Best (& Worst) Foods to Eat for Energy

All foods actually give us energy. The question is, what type of energy do you want? As with most things in life, you have a choice. Foods with sugars and refined carbs will give a quick burst of energy that is unsustainable (and unhealthy) and often end in a crash.

While foods, such as complex carbs, healthy fats and protein release energy more slowly (and also keep you satisfied longer). These foods are also packed with several key nutrients that aid in the steady release of energy through the day.

Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue is often related to poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and quality sleep. Fatigue has also been associated with inflammation in the body (which can be a result of poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and quality sleep). Also linked to fatigue and inflammation, is insufficient levels of vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, iron, essential fatty acids, Magnesium and Manganese.

How Energy is Made

A calorie is defined as a unit of energy supplied by food (from all foods).

Fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient, with nine calories per gram.

Carbohydrates and protein both contain four calories per gram.

The key is to choose foods that do not make you feel sluggish or leave you tired and hungry after an hour or two. Simple or refined carbs or even high sugar content fruits may provide a higher “calorie” count for energy and thus a burst, but the effect will be short lived. A better choice would be healthy fats, like avocado, nuts & seeds that are low in sugar and thus will not elevate the blood glucose as highly (causing a crash). These are also high in essential fatty acids which have been shown to help fight inflammation.

Combine those healthy fats with complex carbohydrates like high quality proteins and greens for sustained energy throughout the day plus added protection from other health risks.

Inflammation is a Common Diet Factor with Fatigue

Inflammation whether caused by external stressors or your diet impacts your energy levels. Since we are addressing foods that aid in sustained energy in this article, let’s look at inflammation as it relates to your diet and what foods are anti-inflammatory.

On the no-no list is sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined carbs (think white bread, pizza dough, white flour, white rice, flour tortillas) and processed and packaged foods, processed meats, and excess alcohol. These all promote inflammation and stress in the body.

Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in anti-oxidants and various other essentials nutrients. Antioxidants are molecules that help to fight off excess harmful free radicals and increase disease-fighting cells in the body. While they do not directly “give you energy” they are present in most foods that will.

What we know:

  • inflammation in the body leads to fatigue

  • Low levels of Iron, vitamin B12, Magnesium and Manganese lead to fatigue

  • Protein & fiber provide a slower release of energy

  • Complex Carbs provide readily available energy

  • Omega 3 fatty acids help fight inflammation and thus fatigue

(1, 2, 3, 4)

Foods to Add & Avoid to Increase Energy All Day

Worst Foods to Avoid:

Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined carbs (think white bread, pizza dough, white flour, white rice, flour tortillas) and processed and packaged foods, processed meats, excess alcohol and sugar and syrup laden drinks (even artificial).

Healthy, Energy-Producing Foods to Add:

Antioxidant rich foods such as citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts, leafy greens such as spinach & kale, seeds and nuts, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, and fermented foods.


An overall diet lacking added sugars and processed foods and composed of whole, natural foods with a rainbow of color will help to ensure you have sustained energy through the day and the nutrients necessary to help fight off disease and keep you healthy and thriving.

Of course, don’t forget the other key elements that contribute to fatigue in addition to your diet: lack of exercise, poor or insufficient sleep, and stress. Prioritize all of these for a healthful, high energy lifestyle.


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