Food for Energy

We all need food for energy, whether it’s to get us through a busy day at work, or to help us at the end of a long run.  But with so much diet advice out there it can be hard to know what are the right choices to make if you want to feel energized.

The main food your body uses for energy is carbohydrates.  While carbs seem to be getting a lot of bad press these days, they are the body – and the brain’s – number one source of energy.  At least 50% of your calories should therefore come from carbs.

However, not all carbs are created equal – or, to be more factual, not all carbs are equal once humans have finished processing them.  The key difference is between simple and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates have typically been processed into a refined product – this means that many of the essential vitamins and minerals have been taken out of them along with much (or all) of the fibre.  As a result, there are digested very quickly by the body. Examples of simple carbs include sweets, fizzy drinks, sports drinks, fruit, and milk.

While simple carbs can be good when you need a shot of quick energy, the energy they supply soon runs out, leaving you feeling flat and listless.  You then crave another shot of instant energy, and the cycle repeats itself.  On a long-term basis, this vicious cycle leads to problems like obesity and diabetes.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, still have their fibre content intact. This means that complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, and are much higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals.  As a result they are a much better source of slow-release blood sugar.  Good sources of complex carbs include vegetables, brown rice, and whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta.

If you want a steady supply of energy, the bulk of your carbohydrate choices should therefore come from complex carbs, while most of your simple carbohydrate choices should come from fruits and milk or yogurt.  That way you’ll get a steady release of energy, and the maximum quantity of essential vitamins and minerals.

In addition, you also need to consider the mix of protein and fat in your diet.  Both protein and fat are digested more slowly than carbs, so they keep you satisfied longer, and ensure that your energy levels stay higher throughout the day.

When planning your diet, you should thus aim to eat a mix of carbs, protein, and fat at each meal.  If you often find yourself running out if energy during the day, or craving sweet snacks throughout the day, it is likely that you are not eating enough protein.

Protein comes from sources such as:

  • Lean meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Pulses (peas, lentils etc)

By ensuring that you have some of these foods with every meal, you will go a long way to ensuring that you always have the energy you need.