Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, outlines the best healthy foods for energy, equally divided amongst proteins, carbs, and fats.
What gives us energy? Sure, a good night’s sleep plays an important role. But more often, the type and quantity of the food we eat significantly impact our energy levels. Even though all foods give you energy, some contain more key nutrients that help increase your energy levels.
Want to stay alert, focused, and productive throughout the day? Be sure to add some of these energy-boosting foods to your diet to put some pep in your step.
9 of the Best Healthy Foods for Energy
Eggs are the breakfast of champions. They’re both a satisfying food and can provide sustainable energy for your day.
Eggs are rich in leucine, an essential amino acid that helps the body use energy and recover muscles after exercise. They’re also high in choline, an essential nutrient in the B-vitamin family. Choline aids cellular growth, metabolism, and the functioning of the central nervous system.
Additionally, eggs are not only rich in protein but also low in calories. A single egg has 70 calories and six grams of protein, which makes them an ideal base for many healthy meals or snacks.
2. Greek Yogurt
Plain Greek yogurt is a nutrient-packed snack with tons of benefits for energy and appetite.
Different from regular sweeter yogurts, this dairy product has soared in popularity over the last few years due to its higher protein content. One six-ounce serving can pack up to 17 grams of protein.
Studies show that eating higher quantities of dietary protein can improve the regulation of energy intake. Further, it better promotes satiety and appetite control.
There’s also an extra step in the process of making Greek yogurt in which whey—the liquid that contains lactose (the natural sugar found in milk)—is drained out. What’s left is a creamy, rich yogurt with less sugar, more protein, and a tart flavor. The acidity also makes it easier for your body to absorb other nutrients, as well.
3. Lean Meat
Lean meats are those with relatively low fat content. Think skinless chicken, turkey, and meats with the fat trimmed off.
Lean meats are super high in proteins and can keep you satiated for hours. They’re also full of nutrients like iron, which helps transport blood cells throughout the body and keeps our energy levels high. They also contain B vitamins (to keep us mentally and physically alert) and magnesium (for strong bones).
Dietitian’s Tip: For a well-rounded meal, pair lean meat with a side of leafy greens and a complex carbohydrate (like roasted sweet potato or brown rice).
Bananas are among the best foods for energy.
While they’re a good natural source of sugar, they’re also rich in fibers that help slow the digestion of that sugar, making it less likely to have an energy crash from eating them.
Bananas are rich in potassium, helping the body’s circulatory system deliver oxygen to the brain. This also helps the body maintain a regular heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and maintain a proper balance of water, according to the National Institute of Health.
5. Whole Grains
Whole grains are among the best healthy foods that give you energy. Top picks include oats, brown rice, barley, and even whole-wheat pasta.
They offer a “complete package” of health benefits, unlike refined grains, which are stripped of valuable nutrients in the refining process.
Whole grains boost energy with complex carbohydrates that release over time. They also provide other minerals and nutrients that can help balance blood sugar to avoid craving-induced energy crashes.
Lentils may be small, but they’re mighty when it comes to keeping your energy on track.
How, you ask? These legumes are high in fiber, which slows the body’s process of turning carbohydrates into glucose in the blood. This fiber prevents the kind of blood sugar spikes that leave you on an energy rollercoaster: up one minute, then down the next.
Lentils are also low in calories and packed with B vitamins and protein, making them a nutritional powerhouse.
Dietitian’s Tip: Soak your lentils before cooking them for better digestion.
7. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are an amazing source of long-term energy. Healthy fats like chia help your body function at its best and burn more calories throughout the day.
Similar to flaxseeds, chia seeds also contain a high source of omega-3 fatty acids. This super seed is also filled with heart-healthy fiber and plant-based protein.
A typical serving consists of two tablespoons. You can add this energy-boosting food to breakfast cereals and smoothies. Otherwise, you can prepare it as chia pudding.
Almonds are one of the best snacks that boost energy.
Ounce for ounce, they’re among the most nutrient-rich nuts. Almonds are packed with vitamin E and magnesium. They contain about 9 grams of protein per quarter-cup to help you sustain your energy levels throughout the day.
9. Peanut Butter
Other healthy fats like olive and fish oils can help give you energy, but peanut butter is one of the most popular energy-dense foods.
Although peanut butter is high in calories—as are most healthy fats—a little goes a long way for a healthy energy boost. It also contains protein and fiber help stave off hunger and keep blood sugar levels stable.
Dietitian’s Tip: Instead of spreading your morning toast with butter or jelly—which have negligible protein and fiber—top your slices with an all-natural, pure nut butter. Avoid brands with added sugar and stick to a two-tablespoon serving.