Coming out of winter can be an energizing time, a time with longer days and more activities. The heavy comfort foods of the colder months can sabotage this natural burst of extra energy. Dina Aronson, RD had this to say about fatigue and its side effects:

“Fatigue breaks us down physically and emotionally and wreaks havoc on the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, depression, and even chronic conditions like heart disease.”

Healthy eating for energy at this time of year is easy and delicious, but what you eat is only half the story. Turns out that when and how much you eat plays a role in healthy eating for energy, too. Here’s how to balance it all out.

Start your day off right

No, in this case we aren’t talking about breakfast. Start each day with a full glass of water, even before you drink your first cup of coffee. As you sleep your body is losing water through sweat and respiration, and a full glass of water kick starts your organs, including your digestion.

People in the U.S. are chronically dehydrated, and dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and cramped muscles during exercise. Dehydration can also worsen chronic pain in joints, as water is key to joint lubrication. If you make only one healthy change to increase energy, drinking the proper amount of water daily – between 48 and 64 ounces – should be it.

Don’t go hungry

The myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been debunked, but one thing is very much a fact: skipping meals to lose weight can backfire. In fact, it’s a pure energy sapper. When you skip a meal, your body goes into a protective mode, hanging on to the energy it does have and only releasing as much as necessary to run all body systems. This can result in extreme fatigue, especially during naturally low-energy periods (e.g., between 2 and 4 p.m.).

Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, associate professor of nutrition and director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University tells his athletes “to keep your blood sugar from getting low and to sustain your energy,

[they] need to eat small amounts of carbohydrate-containing foods throughout the day.”

Choose foods wisely

Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition for the Penn State University athletic department, knows a thing or two about healthy eating for energy. When it comes to choosing what foods you eat, she suggests, that you:

“[P]ick complex carbs which will help sustain blood sugar levels, thereby boosting energy. Choose whole grain products, such as a small whole wheat pita or a bowl of oatmeal with fruit; the fiber in these foods helps the carbs stick with you.”

Eating iron-rich foods can help boost energy, too, especially for the 10% of women ages 20 to 49 who are iron deficient. Iron-rich foods include spinach, lentils, beans, and sesame seeds. Drinking a tall glass of vitamin C-filled orange juice helps your body absorb more of the iron for best results. Iron helps cells receive more oxygen, but less oxygen means less energy (and a drop in the effectiveness of the immune system).

Use a formula

Cynthia Sass is the author of a book that advocates using a simple formula when deciding what to eat for energy: fruit/vegetable + whole grain + lean protein + plant-based fat + herb/spice. What might this look like?

Healthy snacks follow the same formula; think carrots and hummus, apples and peanut butter, or whole grain crackers and tuna fish (with just a little mayonnaise or olive oil).

A formula takes the guesswork out of what to eat and makes it easier to shop. You can stock up on foods from each category (whole grains, fruit/vegetable, and lean protein) and mix and match all week. If you are eating to support a chronic pain condition, your spices should include warming, healing spices such as ginger, cinamon, turmeric, cayenne, and pepper. These spices are not only anti-inflammatory, but also support and boost the immune system.

Minimize sugar and caffeine

As tempting as it is to reach for that double-tall, extra shot vanilla latte every afternoon when energy lags, this combination is the last thing you should have. The rush and the crash of a sugar high can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to deal with any pain condition. This crash can cause extreme fatigue that exacerbates any level of pain and makes it very difficult to do anything productive (much less get out of bed!). Sugar is also highly inflammatory in the body and can increase the pain in aching joints.

If you must have something sweet, stick to small amounts of dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao). And if coffee is not something you are willing to give up, keep it black and consider pairing it with a 20-minute nap if you can to enhance the effects of both.

Snack healthy

Snacks are part of a healthy diet… if they’re healthy. Reach for one of the following when snacking for a boost of energy:

  • Berries
  • Edamame
  • Nuts
  • Citrus fruit
  • Veggies, including peppers
  • Sweet potatoes (think tossed in olive oil and roasted)
  • Dairy products (e.g., yogurt and cheese sticks)
  • Whole grain crackers

Knowing how and when to eat, choosing the right foods, and keeping your meals small are keys to healthy eating for energy. Check out these Pinterest boards for more energizing ideas!

Image by Iryna Yeroshko via Flickr


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