Food gives us energy, no doubt about it. The energy we get from food is measured in calories and our body runs off of what we feed it. But calories are only half the story.
When looking at what foods are needed for energy, the spotlight falls firmly on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates form the bulk of our diet and range from simple sugars such as white sugar, through to complex and slow to digest carbohydrates like grains.
Wholefoods and fresh, green foods have a much kinder, slow-release effect on the body. They contain sugars but the sugars are locked up in the complex nature of their structure. The sugar is there but it takes longer for the body to access it and your blood glucose reflects this by not displaying the ups and downs we find with simple sugars and refined foods.
Eating your way to better energy
Consider increasing the following foods in your diet: brown rice, beans, oatmeal, oat cakes, green peas, broccoli and cooked spinach for sustained energy throughout the day.
A diet that is full of quick-release carbohydrates like white pasta and white bread, caffeinated drinks and sweets, might give you a quick energy fix, but will make you feel tired during the day. When you tuck into your morning pain au chocolat, you immediately feel its fast-releasing starch and sugar. Your energy levels rise and you feel good. But as the hours pass, that sudden spike of energy comes crashing down making you feel tired and sleepy.
Slow-release energy foods such as wholegrains and protein-rich foods will give you energy for longer. Peanut butter on wholemeal toast, or porridge oats will put a more sustaining spring in your step instead of that French pastry.
Balance carbs with protein
Protein is needed to help balance the carbohydrates in your diet and keep you full for longer. It also delivers key amino acids that are needed for tissue repair and the production of neurotransmitters.
How much protein do you need? As a rough guide, divide your body weight (in pounds) in half to find out how many grams of protein you need every day. This is best split across your three meals. Good protein sources include white meats, eggs, nuts and beans. You should aim to eat some carbohydrate and protein every six hours and not snack between meals.
Keep energy levels high with 7 of our favourite energy-giving foods (and drinks)
Bananas - packed with potassium, fibre, vitamins and the perfect amount of carbohydrates give you a big boost of natural energy.
Oats – full of slow-release energy and a great start to the day; they’re also a good source of fibre and even provide a little protein.
Chia seeds - provide just the right balance of healthy carbs and healthy fats, as well as plenty of filling fibre. Try sprinkling a few tablespoons into your morning smoothie or adding a spoonful to yoghurt for an afternoon energy boost.
Nuts and seeds – another healthy, afternoon or post exercise snack, raw, or unsalted nuts and seeds are great low GI, energy foods.
Green leafy veggies – are an excellent source of iron, and consequently energy. Heap your plate high with kale, broccoli and spinach. They also provide vitamin C, which in addition to boosting energy levels, helps to support your immunity.
Green tea – research shows that the caffeine and catechins in green tea appear to increase metabolism and cause weight loss . One 12-week study found that green tea drinkers lost over 7lbs more weight than those in the control group, leading the study authors to conclude that green tea increased energy expenditure and fat metabolism .
Dark chocolate – rich in antioxidants, caffeine and nutrients that can fight fatigue, dark chocolate, in moderation, is a delicious way to combat any afternoon slumps.
Water - up to 60% of the human body is made up of water. Even slight dehydration will cause body tissue to lose fluid and function less well, causing tiredness and poor concentration. Drink at least 1.5 litres of water daily.