Struggling with fatigue is one of the top reasons people visit the doctor every year. In fact, it's "such a major problem affecting so many people" that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a center to study it, Karen Collins, registered dietitian and nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research, tells TODAY.com. Luckily, adding certain foods into your diet can give you more energy.
People feel a lack of energy for a variety of reasons — such as disrupted or insufficient sleep, vitamin deficiencies, work or family demands, dehydration, medications, stress, a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol, the weather (especially heat) or medical conditions.
Feeling fatigued means feeling severely overtired or “a lack of alertness,” as Collins puts it, which can make it hard to go about your day. Fatigue can feel like tired eyes and legs, impatience, muscle pain or weakness, irritability, feeling depleted, boredom, general discomfort and uneasiness, or overall body sluggishness.
Improving the quality and quantity of sleep can help you feel less fatigued, as can getting more exercise. But one of the most effective things you can do to get energy throughout the day is to improve your diet.
“Since food provides energy and antioxidants, it’s an important strategy for managing fatigue,” Carol Johnston, Ph.D., registered dietician and professor of nutrition at Arizona State University, tells TODAY.com, adding that "nutrient-packed, whole foods that are minimally processed" can have the biggest impact.
Foods that give you energy
Oats, a go-to breakfast option for cardiologists, are an excellent source of healthy carbs, which can send immediate bursts of energy into your blood stream.
This leafy green is among the best foods if you're looking for an energy boost because it “is a good source of vitamin C, iron and magnesium," says Johnston.
Nuts are another good source of iron, “and iron is critical for oxygen transfer and energy production,” Johnston explains. Although most nuts contain some iron, almonds, macadamia, cashews and pistachios pack the most.
This seasonal gourd is helpful in managing blood sugar levels, which is critical for maintaining lasting energy. Pumpkin seeds in particular pack a protein punch and are rich in magnesium and zinc, which can boost mood and focus, says Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food.”
Sweet potatoes help manage fatigue because they provide energy for a longer period of time than other foods. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants that fight inflammation-related fatigue, says Johnston.
Bananas are one of the best snack options for a surefire energy boost. They are rich in potassium, which plays a vital role in energy production, and can help you get enough calories throughout the day, which also gives you energy.
Peanut butter packs a triple punch because it's a healthy source of calories, contains protein (which keeps you full longer) and is among the “best food sources of vitamin E — a potent antioxidant,” says Johnston.
Grapes are a great source of resveratrol, which has been shown to boost the amount energy you get from the nutrients you consume. And they can help fight dehydration, which can cause fatigue, according to Brooke Levine, a registered dietician and nutritionist at NYU Langone Health.
Quinoa is rich in riboflavin and protein, and it also helps maximize the amount of energy you can get from what you eat. And it’s rich in fiber and boosts mood and focus, says Naidoo.
Whole grains are a great source of fiber.
“If we consume too many refined foods, such as refined white flour, our blood sugar may spike, leaving us cranky, tired and hungry very soon after eating,” Abbie Gellman, a registered dietitian and New York City-based chef, tells TODAY.com. Whole grains, on the other hand, help keep our blood sugar levels stable. Stable blood sugar levels are essential to “enable constant energy throughout one’s day,” explains Naidoo.
Salmon is another great source of energy-giving protein and is among the richest natural food sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 “plays a significant role in energy metabolism,” says Gellman.
Carrots have the benefit of being a vegetable with a healthy amount of natural fruit sugar and are a great, pure carbohydrate for a quick energy boost.
Seeds can help you feel full longer and help the body balance its nutrient levels, giving you more energy, explains Gellman, adding “We need a balance of micro and macro nutrients to properly fuel our bodies.”
Hummus is one of the best foods that give you energy, explains Levine. “They are full of fiber, which slows down the digestion and absorption of the carb into sugar, providing a steady increase of blood sugar and energy,” she says.
While these foods are sure to help you feel more energized throughout the day, there are other great options out there, the experts say.
To determine whether a food will give you energy, try to always opt for the "actual food versus the processed version," advises Naidoo.
Collins adds that another good guideline is looking for foods that contain fiber, protein, and healthy types of fat "because they produce a more even flow of energy for most people."
She also recommends finding such foods that are easy to incorporate into your everyday diet and choosing foods you already know you enjoy. “You don’t need to eat perfectly to protect your health and feel good,” she says.