Exhaustion isn’t a good feeling for 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 have to mean downing cups of coffee or reaching into the candy bowl. There are better foods that give you energy for a natural boost.
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 foods with complex carbs (which usually include fiber) and protein.
We put together this cheat sheet of things to eat and drink to beat fatigue — and a few foods that can sabotage your efforts to get pumped up.
Though your thoughts may first turn to food for energy, dehydration may actually be at the root of your fatigue.
2. Chia seeds
Talk about something small but mighty. Chia seeds help with hydration by absorbing 10 times their weight in water. (So, when soaked in liquid, they’re way more hydrating than they look.)
Meanwhile, most of their carbs come from fiber, which digests slowly, providing energy over time. And the fat they contain? It’s the brain-boosting omega-3 variety. (In fact, chia seeds are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids.)
They’re also a complete protein, which means they supply all the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. Does it get any more satisfying and energizing than that?
Consider this the green light to go bananas when you’re running low on fuel. In a small 2012 study, researchers found that bananas worked just as well as sports drinks at keeping cyclists fueled. (They make great post-workout snacks too!)
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. And did we mention bananas’ slow-digesting complex carbs?
With all its protein, fiber, and iron, quinoa is a great food to reach for when you’re looking to recharge. And if you need an on-the-go refuel, whip up a quinoa breakfast bake in a muffin tin and grab one before hitting the road.
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 gives you energy without the jitters.
Bonus: Research suggests that green tea boosts brainpower, which may come in handy when you’re down to the wire at work.
Store-bought varieties of green tea often have lots of added sugar, so take the time to brew a cup yourself if possible.
This cozy breakfast food — though, let’s be honest, you can enjoy it any time of the day — can help keep your energy levels up. That’s because it’s high in fiber (hello, 4 grams per cup!) and comes with a decent dose of protein (6 grams). It’s also the perfect canvas to dress up with energizing add-ins like fruit, nut butter, and seeds.
Plus, oatmeal has a low glycemic index, which means it won’t spike your blood sugar. (Just make sure to check the ingredients on instant oatmeal packets, which can be high in sugar and salt.)
Oatmeal is also super versatile — just take a look at these 30 delicious recipes to keep breakfast boredom at bay.
Almonds are a pretty calorie-dense food, so it doesn’t take a lot of them to ramp up your energy. (A quarter-cup of the whole nuts packs 207 calories, so a little goes a long way!)
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 offers plenty of complex carbs, which means it doesn’t hike your blood sugar up at turbo speed.
Top your toast with some protein-rich PB or a poached egg to create a macronutrient combo of champions.
10. Dark chocolate
Yep, chocolate can be an energizing snack — as long as it’s the right (aka dark) kind.
Despite dark chocolate’s indulgent reputation, its glycemic index is surprisingly low. And its natural caffeine content of just 43 milligrams per 100 grams (compared to coffee’s 100-plus milligrams per serving) might be enough to perk you up without turning you into a teeth-chattering wind-up toy.
Last but not least, antioxidants in the delicious dark stuff help your body release nitric oxide, a compound that dilates blood vessels for better blood flow. When blood flows more freely, your energetic juices might do the same.
1. Energy drinks
If you’re looking for a way to keep fatigue at bay, don’t reach for a Red Bull.
Research suggests that using energy drinks can negatively affect mood and create sleep disturbances. Even prior to bedtime, the combination of caffeine and sugar may just leave you feeling dehydrated and fatigued.
It may seem obvious — and we’re pretty sure no one’s reaching for a glass of merlot as a pick-me-up — but it bears repeating that alcohol is no friend to your energy levels.
3. White bread
While complex carbs keep your energy levels at a steady state, simple carbs, like those in white bread, can take your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. Not what you want when you’re keeping a busy schedule.
As anyone who has made their way through their Halloween loot can attest, an energy low inevitably follows a sugarfest. While sweets may give you a quick burst of energy, it’s only a matter of time before you once again find yourself dragging.
After all, candy is made up of simple carbs, which spike your blood sugar only to let it drop way back down. How sweet it isn’t.
5. Ultra-processed foods
It’s a cruel fact of life that some of the most accessible, easy-to-grab foods can wreak havoc on your energy levels. Research has found that diets high in processed food tend to lead to weight gain, and high levels of processing can strip foods of important nutrients.
When you want something quick and easy for energy, make it a piece of fruit, some raw veggies, or a handful of nuts.
In a world that practically begs you to rely on caffeine and sugar for energy, it can take a major mental shift to realize that nutritious whole foods and beverages are the actual real deal for consistent energy levels.
When it comes to kicking fatigue to the curb, protein and slow-and-steady carbs go hand in hand. Wash down a nutritious snack with plenty of water and let the energy flow.