Feeling sluggish after an extended holiday season and want to be more energised as you move into the new year?
What you eat can make a huge difference to your energy levels, and specific foods can help with improving endurance.
Three food experts weigh in on what to eat when fighting fatigue.
As one of the healthiest grains on earth, it’s easy to see why oats have had a good reputation for so long.
Oats are packed with dietary fibre, B vitamins, and have a range of cholesterol-lowering properties.
Nutritional Medicine Practitioner Kathy Ashton said having oats for breakfast is a great way to start the day and sustain energy levels.
Ms Ashton recommends eating a bowl of porridge topped with berries, or overnight oats with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.
For energy we need B vitamins and leafy greens are just the thing. B vitamins help transform carbs in food to glucose that your body uses as fuel to create energy.
Nutritionist Samantha Gemmell said magnesium is “crucial for energy production” but many people don’t consume sufficient amounts. Magnesium-rich leafy greens include spinach and Swiss chard.
Ms Gemmell said she encourages her clients to incorporate leafy greens slowly, especially if they haven’t previously eaten them in great quantities.
“Start with small changes, such as adding a small side salad to your usual lunch, and gradually grow it from there. You’re better off taking baby steps as you’re more likely to stick to it,” she said.
Raw cacao is a rich source of magnesium and can help fight fatigue.
“If you don’t have enough magnesium, things can really start to slow down leaving you feeling tired and sluggish,” said clinical naturopath and nutritional medicine lecturer Rebecca Warren.
Ms Warren recommends adding half a teaspoon of cacao powder and cinnamon to hot water to make a tasty, caffeine-free tea.
Raw cacao is also delicious in smoothies – get the recipe for our chocolate shake smoothie here.
Bananas and cashews (at night, before bed)
When it comes to eating foods that restore energy, Ms Ashton said it is helpful to recognise the foods that promote restful sleep.
Bananas contain B vitamins, tryptophan, and muscle relaxants magnesium and potassium – the ingredients that can assist with a good night’s sleep. Cashews also contain amino acids that help produce sleep-inducing melatonin.
Ms Ashton recommends eating bananas and cashews as a dessert, making it the last meal before you go to bed. Add a frozen banana and a handful of soaked cashews to a blender to whip up a delicious dairy-free ice cream. That way, you can get the benefits from both foods in the one serving.
Studies have shown that beetroot juice can boost stamina and help muscles work more efficiently.
“Beetroot contains substances called nitrates which help keep our blood vessels open. This means we can get blood, which is carrying oxygen and nutrients, to our tissues more effectively. It is also a wonderful source of iron and helps our body produce healthy red blood cells,” Ms Warren said.
Drink beetroot juice straight or mix it with a range of other fruit and vegetable juices.
Plant-based proteins: Quinoa, lentils, beans
Packed with protein, fibre and iron, quinoa and lentils are ideal foods to reach for when you’re looking to restore energy levels, Ms Ashton said.
“Beans such as chickpeas and lima beans, that offer a slow-release of energy, can help combat lethargy,” she said.
“For lunch, a salad with lentils and hummus will give you enough energy to last until the end of the day.”
A bean salad, a quinoa and chickpea salad, or a chickpea curry are also suitable meal options, Ms Ashton said.
Foods to avoid
If you’re looking to boost your energy levels, be sure to avoid certain foods otherwise you’ll undo your efforts in fighting fatigue.
Give these ones a miss:
It probably comes as no surprise that sugar is on the list of foods to avoid when looking to boost energy.
Ms Warren said sugar creates a rollercoaster of short-term energy spikes and long-term dips.
She advises avoiding sugar, especially in the form of sugary drinks.
While it can be tempting to go for that quick pick-me-up, your body can easily become reliant on caffeine.
Ms Gemmell said part of why caffeine is harmful is because it releases stress hormones in the body, and can burn you out in the long term.
“I don’t expect people to cut out caffeine altogether, so I recommend people switch to green tea. It’ll give you that buzz, but helps with your focus and concentration, and it has a compound that reduces the stress hormones in your body,” she said.
Processed foods, especially the fatty, fried types should be avoided, Ms Warren said.
“Many people will go for ‘comfort foods’ when they are feeling sluggish and tired, such as hot chips, fast food, creamy pastas etc. While these foods contain a lot of kilojoules or ‘energy’, they usually don’t contain many nutrients. So, while you are left feeling full, your cells are still craving the nutrients they need to work properly. It becomes a cycle of being over-fed and under-nourished.”
Hydration is crucial
While choosing to eat certain foods to feel more energised can go a long way, your efforts will be boosted if you stay well hydrated.
“Many people get so busy they forget to drink adequate amounts of water and they get sluggish and fatigued simply because they don’t have enough water in their body for it to function properly,” Ms Warren said.
What do you eat to boost energy? Share your tips in the comments section below.