Early afternoon at the office. Suddenly it’s woman down. Your head drops, your eyes won’t stay open and your mind moves like peak-hour traffic. Slowly. How do you keep up your energy all day long? The secret is in what you eat.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You shouldn’t skip lunch. And don’t snack close to bedtime. Not exactly breaking news. But here’s the thing. If you eat the right stuff, you’ll stay full and energised for much longer. So put these foods on your shopping list and see what a difference they make.
Carbs are body fuel. They break down into glucose that keeps you on the go. You just have to pick the best ones. The processed versions, like the refined flour in a slice of white toast, will give you a quick boost and then drop you. Natural oats is a low GI breakfast, full of filling fibre and stress-fighting vitamin B. Wholegrain bread will also digest slower than that fluffy croissant and give you sustained energy. Try out some of the power grains, like quinoa, and stock up on the ones you like as your go-to carbs with your main meal.
Now add protein. When you have it with carbs, it slows digestion down even more. Natural yogurt with no flavours or fruit added is packed with protein. Use it instead of milk with your breakfast muesli (make sure it’s a mix with low sugar). Blitz a handful of fresh or frozen berries with a glass of yogurt for a tasty smoothie.
Nuts are loaded with protein, fibre and healthy fats. They’re very expensive these days, which is a problem. But if you can resist bingeing on nuts when you have them in the house, a handful of almonds, for instance, is a great snack halfway between meals. A quarter-cup is one serving.
Avoid the sugar rush and satisfy the craving for something sweet by eating fruit. They provide a dose of healthy carbs, vitamins and minerals. Try eating 2½ cups of fruit and vegetables per day. Bananas are full of potassium and vitamin B. Slice one over your breakfast oats or pack one for a snack at the office and gym. Apples are great because they also contain boron, which helps to keep the brain sharp. You can overdo it with pineapples (too much sugar), but their manganese helps with energy output.
A serving of clams and oysters can give you more than 30 percent of the iron you need for the day. But the big marine winner is salmon – rich in protein and also omega 3s that can help with inflammation and make you feel on top of your game. Eat it with a vegetable and a complex carb like quinoa. Get the combo right and it will keep you running for hours.
Beans and legumes are protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals in small packages. They steady your blood sugar levels and help to keep you regular. But they are hard to digest and contain oligosaccharides, sugars that only get digested once they’re in your colon. That’s where the farting comes from. Solution: use dry beans, soak them overnight and cook them in fresh water the next day. Don’t feel obliged to eat more than about half a cup per meal.
Dark, leafy vegetables
Did you hate spinach as a kid? We feel your pain. Any happier with the taste of collards, Swiss chard, pak choi or (gulp) kale? Fact is, they give you big servings of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, fibre and protein. One portion of spinach can supply double the vitamin A you need for a day. The darker or richer the colour, the healthier these leafy wonders are. How to eat them? Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add the green leaves and cook until tender. You can then add them to whole-wheat pasta with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top. Mix young spinach leaves into your green salad or add greens (especially pak choi) to your favourite stir-fry mix. Add a little soy or teriyaki sauce at the end.
Hold it. We’re talking dark chocolate. The darker, the better. It contains flavanol, an antioxidant that can help to keep your heart healthy. It’s caffeine and compounds such as phenylethylamine and tyramine will boost and sustain energy. One or two blocks at a time will do nicely, though. Even the darkest chocolate is full of fat and sugar…
Seriously. Fibre, low in fat if you don’t smother it in butter and very healthy if you go easy on the salt. The popcorn you get at the movies or in microwaveable bags usually have too much unhealthy stuff added. Pop your own in healthy coconut oil. Or air pop them: Put a quarter cup of kernels in a paper lunch bag, fold the top over twice with sharp creases, place upright in the microwave and blast it on high for two minutes or when the pops are about two seconds apart.
Who remembers to drink eight glasses of water per day – or whatever the current recommended number is? Just try to drink some when you are thirsty. Water is vital for good digestion, absorption, and moving around nutrients. Dehydration can drain your energy. Bonus: Water-rich foods like watermelon or cucumber, count toward fluid intake.