It’s 3pm and you’re slumped over your laptop, praying to the caffeine gods for a boost. It doesn’t help that you haven’t worn pants to work in a year, and the couch has become your de facto office chair. Before you reach for an energy drink, however, there might be a long-term solution that will keep you awake and functioning. Certain foods have natural energy boosting qualities that can help banish the 3pm blahs. Incorporate them into your diet—with a few small tweaks—and you could get your caffeine habit down to one cup of coffee in the morning. (Stop laughing. It’s possible.)
What’s wrong with energy drinks?
If you swear by your afternoon Red Bull or head to Starbucks for a sugar- and caffeine-laden frosty Frappucino, you’re doing more harm than good. Energy drinks are packed with an obscene amount of caffeine, along with other energy sources, like B vitamins, guarana (another caffeine source) and taurine. If you only occasionally indulge—like once every few months—you probably won’t suffer any long-term health effects. If it’s becoming a habit, then you might be in trouble. Energy drinks, and too much caffeine in general, can contribute to heart disease, insomnia, anxiety, dehydration and digestive issues.
But what if you’re addicted to caffeine? (Who isn’t?) Try to wean yourself slowly: cut down your caffeine intake gradually until you can function on one to three cups of coffee per day, rather than chugging a Monster or two daily.
Foods that will boost your energy levels
You can also eat these foods, which will naturally give you a boost. Incorporate them into your diet as a long-term solution. They might not give you the same rush as a 5-Hour Energy shot, but they also won’t permanently damage your cardiovascular system, either.
- Eggs. Eggs are not only a complete protein, they’re also packed with choline, B vitamins, healthy fats and vitamin D.
- Fish. If you lack vitamin D, you might feel sluggish, fatigued and weak. Fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel and sardines are complete proteins with plenty of vitamin D, healthy fats and B vitamins.
- Fruit. Fruits are high in natural sugars—the kind that will give you an energy rush without the crash you’d get from refined sugar. They’re also full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.
- Green tea. Green tea has caffeine, but less of it than coffee and energy drinks. You’ll feel more focused without the jitters. Plus, it’s good for you in other ways. It may also help you lower your cholesterol.
- Nuts. Nuts are particularly great for energy, since they’re full of healthy fats and vitamins. Soaking them in water overnight starts the germination process, which makes them even healthier. Add them to smoothies for an energy boost.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate, which slowly releases energy throughout the digestive process. A bowl in the morning will power you through lunchtime. It’s also a good source of B vitamins.
- Seeds. Seeds (like pumpkin and squash) are full of protein, healthy fats, and minerals like manganese, phosphorus and zinc.
- Soybeans. Full of vitamins, protein and copper, soybeans are a delicious way to snack wisely.
- Spinach. Have you been eating your leafy greens? Add more to your diet to get iron, magnesium and potassium. These minerals are necessary for energy production and muscle function.
- Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate loaded with vitamin C, iron and magnesium.
- Yogurt. The helpful bacteria in natural yogurt improves digestion and your immune system, making it possible for you to absorb even more nutrients.
Keep these energy boosting pro tips in mind
You can’t just go down the list, eat these foods and expect to be pumped full of natural energy. It’s important that you choose wisely: pick a balanced selection of the foods above and eat some in each of your three meals or three snacks per day.
Another good way to keep your energy levels up: ditch the sugar. High sugar foods raise your blood sugar levels, which causes your body to produce too much insulin. When the insulin levels cause a dip in your blood sugar, you’ll feel a sugar crash.
Finally, make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water. When you’re dehydrated, your mood and mental function drop. Reach for a bottle of water instead of the energy drink, and you might be surprised at how great you feel.