Food is fuel, but there are times you may find yourself having your own personal energy crisis as you fight your way through the afternoon. Don’t be surprised if it turns out those are the days you accidentally skipping snacking on any foods that give you energy.
Calories, the basic units used to measure the energy we get from food, may all be created equal, but different macronutrients are broken down at different rates. This means that the cumulative effect of what you’re putting into your body could yield drastically different results. Optimizing the ratio of quick-burning carbs to slower-digesting protein and fats is key to keeping your internal cruise control set.
"Instead of looking for a 3 p.m. sugar rush via nutritionally-empty snacks or a hit of chocolate, there are foods that can provide slow, steady energy without a sugar rush,” Keri Glassman, RD, a New York-based nutritionist, says.
Load up on these foods that give you energy, and you’ll find yourself productively powering through the rest of the afternoon.
5 Go-To Foods That Give You Energy to Power Through Afternoon Exhaustion
1. An Apple With Peanut Butter
A medium apple has about 25 grams of carbohydrates and four grams of fiber. The latter stabilize the effect of all those carbs on blood glucose levels, which means digestion happens at a steady rate, doling out a constant supply of energy. A little protein and fat from the peanut butter ensures you’ll have some in reserve, too, according to Glassman.
2. A Smoothie
This is one of the best bets for foods that give you energy fast because blending has already started to break the food down for you. Calories get into your bloodstream faster than they would with solid foods that need to be chewed and digested. Just make sure your smoothie has a decent balance of protein and carbs, Glassman says.
3. Whole-Grain Bread With Almond Butter and Banana Slices
B vitamins fuel your mitochondria, which — as you may recall from middle school biology — are the powerhouses of cells. Whole grains are a great source of riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and folate, and bananas have a good amount of potassium, a nutrient that, when depleted, can cause fatigue.
4. Chia Pudding
Though they're tiny, chia seeds pack loads of power. Besides delivering protein, fiber, and omega-3s, research has found that consuming them before a 90-minute workout can enhance performance in a similar way to sugary energy drinks. They also absorb liquids incredibly well, which means that you can meal prep a healthy snack option by stirring them into oat or almond milk, letting them rest overnight, and bringing them with you the next day.
Oats are complex carbs and low on the glycemic index, so they provide exactly the kind of slow, steady digestion that gives you all-day energy. They’re also packed with other beneficial nutrients. Just be sure to avoid instant packets that tend to have added sugar while also skimping on fiber.
Caffeine is a stimulant with proven ergogenic properties, which means it can boost your performance by making your perceived effort feel lesser.
“It isn’t energy, but it feels like energy,” says Glassman.
So long as you’re not relying solely on it for your energy needs and it doesn’t interfere with your sleep, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea definitely isn’t a bad idea.