Ask any nutrition professional or doctor and they’ll tell you that your energy level is determined by endless variables both inside and outside of your control, like genetics and age. Sleep is, of course, one of the most important factors for boosting our body’s energy stores that we do have control over. But food plays a big role, too.
There are a handful of eating habits (and nutrients) that can boost your energy level—as well as ways you may be unknowingly slowing yourself down. Samantha Cassetty, M.S., RD, a New York-based registered dietitian, shares the simple steps you can take when eating to feel more energetic, improve your digestion and optimize your overall health. The good news? All three of her recommendations are incredibly easy.
Skipping breakfast or having an unbalanced, carb-rich meal in the morning can ultimately lead to feeling seriously sluggish. Why? “Because your body naturally breaks down muscle tissue at night, and if you aren’t rebuilding muscle tissue by supplying the building blocks at breakfast, your digestion and energy can start to slow down,” says Cassetty.
If you’re routinely reaching for avocado toast, which lacks adequate protein, try including poached eggs, smoked salmon or mashed beans (like hummus) on top in order to activate the muscle-rebuilding phase. You’ll feel fuller for longer, too—so you can say goodbye to that mid-morning stomach grumble.
If you’re eating too late at night, it might be interfering with your sleep, and that can wreak havoc on your appetite hormones and ultimately, your body’s metabolic processes. If you find yourself constantly hungry at night, it might be that your dinner is too light, or you may be eating for other reasons (like boredom or out of habit). Try to get to the root of this and shut down the kitchen at least two hours before you go to bed. Coupled with other healthy sleep habits, this can help optimize your energy level.
Cooking can sometimes feel overwhelming, and at the end of a long day, it’s often the last thing you want to do. In this case, many people turn to convenience foods, which are overly processed. Your body is designed to digest and metabolize food in order to get the energy it needs, so if you’re routinely eating highly processed foods over whole foods, you’re shortchanging this process. This can result in you feeling lethargic and low in energy. Cooking can be therapeutic and is a great way to bond with loved ones, too.
The best snacks are made with whole food ingredients, like Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts, seeds, olives, fruits and veggies. These foods provide all of the raw materials your body needs to sleep better, optimize your digestion and protect your body and brain. Plus, they provide a steady stream of energy for busy days.