Foods for energy: what to eat to combat tiredness and fatigue

Feeling tired? You may think that the only way to revive yourself is by going back to bed, but these foods for energy could help you feel full of life

two women cooking a healthy meal
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all have those days when we’re lacking in energy. Maybe you slept badly or it’s your time of the month. Or perhaps you simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed during a busy week at work. Whatever it is, sometimes life gets in the way and we don’t have time to rest in the way we want to. Fortunately, there are a number of foods for energy that could help you feel more like yourself even if you are tired.

There are certain foods that contain nutrients that can help our bodies feel particularly energized. Ensuring you’re obtaining enough vitamins and minerals is an essential part of keeping healthy, which is why people often choose to supplement with the best B12 supplements or the best vitamin D supplements. If you aren’t giving your body the nutrients it needs, it won’t be able to function properly.

A large number of studies (opens in new tab) have confirmed the link between getting enough vitamins and minerals – whether that’s through food or supplements – and energy metabolism. But what are the best foods to eat to boost your energy levels?

What causes low energy?

“Low energy can be caused by low food intake, over-exercising, stress, nutritional deficiencies, like iron deficiencies and B vitamin deficiencies,” says Sophie Medlin (opens in new tab), a registered dietitian. “Food provides the energy that is required in our body to do everything, from our heart beating to our lungs breathing, to the production of enzymes and all other reactions. When you don’t eat enough food those actions have to take place from our body’s stored energy, like glycogen that is stored in the liver and the muscles, and body fat stores.”

Sophie Medlin
Sophie Medlin

Sophie Medlin is a consultant dietitian and the Chair for the British Dietetic Association for London. Sophie has expertise in gastrointestinal and colorectal health. She worked in acute hospitals specialising in gastrointestinal diseases before moving into academia, where she worked as a lecturer at King’s College London. 

Medlin adds that these processes take more effort for our bodies, which is why it feels more laborious to go about our daily life when we haven’t had enough to eat.

What are the best foods for energy?

Oats with seeds and fresh fruit

“Oats provide slow-release energy to keep you going through the morning and fruits and sugars give you that fast release energy to help wake you up,” Medlin says. 

Combining this with seeds will help boost your vitamin intake and if you add dairy milk or yogurt to this meal, you’ll also get B vitamins, which are important for energy balance in the body.

bowl of oats with nuts and raisins

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eggs

“Eggs are a great food for energy because they provide iron, B vitamins and trace elements that are all essential for healthy energy metabolism,” says Medlin. 

Pasta 

“Pasta is great for our energy levels because it contains moderate release carbohydrates that fuel us for hours,” says Medlin. “Pair it with a high-protein sauce like Bolognese for even slower energy release and a B vitamin hit.” 

Wholemeal toast

Another carbohydrate-based food that will fill you with energy is wholemeal toast, according to Medlin. She recommends pairing it with something like marmite to give you a good combination of slow-release carbs and B vitamins to boost your energy levels. 

Yogurt with berries, nuts and granola

Whether you’re eating it for breakfast or as a quick snack, yogurt is a nutritious food that should increase your energy. 

“Yogurt with berries, nuts and granola will give you loads of B vitamins, some fast-energy release and lots of slow-energy release to keep you feeling your best,” Medlin says.

A bowl of yogurt, berries and oats

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Malt loaf

If you’re looking for something satiating, malt loaf could be a great option to boost your energy as it contains B vitamins and a mix of fast- and slow-release carbs. “It’s a favored pre-workout snack for many athletes,” Medlin says.

Oatcakes

Medlin recommends oatcakes for something quick while you’re on the move and feeling tired. She says: “They provide good slow-release energy and fiber to keep you satisfied between meals.”

Chicken stir fry

“Chicken stir fry with veggies and noodles is a great meal for energy as you get the carbs for immediate energy and the B vitamins from the chicken,” says Medlin.

Egg fried rice with tofu

Looking for a vegetarian dinner option for those low-energy days? Make your stir fry with rice, eggs and tofu. Rice is a great carb-based energy offering, while tofu contains iron, which is beneficial for your body’s natural energy balance. Add the eggs which are high in B vitamins for a balanced, energy-boosting meal. 

egg fried rice with vegetables

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Nuts

Nuts contain a combination of protein, fats and carbohydrates, which mean they can provide you with different types of energy, including slow-release and fast-release. They’re also a great source of vitamins and nutrients. A 2011 study (opens in new tab) found that nuts are one of the best energy-dense food items to add to your diet to improve its overall quality.

Bananas

A banana might seem simple, but it’s one of the best snacks when it comes to getting a quick energy boost. As well as being a natural source of sugar, which will help you perk up almost immediately, they’re also packed full of nutrients. One study published in the journal PLoS One (opens in new tab)found that bananas were just as good at improving performance and endurance before a long cycle as carbohydrate energy drinks.