It’s that time of day again. Suddenly, your eyes get droopy. You start yawning almost as often as you inhale. Focusing on what you’re actually supposed to be doing seems more like a fantasy than a realistic probability. Though you could go for yet another cup of coffee, you know that’s only going to lead to a total caffeine crash later. Isn’t there something more you can do to stay awake without drinking coffee too late in the day? There is, actually: you could add more energy boosting foods to your diet.
And no, we’re not talking about candy or power bars or energy drinks. There are plenty of whole, fresh foods that are naturally capable of giving you energy that lasts — and they are healthy for you in many other ways, too. Let’s take a look at how your body uses the energy you get from food, and the best foods to eat to help you get through your afternoon as awake and alert as ever.
How your body uses energy from food
Though plenty of us eat for pleasure nowadays, at its roots (pun intended), food is meant solely for fuel. It is how we provide our bodies with the energy it needs to function. As upset as so many get about calories, every calorie serves a very specific purpose in your body. You need energy to exercise and walk to work and navigate the grocery aisles. But you also need energy to keep your brain alive; to keep your heart beating; to continue breathing. Food is to people what gas is to cars. Without it, we’re not going anywhere.
However, energy is also about choosing the right sources. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the body’s primary sources of fuel. But no matter what you eat, your body converts it into energy. The trick is, different nutrients are processed, used, and stored differently in your body. A diet high in carbs can lead to more energy stored than burned. A diet too low in protein can leave you feeling achy and exhausted as your body literally starts breaking itself down.
Energy that digests slowly and gets used in increments, instead of all at once, is the best kind — and the kind you will want to eat when you are struggling to keep your eyes open. Think fiber. Think protein. Think carbs that come from real grains, instead of processed ones.
Now that you know how your body uses food to provide your body with essential energy, it’s time to dive deeper. Here are some of the best energy boosting foods you can eat. Incorporate these into your afternoon snack so you will never have to fight the urge to fall asleep at your desk ever again.
You probably mostly think of breakfast when eggs come up in conversation. Omelettes and frittatas are perfect for starting your day off healthy. However, eggs are energy boosting foods you can eat anywhere, anytime.
The 6 grams of protein in an egg — found in both the white and the yolk — is more than enough to keep your brain and body on high alert between lunch and dinner. Foods high in protein energize you because they contain amino acids. Amino acids break down into energy just like carbs do, but the process is a bit more complicated, so protein’s energy boost is much more beneficial than that of carbohydrates.
Eggs are extremely versatile, making them easy to add to your lunch or even a healthy mid-afternoon snack. Hardboiled eggs typically take less than 15 minutes to make, and are perfect to snack on while sitting at your desk or while taking a quick break.
Sometimes, protein and fiber together are the key to energy that lasts all afternoon. Energy boosting foods tend to have one or both of these nutrients. Those that don’t usually contain mostly sugar, which your body digests quickly — which doesn’t keep you full for long.
Beans’ protein content makes them a worthwhile addition to your diet, but it’s not just protein that makes them a great source of energy. Another nutrient found in beans, fiber, can contribute to long lasting energy you won’t find in a bag of chips or a salad made of mostly iceberg lettuce. There are about 10 grams of fiber per 100 grams of cooked navy beans — almost half the recommended 25 to 30 grams per person per day. Because fiber is a slow digesting carbohydrate, you’re less likely to struggle to keep your eyes open around 3 p.m.
Don’t limit your bean intake to just your home kitchen. There are many different ways to eat beans besides baking them in a slow-cooker. You can add beans to your salad, make a black bean burger to take to work, or make your own snacks out of beans.
Whole grain toast
When your body and your brain need a burst of energy before a late afternoon meeting, it’s tempting to head to the nearby vending machine for a power bar or a small bag of pretzels. While these aren’t necessarily the worst snacks you could choose, you could still do better. Instead of sweet and salty snacks, pack a few healthy grains to save for these critical moments.
Unlike refined grains, whole grains provide important sources of energy naturally formed within. For one thing, refined grains simply don’t have the B vitamins, fiber and protein whole grains do because they have their most nutritious part removed during processing. For another, refined grains contain sugar and saturated fat, which aren’t very good at providing energy that lasts. You need grains your body will digest slowly — and it can’t hurt to leave the extra sugar behind.
Whole grain toast is perfect for making a healthy sandwich for lunch. However, you can also treat toast as a snack, spreading nut butter over one slice to boost your energy even more. Whole grain bagels can also act as a healthy snack, as long as you are adding the right toppings.
You may also like: