woman jumping in the air with energy

How many of you are guilty of reaching for a cup of coffee or an energy drink when you need a pick-me-up? Yes, caffeine is a tempting crutch but while small amounts can boost alertness and concentration, the effects are usually short lived. And, like most things, too much caffeine can cause unpleasant side effects like headaches, irritability, rapid heart rate, shakiness and even feelings of anxiety. So, what’s the alternative? Well, you can have energy – without relying on caffeine – just by tweaking the foods that you eat throughout the day. Here’s how…

What should you eat to have more energy?

A good start

A good breakfast helps kickstart your metabolism and sets the tone for your whole day of eating, but your best bet is to go for foods that release energy slowly, like:

  • Wholegrain cereals such as bran flakes
  • Cooked oats or sorghum porridge like Maltabella
  • Overnight oats topped with fruit
  • Wholegrain toast with cottage cheese, avocado or nut butter
  • Cooked eggs with whole grain toast
  • Wholegrain toast with an omelette (fill with mushrooms, tomato and peppers)

Try whole grains

Carbs get a bad rap but they’re not all bad. There are two types to be aware of: refined carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed quickly, causing blood glucose levels (and your energy levels) to spike, and then crash. The result? No energy, lack of concentration and you’ll be hungry again soon because this kind of carb doesn’t keep you full. By comparison, whole grain or low-GI carbs are broken down and absorbed slowly, which means that blood glucose levels rise slowly. Add whole grains to your diet to feel fuller for longer and have sustained energy. Great choices include:

  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Wholegrain or seed breads
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Wholewheat couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur wheat

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Keep snacking

Ready for some good news? Snacking between meals can keep blood glucose levels stable, contributing to all-day energy. Choose from this list of good-for-you snacks:

  • Plain yoghurt with berries
  • Sliced apple with nut butter spread
  • Homemade fruit smoothie
  • Homemade popcorn
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Boiled egg
  • Lean biltong
  • Wholewheat crackers with cottage cheese
  • Egg and vegetable muffin
  • Low fat hummus or cottage cheese with veggie sticks
  • Homemade bran and carrot muffin

Focus on fibre

Fibre helps slow the release of energy, and has a load of other health benefits. Add high-fibre foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils and other legumes to your diet. Take a look at the label and aim for foods that have a fibre content of 6g/100g or higher.

ALSO READ: Your child’s eating habits: what’s normal and what’s not?

Move more

Yes, we’ve heard it before but exercise has so many known health benefits, including increased energy levels, improved mood and concentration, as well as better sleep. Our mental state not only affects our energy levels but it can also affect our food choices fuelling the cycle of poor diet and lack of energy. Making healthier food choices can break this cycle and actually improve stress, immunity and mental state of mind.

If you are still feeling tired, unproductive and in need of a boost, chat to a registered dietitian to help you assess your dietary intake to improve your energy.
Kelly is a registered dietitian and owner of Smart Eating Registered Dietitians Kelly is a registered dietitian in private practice. She gained valuable experience in the government and private sector before starting her own practice, ‘Smart Eating’, in 2015. She is currently a guest lecturer to the third-year dietetics students at the University of Pretoria and consults from practices in Houghton and Fourways and Morningside Mediclinic. Since becoming a mom in 2019, Kelly feels passionate about educating and informing other moms on nutrition-related topics and empowering them to provide a healthy balanced diet for the whole family. Kelly understands the stress and pressure that come with being a working mom and she supports her clients and assists them to achieve sustainable health goals. In her private capacity, Kelly enjoys baking, travelling and spending time with family and friends.