Exhaustion isn’t a good look on anyone, but it’s all too easy to burn the candle at both ends in the always-connected world we live in. And when that energy slump hits, you need help. But that doesn’t mean downing a dozen cups of coffee or reaching into the candy bowl.
Sugar and caffeine will give you a quick rush, but that’s often followed by a crash. So if you’re searching for sustained energy, look for food with complex carbs, protein, and fiber. We put together this cheat sheet of things to eat and drink to beat fatigue—and a few foods that sabotage your efforts to get pumped up.
The Best Foods
The next time you’re feeling drained, try guzzling good old H2O. Dehydration may actually be at the root of your fatigue. It can lead to headaches, ruin your concentration, and put you in a sour a mood. Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women. Armstrong LE, Ganio MS, Casa DJ. The Journal of nutrition, 2011, Dec.;142(2):1541-6100. So hit the watercooler stat.
2. Chia Seeds
Consider this the green light to go bananas when you’re running low on fuel. In one study, researchers discovered that eating bananas worked as well as sports drinks at keeping cyclists fueled. Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach. Nieman DC, Gillitt ND, Henson DA. PloS one, 2012, May.;7(5):1932-6203. The potassium-packed fruit also includes a bunch of good-for-you nutrients (like fiber and vitamin B6) that you won’t find in a bottle of Gatorade.
5. Green Tea
By now, it’s no secret that green tea has a slew of health benefits. You can add putting some pep back in your step to the long list. The combination of caffeine and L-theanine give you energy without the jitters. Bonus: Research suggests that green tea boosts brainpower as well, which may come in handy when you’re down to the wire at work. Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing. Schmidt A, Hammann F, Wölnerhanssen B. Psychopharmacology, 2014, Mar.;231(19):1432-2072. Take the time to brew the tea yourself because store-bought varieties often have lots of added sugar.
The cozy breakfast food—though, let’s be honest, you can enjoy it any time of the day—will keep energy levels up. That’s because it’s high in fiber and comes with a decent dose protein. Plus, oatmeal has a low glycemic load, a fancy scientific way of saying it stabilizes blood sugar levels. (Just make sure to steer clear of instant oatmeal packets, which can be packed with sugar and salt.) Oatmeal is also super versatile—just take a look at these 30 delicious recipes to keep food boredom at bay.
Beans keep you going thanks to a stellar trio of carbs, protein, and fiber. The protein fills you up, the carbs provide energy, and the fiber helps regulate blood sugar. Black beans in particular are your BFFs when it comes to an energy boost—try this black bean soup recipe next time your tank needs refilling.
9. Whole-Wheat Bread
Your body needs carbs for energy, but not all carbs are created equal. Whole-wheat bread is great for a long-lasting energy kick. It's is a complex carb, meaning it raises your blood sugar gradually instead of hiking it up at turbo-speed.
Foods to Avoid
Sure, honey has some serious health benefits, but it’s not something you should be reaching for if you’re looking for sustained energy. Adding a few teaspoons to your tea or yogurt will give a quick rush of energy that spikes your blood sugar, which means a crash can follow.
2. Energy Drinks
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, don’t reach for a Red Bull. Research suggests energy drinks may do little to curb sleepiness. A high sugar content, low caffeine drink does not alleviate sleepiness but may worsen it. Anderson C, Horne JA. Human psychopharmacology, 2006, Sep.;21(5):0885-6222. The combination of caffeine and sugar puts your body through the ringer and may just leave you feeling dehydrated and fatigued.
3. White Bread
There’s a reason you’re always hearing about sugar crashes. As anyone who’s made their way through their Halloween loot can attest, an energy low inevitably follows. While sweets may give you a quick hit of energy, it’s only a matter of time before you once again find yourself dragging. After all, candy’s made up of simple carbs and sugar (which spikes blood sugar only to let it drop way back down). How sweet it isn’t.
5. Junk food
It’s a cruel fact of life that the most accessible, easy-to-grab, and oh-so delicious foods wreck havoc on energy levels. Research has found that diets high in processed food tend to lead to weight gain and a more sedentary lifestyle. Food quality and motivation: a refined low-fat diet induces obesity and impairs performance on a progressive ratio schedule of instrumental lever pressing in rats. Blaisdell AP, Lau YL, Telminova E. Physiology & behavior, 2014, Feb.;128():1873-507X. Talk about a lose-lose situation.