy.

The problem with many of these products is that the boost of energy relies on refined grains, sugar, and caffeine. While these choices can provide a quick energy spike, they also lead to an eventual crash, which may leave you feeling lethargic and fatigued. Also, people who are sensitive to blood sugar spikes or caffeine may feel slightly nauseated, jittery, or shaky.

Processed foods, including juice drinks, crackers, cookies, or chips, often result in a roller-coaster energy level throughout the day. Typically, they also provide a lot of calories and sugar while coming up short in important minerals and vitamins.

Whole Foods, More Energy

For sustained energy, it’s wiser to choose foods that provide a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These foods break down more slowly, so instead of an energy spike followed by a crash, you can enjoy a continuous supply of energy.

For example, old-fashioned oatmeal topped with ground flaxseed, chia seeds, almonds or walnuts, and fresh fruit provides a good balance of whole grains, complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fat. This meal will keep you feeling full and energetic for many more hours than a slice of white bread with jam or a toaster pastry.

It’s important, too, to combine high-fiber, complex carbohydrates (particularly from whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice) and vegetables and fruits with protein and healthy fats.



Easy swaps in your diet that may boost your energy level include:

  • Replacing white breads, white rice, and white-flour pasta with whole-grain versions.
  • Drinking water and eating a piece of fresh fruit as a snack instead of drinking sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Replacing chips and crackers with nuts and seeds.
  • Choosing fresh fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate instead of a candy bar.
  • Snacking on raw vegetables topped with hummus or peanut butter instead of snack foods in boxes or bags.

Fuel Up Frequently

Eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day can stabilize your blood sugar, provide constant energy, and increase your metabolism. Switching from three larger meals a day to three smaller meals and two small snacks can help you sustain your energy in a healthy way.

It’s not uncommon for us to overeat at our standard mealtimes and, shortly after, begin feeling lethargic. By opting for smaller-portion meals and enjoying a healthy snack (see sidebar below) in between meals can help you avoid up-and-down energy levels.

Another tip nutrition experts offer: Stay well-hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water each day. Dehydration is known to cause fatigue.

If you choose processed, sugary, or refined foods often, you may be setting yourself up for a vicious cycle of energy highs and lows. Fueling your body with whole, unprocessed foods not only provides you with many more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but also gives you more sustained energy to power your day.

For further reading, see these University Health News posts:

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Dawn Bialy

Dawn Bialy has been executive editor of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Women’s Health Advisor newsletter since 2007. Bialy also has served as managing editor for a variety of special health reports, … Read More

View all posts by Dawn Bialy

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