Whether you’re at the beginning, middle, or end of your workday, everyone sometimes needs a boost of energy. But be careful—reaching for that coffee mug isn’t always the best answer. We’ve got ways to naturally boost your energy when you need it the most. While it may surprise you, the real energy-boosters are fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, whole grains, and more. Because they contain nutrients that fight off fatigue-causing toxins, natural fatigue remedies are much healthier and more effective than caffeine, chocolate, and other stimulants. Here are some recommendations from nutrition whiz Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.
Oats are a great source of fiber and contain a nice mix of both kinds (soluble and insoluble). Oatmeal also has a very low glycemic load, meaning it has a very, very modest effect on blood sugar. An oatmeal breakfast (not the instant kind!) can sustain you through even the most rigorous workout. Add a little fat like almonds and some protein (like an egg) and you’re good to go!
Quinoa is a highly nutritious food that’s actually a seed, but cooks up (and tastes) just like a grain. And it’s high in protein. The protein quality and quantity in quinoa seed is often superior to those of more common cereal grains, and the nutritional quality of this crop has been compared to that of dried whole milk. It is as versatile as rice, and in my opinion, a good deal better for us. Quinoa has a lower sodium content and is higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, iron, and zinc than wheat, barley, or corn.
Beans and Legumes
Adzuki, red, black-eyed peas
Beans are one of the best sources of fiber on the planet. And most of us do not get nearly enough fiber. Fiber protects us in ways that probably haven’t been fully and completely understood, but we do know that higher-fiber diets are associated with lower risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Overall, a cup of generic cooked beans will give you anywhere from 11 g (kidney beans) to an amazing 17 g (adzuki) per serving. That’s phenomenal. A cup of cooked beans a day can lower your total cholesterol by up to 10% in a mere six weeks. Beans are also the ultimate low-glycemic food, since their high fiber content means they raise blood sugar very, very slowly which is a boon for athletic endurance. And if that weren’t enough, beans are loaded with antioxidants and are a good source of protein, typically containing 15 g per cup.
Garbanzos, or chickpeas, belong to the class of food called legumes or pulses, which also includes beans, lentils, and peas. Eating more legumes can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to their high fiber content. Fiber can also lower blood cholesterol levels and slow the absorption of sugar, which is hugely important both for people with diabetes and for people with and blood sugar challenges (metabolic syndrome). Chickpeas have calcium and magnesium in a 1:1 ratio, a decent amount of folate, and a ton of heart-healthy potassium (477 per cup!). They even contain the powerful antioxidant selenium. All this, plus the vegetable equivalent of 2 ounces of protein.
Peas are actually legumes that originated in western Asia. There are probably more than 1,000 varieties of garden peas, the most common of which are the smooth peas you usually find frozen in the supermarket. Peas are a little high in sugar as legumes (or vegetables) go, but that’s balanced by the fact that 100 g—a little more than ½ cup—of cooked peas has 5.5 g of fiber. Dried peas don’t hold their shape as well as the fresh (or frozen) peas, and their taste is a little more earthy than the sweeter fresh ones. They’re best used in purees, soups, and dishes that need some thickening.
LentilsHerbs, Sprices, and Condiments
Lentils are small, disk-shaped brown, reddish-orange, or brownish-green legumes that grow on an annual bushlike plant and are native to central Asia. They are dried as soon as they ripen and then sold that way. There are at least 50 varieties, and are distinguished from beans in that they don’t contain sulfur and therefore don’t produce gas. The real claim to fame for lentils is that they’re so loaded with fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. A cup of lentils contains a nice amount of protein—about 18 g—as well as a whopping 16 g of fiber, both of which are great for athletes. Note: unlike beans, lentils need no presoaking and are ready in 20-30 minutes.
Cinnamon contains phytochemicals called chalcone polymers that increase glucose metabolism in the cells, thus giving this spice an uncanny ability to moderate blood sugar. It also contains anthocyanins, which improve capillary functions, as well as phytochemicals which help combat candida (the overgrowth of yeast in the system that can cause so many problems). Cinnamon is also really good for digestion and it is now being suggested that it may help reduce blood pressure, making it the perfect anti-aging spice.
Garlic is a global remedy. It’s one of the oldest medicinal foods on the planet. It is accepted even by conventional, traditional medicine as an agent for lowering cholesterol. It also helps lower triglycerides, reduces plaque, and prevents blood clots. Garlic also has anticancer properties and can even help fight the common cold. And new research shows that garlic might hold some promise for weight control! The key to the astonishing wide range of health benefits of garlic seems to lie in a compound called allicin, which is produced when garlic is crushed or damaged. Allicin starts to degrade after it’s produced, so the fresher the better. Garlic experts advise crushing a little raw garlic and combining it with the cooked food shortly before serving. Note: Microwaving appears to destroy it completely—sorry.
In Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, ginger is known as the "universal remedy." No wonder. This little plant contains a whole pharmacy of ingredients with health benefits. Many people are already aware of ginger’s awesome ability to soothe an upset stomach and end nausea. It helps pregnant women battle morning sickness, and by stimulating saliva, it may also help digestion.
Tumeric is pretty much a "super-spice", not only for the almost encyclopedic list of health benefits, but also for the taste. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory, known for alleviating arthritis and joint inflammation, even carpal tunnel syndrome. Even more impressive, there are at least 30 published studies indicating that the active compound in turmeric, curcumin, has an antitumor effect. Curcumin also has a positive effect on cholesterol and has powerful antioxidant properties as well. Curcumin is a very liver-friendly food, making it something I like to recommend for people with various liver ailments, including hepatitis.
Oregano is rich in a host of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, copper, boron, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin A, and niacin, and also seems to be the herb with the highest antioxidant activity. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it traditionally has been used to support joint function. It also has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiparasitic properties, and is a popular choice in combating candida (yeast).