12 Energy-Boosting Foods To Wake You Up

Energy Boosting Brekkie

Getty Images/Design by Cristina Cianci

The foods we eat in the morning set the scene for our eating habits throughout the day, and what better way to rise and shine than with a breakfast of champions to fuel us with energy? Incorporating a mix of energy-boosting foods earlier in the day will not only help power us through to lunch but also sharpens our brains.

We asked the experts to help us identify the attributes of energy-boosting foods, their favorite energy-boosting foods, and what you should avoid first thing in the morning. Read on for what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

  • Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, is the founder and owner of NYC Eat Well.
  • Rebecca Washuta is a registered dietitian and coach project manager at Noom.
  • Stephanie Hunter, M.Ed, nutrition education, CHES, and coach poroject coordinator at Noom.

What is the Definition of an Energy-Boosting Food?

“First off, it will have a moderate amount of protein and/or fiber to keep you satiated for hours, as well as keeping your blood sugar steady and cravings at bay,” explains founder and owner of NYC Eat Well Deborah Malkoff-Cohen. “It should be packed with vitamins and minerals that help fuel all the body’s metabolic pathways, specifically iron, B12, and CoQ10.”

M.Ed and Nutrition Education and Coach Project Coordinator at Noom Stephanie Hunter adds: “All food will give you energy, though different types of foods will energize you in different ways, and for varying lengths of time.” According to Hunter, energy-boosting foods have a few attributes, including hydrating properties, complex carbohydrates, which take longer for the body to digest and provide a slow and stable release of energy, and feature healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which the body uses for energy. Other features include lean proteins and B vitamins, which help the body convert glucose into energy.

What Foods Are Best Avoided?

As our busy lives gather pace, reaching for that all-too-convenient food on the go may seem like the obvious option, but it’s not necessarily the most energy-boosting. “I personally would recommend avoiding packaged and highly processed foods as they’re typically low in fiber and protein, and high in sugar, chemicals, and preservatives,” says Malkoff-Cohen, “Although sugary foods may temporarily spike your energy, once insulin is released to bring blood glucose back to normal, you will experience a crash and most likely crave more sugar-filled foods.”

Registered Dietitian and Coach Project Manager at Noom Rebecca Washuta touches upon the lack of nutrients in such foods. “Simple carbs, like donuts and other sugary treats, are high in calories but low in the good stuff and are best to avoid in the mornings as ultimately, they will leave you feeling tired and hungry before lunch.” She also outlines the importance of consuming a healthy breakfast as an optimum way to kick-start your metabolism.

Sugary and fatty fried foods aside, a few other considerations include refined and processed grains, like those found in white bread or cereal, which contain less fiber than their whole-grain counterparts. Because of this, they are digested more quickly by the body, which causes a quick spike in blood sugar and a crash later in the day,” outlines Hunter. The same is true for foods labeled “low calorie" which are often “loaded with added sugars that can crash your energy levels.”

12 Energy-Boosting Foods For Your Breakfast Plate

We asked the experts for their most recommended foods for an energized start to the day.

Malkoff-Cohen’s Picks:

  1. Eggs: An egg provides 7 grams of high-quality protein, alongside iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids (in the yolk), and is a powerhouse of disease-fighting nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. Versatile in nature, eggs can be enjoyed scrambled, hard-boiled, as egg cups, and more! Fun fact: Researchers have found that pasture-raised eggs contain twice as much omega-3 fat, three times more vitamin D, and four times more vitamin E than eggs from hens raised on traditional feed.
  2. Bananas: A source of complex carbs, potassium, and vitamin B6, bananas are one of the most nutritious foods to kick-start your morning. B6 is used in energy metabolism and complex carbs, which break down to glucose as sugar for energy.
  3. Chia Seeds: Dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds were revered for their ability to provide sustainable energy. A one-ounce (two tablespoons) serving of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 12 grams of carbs. Due to their high soluble fiber content, chia seeds can absorb up to 10–12 times their weight in water, making chia seed pudding a satiating breakfast option.
  4. Cottage Cheese: One cup of low fat (1% milkfat) cottage cheese has 163 calories and a whopping 28 grams of protein and is a great protein choice for vegetarians. It also contains almost 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12, required for many energy enzymatic reactions in the body. Also, cottage cheese can stimulate feelings of fullness, similar to that of eggs. It’s also high in selenium, which is an antioxidant and is integral to thyroid health. Not sure how to incorporate cottage cheese into your breakfast? Mix it into pancakes or waffles as a substitute for milk; mix it with fruits like berries, sliced bananas, peach slices, or melon; blend it with milk and fruits for a smooth; or top it on your toast with cream cheese and cinnamon.
  5. Avocados: With 160 calories, 7 grams of fiber, and 15 grams of healthy fats, avocados supply us with continuous energy and contain a good amount of soluble fiber, which feeds the friendly gut bacteria in our intestines to support a healthy gut. Avocados are also loaded with phytonutrients – that is, nutrients found in plant food that our body requires to function well.
  6. Oatmeal: This complex, undefined carb, is an easy food to convert into quick energy. Plus, oats have many vitamins and minerals that help the energy production process from B vitamins and iron. Opt for steel-cut or rolled oats over the instant options for the least processed options.
  7. Coffee: A natural stimulant due to its caffeine content. Caffeine quickly passes from your bloodstream into your brain for a jolt of energy. Keep in mind; the experts suggest keeping your daily intake under 400 mg, about four cups of coffee.

Washuta’s Picks:

  1. Yogurt: Natural, sugar-free yogurt contains a healthy blend of carbs, fats, and protein for a morning energy boost and is also easy to eat on the go. Greek yogurt, in particular, is naturally higher in protein. Try a yogurt bowl: One cup Greek yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt), two tablespoons of chia, flax, or hemp seeds, plus one small piece of fruit, such as a peach or a handful of berries. 
  2. Ezekiel Bread: One of the healthiest loaves of bread around, Ezekiel contains a mix of sprouted grains, including legumes, millet, barley, and spelt, for a nutritiously-dense and filling bread with zero added sugar! Try Ezekiel toast: Two slices of toasted Ezekiel bread topped with two tablespoons of nut butter or half an avocado.

Hunter’s Picks:

  1. Walnuts: These nuts are a great source of healthy fats and fiber that will leave you feeling full throughout your morning. They're also rich in omega-3 fats, which the body uses for energy.
  2. Fruit and Nut Butter: Combining foods rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and lean protein will provide lasting energy to power you through your day. Try mixing your favorite fruit, such as an apple, with pure peanut or almond butter, both low-carb options filled with healthy, satisfying fats and around 3.5-4 grams of protein per tablespoon.
  3. Cucumbers and Hummus: Cucumbers are rich in water, which will hydrate you in the morning, while the chickpeas in hummus are a great source of both protein and fiber to leave you feeling full and energized throughout your day. Chickpeas are also rich in magnesium, which the body needs to produce energy.

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