My mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. As I listened to her talking to her oncologist about the constant fatigue and her discovery that if she ate some protein instead of taking a nap her energy levels rebounded, I couldn’t help but think about how the foods we choose can either increase or decrease fatigue. I guess I can still learn a few things from my mom.
It’s interesting that we so often go straight for coffee or a sugary snack when we need an energy boost even though those are rarely the best choices. Sugar and caffeine might give you a quick burst of energy, but they also typically come with a sugar crash. Choosing the right snacks and meals throughout the day can make all the difference in whether we spend the day on the sugar high/carb crash roller coaster or simply coast through with steady energy levels.
Making wise food choices can not only boost our energy levels in that moment but can help them stay constant throughout the day. So what are the best foods to maintain energy throughout the day? Here are my top five picks.
Protein is an excellent source of quick energy that can boost us throughout the day. The best part is that it doesn’t take much. A handful of almonds will raise your energy levels and keep you going for several hours. Unlike with carbohydrates, it takes your body a while to turn protein into energy, meaning that you get a solid boost over a longer period of time, rather than the sugar rush and crash that you get from loading up on carbs.
A few slices of lean deli meat can go a long way. Skip the bread and avoid the carbs, but lean meat doesn't just provide protein for an energy boost, but also B vitamins that increase energy, and the amino acid tyrosine that increases dopamine and norepinephrine, which can help you feel more focused and alert.
A salad of leafy greens is filled with B vitamins to increase energy, plus most salads won't weigh you down and leave you wanting a nap. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are also high in protein.
Apple With Peanut Butter
An apple with a spoonful of peanut butter may be one of the best snacks you can have. It offers good carbs, fiber, water, good fats, and protein, making it a perfectly rounded snack or meal that leaves you feeling satisfied and full of energy.
Although water isn’t a food per se, what you drink can do as much for your energy levels as what you eat. Don’t weigh yourself down with sugary drinks, but do stay hydrated. Dehydration can leave you feeling really fatigued. In fact, drinking 2–3 full glasses of water as soon as you get out of bed can help you wake up even better than a pot of coffee. I’ve found water to be so important for controlling fatigue. Drinking 2–3 glasses before I get out of bed makes all the difference in feeling dead to the world versus feeling ready to get up and move.
A snack of almonds and a few chocolate chips or an apple with peanut butter helps me get through the day without crashing, and a salad with lean meat is about the most filling meal I can find.
The next time you feel your energy levels waning, don’t go for another cup of coffee or a sugary snack. Choose a high-protein snack that will leave you energized and satisfied throughout the day.