Feeling Tired? Power Up with These 8 Fatigue-Fighting Foods
You may already know instinctively that some foods make you more tired than others, like an extra-large ice cream sundae, a loaded fast-food cheeseburger, or just about anything eaten on Thanksgiving Day. While it’s definitely true that some foods slow us down, there are also plenty of fatigue-fighting foods that can increase our energy.
Although fueling our bodies with nutrient-dense foods is important at all stages of life, it becomes even more apparent with age how sluggish we can feel after a heavy meal. To keep your energy levels steady and strong all day long, consider adding these eight fatigue-fighting foods (and drinks) to your daily routine.
Yes, we’re starting a list of foods that fight fatigue with something that isn’t technically food! However, dehydration is one of the most common causes of low energy, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on your water intake.
Dehydration is more common amongst older adults, as they tend to have a decreased perception of feeling thirsty; even mild dehydration is linked to reduced cognition and an increased risk of disease.
While there are differing opinions about how much water one should drink in a day, a good guideline to go by is using your body weight. Divide your body weight (in pounds) by two, and that would be the ideal amount of ounces of water to drink daily. For example, a 160-pound person should aim for 80 ounces of water.
Foods that are primarily made up of protein, like eggs, fish, poultry, or grass-fed beef, are an easy addition to your meals to fight fatigue. Our bodies require protein to repair and build tissues, as well as to take part in enzymatic activities. Without adequate protein, we can feel lethargic and low-energy.
Although protein deficiencies are rare in the United States, older adults do tend to eat less protein with age while also requiring more daily protein than adults, both of which can be a contributor to lean muscle mass breakdown.
Fatigue from undereating protein may come from the reduction in muscle mass, or from a reduction in circulating levels of hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein responsible for transporting oxygen throughout our bodies. A low hemoglobin level can lead to feelings of weakness and fatigue, as oxygen isn’t reaching all tissues of the body.
3. Nuts and Seeds
A snack of nuts and seeds can provide you with extra fuel for the day, as they are packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. This combination of macronutrients leads to a stable release of energy while keeping you satiated.
Another critical component of nuts and seeds is their magnesium content; magnesium is an essential mineral and cofactor for hundreds of biochemical actions in the body, one of which is energy production. Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds have the highest magnesium levels.
4. Low-Glycemic and High-Fiber Foods
These types of foods tend to go hand-in-hand, as a higher fiber content will slow down the impact on blood sugar. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate levels in foods and how quickly the carbohydrates get digested, absorbed, and metabolized into blood sugar. The GI scale ranges from 0-100; foods are considered low-glycemic if they rank at 55 or below.
The combination of low-glycemic and high-fiber means that you don’t get a steep blood sugar spike after eating that food. Rather, the sugar gets released slowly and provides energy for a longer period of time.
These types of foods include non-starchy vegetables, berries, beans, lentils, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Although bananas are higher in sugar than some other fruits, they are not too high on the GI scale, with variations depending on the type of banana you choose. An underripe banana (more green-colored) has a GI of 30, while a ripe (all yellow) banana has a GI of 51.
Bananas are an easy and portable snack to boost your energy, being a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. You can make your banana snack even more of a fatigue-fighter if you add a little bit of fat or protein to it, which will slow down the release of sugar into the blood. A perfect combination is a banana with a smear of nut butter!
6. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate has energy-boosting potential, as long as the sugar content isn’t too high. In general, the higher percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate means the sugar will be lower. Dark chocolate has both caffeine (in small amounts) and theobromine, which both are stimulatory compounds.
Research backs up chocolates fatigue-fighting potential as well. In a July 2014 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, participants received either 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate containing 85% cocoa, while the others received milk chocolate with less than 30% cocoa.
After an exercise test on the treadmill, those who ate the dark chocolate were able to walk 11% longer. The researchers attribute this to the fact that the polyphenols in dark chocolate help the body to produce more nitric oxide, which is a compound that allows for better blood flow.
7. Green Tea and Matcha
Green tea, which is the water steeped from green tea leaves, and matcha, which is a powder of ground-up green tea leaves, both have stimulatory effects. Both do contain caffeine, but green tea and matcha are superior to coffee in providing energy (without jitters and a subsequent crash) due to a compound called L-theanine.
L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes a relaxed yet alert mental state. A December 2010 study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that a combination of L-theanine and caffeine (like that seen in green tea and matcha) improved cognitive performance and mental alertness in healthy adults.
However, as both green tea and matcha do contain caffeine, you may want to consume them earlier in the day if your sleep quality tends to be impaired by caffeine intake.
Beets and beetroot juice have been shown to boost stamina due to their natural nitrate content, which gets converted into nitric oxide. As mentioned with dark chocolate, nitric oxide increases blood flow to the cardiorespiratory system, muscles, and the brain.
The production of nitric oxide in the body decreases with age; this is thought to be one contributor to the increased risk of chronic disease in older populations.
Beetroot juice, which is rich in nitric oxide, has been found to improve mitochondrial function and efficiency and increase ATP production in older adults, which leads to increased energy.
- There are several foods and drinks you can add to your daily routine to help fight fatigue and boost energy.
- The first thing to look at if you’re feeling sluggish is your water intake; dehydration is a leading cause of low energy.
- Types of foods that can boost energy are the protein food group, like eggs, fish, and poultry, and foods that are both low-glycemic and high-fiber, like non-starchy vegetables, berries, and beans.
- Other foods or drinks that can fight fatigue are less-ripe bananas, dark chocolate, green tea or matcha, and beets or beetroot juice.
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Giesbrecht T, Rycroft JA, Rowson MJ, De Bruin EA. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutr Neurosci. 2010;13(6):283–290. doi:10.1179/147683010X12611460764840
Loffredo L, Perri L, Catasca E, et al. Dark chocolate acutely improves walking autonomy in patients with peripheral artery disease [published correction appears in J Am Heart Assoc. 2014 Aug;3(4):e000456]. J Am Heart Assoc. 2014;3(4):e001072. doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001072
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Stanaway L, Rutherfurd-Markwick K, Page R, Ali A. Performance and Health Benefits of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation in Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1171. doi:10.3390/nu9111171