Our bodies need calories to create the energy we need to experience that vim, zip, and get-up-and-go. But it matters how those calories are packaged—whether they’re bundled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats or delivered as refined carbs and sugars. Refined, simple carbs, found in many snacks, cause a spike in blood sugar followed by the notorious crash. Complex foods mediate blood sugar levels, yielding a steady supply of energy. They also keep you feeling fuller longer. When it comes to eating on an ordinary day (as opposed to, say, fueling up on a long bike ride), you want foods that burn slow, not fast. Here we’ve identified eight energy-boosting sources and incorporated them into balanced recipes designed to keep energy levels steady. We focused on breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for buzz-worthy eating that’s fit for the whole family.
Boost your mental game at lunch.
Our Salmon Salad on Arugula is filled with omega-3-rich salmon and iron-packed dark greens. Studies show that too little of either may cause signs of fatigue. Salmon is a top source of omega-3 fats, packing a day’s worth in just 4 ounces. Here it’s drizzled with citrus, whose vitamin C will boost your body’s ability to absorb iron from the greens. Greek yogurt adds a gram of protein to the dressing and has 85% fewer calories than mayo.
Jump-start your day with a dose of whole grains, citrus, and protein-packed yogurt.
Breakfast is the time of day to fire up both mental and physical engines. Choose foods filled with fiber and protein for a quick boost that has a lasting effect. We thicken this Citrusy Banana-Oat Smoothie with whole-grain oats (all forms are whole: rolled, steel-cut, even instant), full of complex carbohydrates that the body absorbs more slowly than refined carbs so you feel fuller longer. Just the scent of citrus in this smoothie can increase your alertness and may boost feel-good serotonin levels. Greek yogurt packs full protein punch: One cup has 20g to keep you full for hours—along with 20% of your daily calcium needs. Added bonus: Our recipe has about half the sugar of those from a smoothie shop.
Pack a snack with protein and fiber, not sugar.
When nuts meet dried fruit, chocolate, and crunchy whole grains, you get a hearty snack with 5g protein and 3g fiber. We sweeten the Cranberry-Pistachio Energy Bars with honey or agave because these sources have a lower glycemic index to better control blood sugar spikes. Dark chocolate provides a natural caffeine buzz that’s mild enough to prevent the subsequent crash (and often excessive sugar) you get with highly caffeinated beverages.
Variation: Cherry-Almond Energy Bars
Substitute coarsely chopped tart dried cherries for the cranberries, and chopped salted, dry-roasted almonds for the pistachios. Substitute honey for the agave nectar.
SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 bar)
CALORIES 205; FAT 10.6g (sat 2.1g, mono 5.1g, poly 2.6g); PROTEIN 5g; CARB 25g; FIBER 3g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 54mg; CALC 47mg
Variation: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Raisin Energy Bars
Substitute golden raisins for the cranberries and chopped salted, dry-roasted peanuts for the pistachios. Omit the coconut and chocolate. Add ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon to the oat mixture in step 2. Substitute creamy peanut butter for the almond butter and honey for the agave nectar.
SERVES 16 (serving size: 1 bar)
CALORIES 179; FAT 8.6g (sat 1.2g, mono 2.8g, poly 2g); PROTEIN 6g; CARB 23g; FIBER 2g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 94mg; CALC 18mg
Build a salad with more than just greens.
Dark greens are packed with iron, which transports oxygen to your brain and muscles, where it is then used to produce energy, keeping you both mentally and physically alert. But a salad can leave you hungry if you stick to greens alone. Our Spicy Bean and Quinoa Salad with “Mole” Vinaigrette one pulls in quinoa, black beans, pumpkin seeds, and a bright, citrus-based vinaigrette—all winners in the energy category. Whole-grain quinoa is one of the rare plant-based sources to contain all nine essential protein-building amino acids. Black beans pack in more than 7g fiber per ½ cup, a filling choice for the afternoon stretch. Nuts are an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral needed for more than 300 reactions in the body. An ounce of pumpkin seeds has nearly half of your daily needs (which, according to Harvard, 48% of us don’t meet). A vinaigrette infused with citrus and cocoa adds a refreshing and gentle dose of caffeine.
Embrace the bean, a plant-based, fiber-packed protein.
Beans are a starchy mix of protein and fiber—a powerful combination that triggers satiety early and keeps you from overeating into a slump. Just ½ cup edamame has more than 4g fiber and 8g protein. Blend with refreshing citrus, Greek yogurt, and heart-healthy-fat-filled nuts for a deliciously versatile Nutty Edamame Spread.