How to eat for more energy
Are you struggling to get going in the morning or get over the mid-afternoon slump? Find out what and when to eat for all-day energy
If you struggle to regulate your energy levels, then your eating habits and food choices may need a shake-up.
Read on to discover:
- Should you eat breakfast?
- Which carbs should you eat?
- How often should you eat?
- The importance of B vitamins
- And the best way to get an energy boost
Find out how to eat for more energy with our guides on what to eat for a workout and understanding carbohydrates.
Should you eat breakfast?
People skip breakfast for reasons varying from lack of time, to not feeling hungry first thing in the morning, to believing it will aid weight loss goals. While our individual responses to food vary, and may depend on your specific lifestyle factors, it is well documented that eating a healthy breakfast may reduce cravings later in the day and encourage healthier food choices for subsequent snacks and meals.
If you are physically active or exercise in the morning, you may need to reconsider doing so in a fasted state, this is because studies suggest it may lead to more variability in blood glucose levels, including blood sugar spikes after exercise.
If you do have breakfast, make sure it includes a protein source like eggs, salmon or tofu. Here are some of our favourite options:
Choose your carbs wisely
Not only are they a good source of fibre, which can help you manage weight and reduce the risk of certain health conditions, but some carbs release glucose into the blood gradually, providing the body with a steady source of energy. A diet rich in these ‘complex’ carbs, which include wholegrains, oats, pulses, nuts and seeds, will help you stay full of energy.
By contrast, 'simple' carbs come in two forms, natural and refined. Some fruits and vegetables are high in natural sugars (for instance banana and mango), which can provide a healthy boost of energy when needed. Refined carbs are typically found in processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and sweets, that include white flours and table sugar. These are best enjoyed as an occasional treat as they are quickly digested, releasing sugar rapidly into the blood stream, causing insulin spikes that lead to energy highs and crashing lows.
The best strategy is to make sure most of your diet includes low-GI, complex carbs alongside a helping of protein. If you are a breakfast eater, this will kick-start your metabolism so you start burning more calories earlier in the day and might also help to get your brain in gear, too. The easiest way to do this is to swap white pasta and rice for brown or wholewheat varieties, try using wholemeal flour as an alternative to white, and make the most of legumes and pulses.
Zingy salmon & brown rice salad
Wholewheat pasta with broccoli & almonds
Brown rice stir-fry with coriander omelette
Malted walnut seed loaf
Walnut & raisin oatcakes
Banana fairy cakes
Red lentil, chickpea & chilli soup
How often should I eat?
Hands up if you've lost an entire afternoon asleep on the sofa post-Sunday lunch? When we over-indulge in fats and high-carb foods – especially sugars – we set off a series of chemical processes that can leave us feeling lethargic and drowsy. When you eat, your brain signals to your body to slow down and digest the incoming food – the more you put in, the harder your digestive system needs to work and the less energy you will have. If your generous helping was full of sugar and simple carbs like white bread, pasta and flour, then your brain will also be dealing with an increase of hormones including insulin, the blood sugar management hormone, as well as elevated levels of serotonin and melatonin, that are associated with drowsiness.
Eating smaller meals, more regularly, may help balance your blood glucose levels, as well as release energy gradually instead of in one big hit. Controlling your portion sizes and making sure they provide the right type and balance of carbs, fat and protein is key to this.
The importance of B vitamins...
The B group of vitamins plays an important role in converting your food into the fuel you need to energise your day. There are nine vitamins in this group, including folate. All of the B vitamins, with the exception of folate, are involved in the energy production process. This means you need an adequate supply of each B vitamin for the energy process to work efficiently; a shortfall in any will limit how much energy your body is able to produce.
Eating a varied, balanced diet that is rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and dairy products, should supply the vitamins and minerals you need. Sadly, however, many of us rely on processed, convenience foods which are often lacking in this group of vitamins. To optimise your diet for energy, check out our healthy diet plans.
When you need a quick boost...
As we all know, exercise is key to staying healthy, but sometimes the energy to lace up those trainers eludes us. This is the time carbohydrates with simple, quick releasing sugars are useful. The concentrated carbs in these foods will provide energy to the muscles in the quickest way possible. Take advantage of high fibre foods containing natural sugars such as fresh or dried fruit, or a homemade smoothie topped with honey to give you a boost without leaving you uncomfortably full.
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This article was last reviewed in September 2023.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. Any healthy diet plan featured by BBC Good Food is provided as a suggestion of a general balanced diet and should not be relied upon to meet specific dietary requirements. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.