Energy is the fuel that keeps our bodies moving. And in a busy world that demands more from us with each passing day, finding good sources of energy is vital.
Foods are the primary source for our body’s energy. Every morsel we consume is broken down for use by the body. This process is known as metabolism, and it involves a chain of chemical reactions that turns the fuel in food into the energy that runs our bodies.
“All carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide biological energy to the body,” says Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Sports Performance Center.
Energy is measured in calories. Fat contributes the most energy – 9 calories per gram – while carbohydrates and proteins contribute 4 calories per gram, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Good sources of energy
Some foods are especially good sources of energy. These foods are converted to energy over a relatively long period of time, providing you with fuel to perform activities throughout the day.
Heller says you should look for foods that provide an energy boost while also improving your overall health.
For example, peanut butter on whole wheat toast is a nutritious meal that provides both an energy burst (from the carbohydrates in the bread and banana) and a feeling of satiety, or “fullness.”
“A balance of healthy foods, eaten in combination, can help boost and maintain energy levels, a healthy weight and a healthy body,” Heller says.
She says other healthful foods that boost energy include:
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, edamame and chickpeas
- Whole grains such as quinoa and oats
“These foods provide energy, protein, healthy fats and fiber that keep the body healthy,” Heller says.
Foods rich in healthy, unsaturated fats are also an important source of energy. But remember that eating too much of a food high in calories can lead to weight gain.
The key is to balance the amount of calories you take in with the amount of calories you burn through energy-intensive activities.
Poor energy choices
Not every type of food is an equally good source of energy.
For example, some foods – including sugary “junk food” and sugar-sweetened beverages – provide a quick burst of energy that is not sustained in the body for long.
The initial energy rush of foods heavy in refined sugar and white starches is soon followed by a crash later on.
As the energy from these foods quickly fades, many people are tempted to reach for more to restore their energy levels. This pattern can have predictably bad consequences for your health.
“Over time this roller-coaster effect can lead to health problems like obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” Heller says.
A lot of people turn to energy drinks when they need a burst of vitality. But the energy in these drinks is the result of sugar and caffeine that act as a stimulant to the central nervous system.
While there are times the body may need such a “quick fix,” it is best not to rely on such caffeinated products, Heller says.
“Caffeine does not supply the body with energy that cells can use for metabolism the way food does,” she says.
Instead of turning to such short cuts for energy, Heller recommends eating healthful foods, staying adequately hydrated and getting plenty of sleep.
“A healthy body is an energized body,” she says.