It’s no secret that our diets impact our energy levels. Your body is fuelled by what you feed it – you really are what you eat!
While calories are one way of measuring the amount of energy that a meal could provide, it's a little more complicated than that. Your body also needs vitamins and minerals to convert food into energy, and not all sources of calories contain those nutrients . Fresh foods provide the most nutrients that your body needs to produce cellular energy, but ultra-processed takeaway and junk foods are considered to be “empty calories” – they leave you feeling flat because they don't contain the nutrients that your cells need to create energy out of the calories that these foods provide.
Here are five of our favourite types of energy-boosting foods to eat when you're feeling low on energy:
1. Fresh, Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are incredibly nutrient-dense – the opposite of “empty calories”. To maximise the amount of nutrients found in your food, shop for seasonal produce. Fresh is best because the nutrients in fruit and veg degrade over time. The longer that a piece of produce is kept in storage, the less its nutritional value will be by the time you eat it. This means that it's best to eat fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season – this is when they have the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals, and they won't have been kept in storage for long. Plus, it's when they're cheapest!
Try: “Eat the rainbow” and include colourful fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to get the widest variety of nutrients possible. Give one meal each day a diverse range of minerals and vitamins by including red, green, orange, yellow, and purple vegetables.
2. Water, Soups & Smoothies
Mild dehydration is shockingly common and causes energy-sucking symptoms like fatigue, lethargy, and headaches. Most people need to drink about two litres of water a day – but this increases if you're active, sick, take diarrhetic medication or drink caffeine or alcohol .
Good news: if you struggle to drink plain water, you can boost your liquid intake by including hydrating foods like soups and smoothies in your daily diet.
Try: Carry a water bottle with you, and flavour your water with fresh mint, lemon or berries.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a rich source of nutrients that can help keep you energised. Their high protein and fat content supports the production of slow burning energy. Nuts and seeds also contain micronutrients such as magnesium, which is needed for energy to reach to all the muscles in your body. The protein and fat found in nuts also help to keep you feeling fuelled for hours – always a plus! 
Try: A closed handful of nuts and seeds between meals.
4. Lean Proteins
Including lean protein with your meal gives you a feeling of fullness after you eat, so you'll be less likely to have an energy slump later. Fish, beans and legumes are energy-dense lean proteins that are also rich in micronutrients that can help to sustain healthy cellular energy production.
Proteins are also important to strengthen and repair muscle tissues after physical exercise. This means that boosting your protein intake could improve your energy if you're feeling fatigued after exercise or intense physical activity.
Try: Fish, chickpeas, hummus, black beans, lentil burgers, falafels, tempeh or tofu at every meal.
5. Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are slow burning, energy-sustaining sources of fuel for your body. While simple carbohydrates like refined sugars and junk foods send you on an energy rollercoaster that ends in fatigue, complex carbs like brown rice and wholemeal pasta can provide a steady, predictable release of energy across the whole day.
Try: Whole grains and seeds like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, wholegrain bread and pasta, freekeh, barley or rye at every meal.
If you're eating a healthy diet but still suffer from ongoing low energy, you may have an increased need for specific nutrients. Supplementing these nutrients may be beneficial for raising energy levels, but speak to a qualified nutritionist for personalised advice.
Symptoms of low energy are common when dietary intake of these nutrients is insufficient:
- Iron: Iron is necessary for blood to effectively transport oxygen from the lungs to cells where it is used to create cellular energy. If you are suffering from fatigue and suspect that low iron could be the cause, talk to your doctor about getting your iron levels checked. If low, choose a high quality iron supplement containing iron diglycinate to ensure proper absorption and fewer side effects like constipation. Ethical Nutrients Mega Iron is a great alternative.
Magnesium: Magnesium is necessary for the healthy function of muscles and the nervous system. If your muscles are tired, twitchy or fatigued, magnesium might help. It has been shown to reduce muscle aches, cramps and spasms, especially at night where these symptoms can stop people from getting restful sleep. Ethical Nutrients Mega Magnesium is a great alternative.
- B Vitamins: All the B complex vitamins are essential for the body to produce energy from the food we eat, but these vitamins are quickly depleted from the body when we are under type of stress. A study in 2010 found that taking B vitamins relieved symptoms of mental and physical fatigue, and even reduced symptoms of stress . Vitamin B12 supplements are especially important for vegans and vegetarians who don’t have a ready supply of this nutrient in their diets. If you suspect your vitamin B12 intake is low, speak to your doctor about having your levels checked. Ethical Nutrients Super B Daily Stress +, can be a great option.