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What to Eat for Optimal Energy

Updated: Mar 5

Written by Bonnie Flemington


I often hear people talk about how eating healthy is hard because it takes so much time out of their day. But once you get started with a few simple habits, healthy can be convenient with minimal effort.


Here are the tricks we use in our house when things get a little crazy. These strategies give us the convenience without the sugar spike (and subsequent crash) that leads to cravings and fatigue we don’t want.


Before I get into it, consider one thing … if you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. This is something I tell myself when I’m grocery shopping on an empty stomach and everything looks so good! The hard work truly happens at the grocery store. And don’t convince yourself that you need to buy it for your kids (or spouse or guests etc.). Processed food is no better for them than it is for you.


The following food and beverage ideas will keep you on the right track for all-day energy so that you can accomplish everything you want to get done.


Coffee


You may reach for coffee for energy, but beyond 1 cup in the morning with breakfast, the caffeine from coffee can backfire when it comes to your energy. This is because of:

  • Differences in caffeine metabolism – some people are slower to metabolize caffeine. In slower caffeine metabolizers, the effects of caffeine can continue for 12 hours! That means your afternoon pick me up may be causing your poor sleep and further fatigue the following day.

  • What you’re having in your coffee – the milk and sugar added to your coffee may be adding to the problem. When you add these ingredients to your coffee, you are triggering a spike in blood sugar that results in a corresponding crash in energy later.

  • How caffeine impacts stress hormones – if you already have adrenal dysregulation (i.e. poor regulation of your stress hormone, cortisol), then adding caffeine to the mix is adding fuel to the fire. Excess cortisol can trigger a spike in blood sugar causing the crash and fatigue later.


If you suffer from anxiety, sleep issues, heart palpitations or digestive issues, consider switching your afternoon cup to green tea, matcha, dandelion or other herbal tea.


Breakfast

Do you have a traditional North American breakfast of cereal, toast, muffin, pastry, or bagel etc.? These options are full of sugar and/or refined starches and are missing protein which is no way to start the day off if you want to have optimal energy. Some better options include a smoothie with added protein powder or hemp seeds, an egg scramble (with 2-3 eggs) or a breakfast hash. With some planning, these can all be made in 5 minutes for a busy weekday breakfast.


Lunch

There’s no need to have a high carb sandwich or wrap when a salad with protein is just as easy and will keep you satiated all afternoon! And it’s easy to make when you just toss your leftover dinner veggies and protein on top of some greens. It can be made “to go” by taking it in a container with a fork and a small jar of oil and vinegar as dressing. When I was in school, this was my lunch every day. And since the protein and veggies changed daily, it was always a different meal, keeping it interesting.


Snacks

Craving something crunchy? Skip the chips and dip and make it veggies and dip instead. Many store-bought dips are great, a cucumber takes mere seconds to slice up, and carrots are very portable. Other easy, portable snack options include hard boiled eggs, a piece of fruit and some nuts, kale chips or beef jerky.



Dinner

I’m a huge fan of one-pan or one-pot meals. With my recipes, I make 2 meals at once so that I don’t have to cook every day. Chilis, stews and sheet pan protein and veggies are what I mostly make. The specific protein and vegetables can be varied and by using different herb and spice combinations, there are limitless options.


Dessert

As a recovering sugarholic, I love my sweets. But I have now swapped out the cookies and cakes for dark chocolate and berries. Yummm! These foods make me feel like I’ve had a treat but don’t set me up for poor sleep and fatigue.


When you follow these strategies and they become a habit, taste buds start to change. Your taste buds become more sensitive and start to feel that same dopamine hit with much less sugar or refined carb. This leaves you feeling satisfied with less.


Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep moving forward you will thank yourself in a year.

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