What Are the Best Foods to Eat For Energy?

Feeling tired all the time can be really annoying, especially when you have a busy schedule with lots to do! Eating the proper foods and the right times can definitely increase energy levels and help you feel better overall.

The best way to eat for energy is to eat a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat at meals and snacks and to avoid going long periods of time without eating. This means you should start your morning with breakfast! Since carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source, focus on getting a lot of complex carbs rather than added sugars, but pair it with another food to help slow down your digestion and prolong the energy you get from eating carbs.

Read on for more information about what foods to eat if you feel tired, tips to help you feel more energized, how to eat to feel more energized during exercise, and information about caffeine.

What Can You Eat if You Are Tired?

If you are feeling tired, the first thing you should do is evaluate the reasons why you might be feeling that way. Keep in mind that it is likely a combination of things contributing to your tiredness. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that might uncover some important information:

  • How much sleep did I get last night?
  • When was the last time I ate?
  • Did I eat breakfast today?
  • Have I eaten enough carbohydrates today?
  • Did I have an intense workout recently?
  • Are my stress levels high?
  • Have I been eating protein, carbohydrates, and fat at all meals and snacks?
  • Am I deficient in any nutrients like iron or Vitamin B12? (This requires some lab testing from your doctor)

It is always best to target what is really making you tired. If you are chronically tired from not getting enough sleep, eating isn’t really going to help a whole lot with the problem.

Similarly, if you are iron deficient, you could be feeling exhausted even if you are eating enough. It is important to get to the root of the problem to really help you feel your best.

While there are lots of things that can make you feel tired, not eating enough food, not eating balanced, or not eating frequently enough can also make you feel tired. This is where it can be helpful to go through your eating habits with a dietitian to ensure that you are meeting your needs. They can give you more individualized tips for increasing your energy levels. 

If you suspect food to be the reason you are feeling tired, the best thing you can do is to not go more than a few hours without eating. If you have really high energy needs, you might need to eat even more frequently.

Remember that carbohydrate foods are the ones that provide your body with energy, so they should be included each time you eat! Foods that are high in carbohydrates include:

  • Fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, frozen fruit, canned fruit.
  • Grains and starches such as pasta, bread, rice, pretzels, crackers, tortillas, cereals, oatmeal, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, and peas.
  • Some dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream.
  • Foods with added sugars (brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, etc).
  • Sports drinks and gels
  • Candies, cookies, brownies, popsicles, cake, and other sugary treats.

Many of these foods will give you an energy boost, but might cause your blood sugar to drop back down after a while, making you feel tired again (the “crash”). To help your body sustain the energy from carbohydrates, pair them with foods that also contain protein and fat, such as nuts, nut butters, meats, poultry, fish, seeds, greek yogurt, cheese, etc.

Tips for Feeling More Energized

With a busy schedule full of sports, school, work, chores, and more, most people are searching for more energy. There are actually a lot of things that can impact your energy levels. Here are some of my top tips for feeling more energized.

  1. Get enough sleep! Most people need between 7-10 hours of sleep each night so figure out the amount of sleep that feels best for your body.
  1. Start your day with a balanced breakfast (choose a starch, a protein, and a fruit for a high-energy meal). After going all night without eating anything, you can’t expect your body to start going full-speed ahead without any fuel! 
  1. Eat a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This will help give you more sustained energy and prevent spikes and dips in blood sugar that can make you feel tired.
  1. Take care of your mental health! Feeling stressed out frequently can also make your body tired. Try out some activities that lower your stress like hanging out with friends, meditating, reading a book, exercising, etc.
  1. Incorporate exercise into your regular routine. Did you know that exercising regularly can actually boost your energy levels? It might sound strange since exercising sometimes makes you feel tired in the moment, but it is important for maintaining good energy levels!
  1. However, doing a lot of intense exercise regularly without taking time to rest and recover can also make you tired. Find the sweet spot with exercise that makes your body feel good without overdoing it.
  1. Avoid going long periods of time without eating. You might be okay to eat every 4-6 hours, but if you struggle with energy during the day, you might need to actually eat more frequently than that.
  1. Honor your hunger and fullness cues. If you are ignoring hunger cues, your body is probably going too long without fuel. On the other hand, eating past satisfaction might also cause you to feel tired and bloated.
  1. Focus on complex carbohydrates for energy rather than foods with a lot of added sugars. This is where whole grains can be super helpful for energy levels!
  1. Use snacks when you have a long time between meals. Busy schedules might make your eating look a little bit wacky on some days, but having snacks available can be super helpful!

Best Foods for Energy During Exercise

Did you know that your body can’t store enough carbohydrates for really long bouts of exercise? I typically recommend that athletes exercising for longer than 45 minutes consume extra carbohydrates to keep their energy levels up. Some athletes that are doing more intensive exercise or who were not able to fuel well prior to exercise might still need carbs if they are working out for less than an hour and a half.

Remember how we talked about eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat? The only exception to this is right before and during exercise. Rather than slowing down digestion, we want the energy from carbohydrates to be available immediately so that you can use it during your workout. Consuming a lot of protein and fat will probably just make you feel sluggish.

After exercise, remember to fuel appropriately to improve your energy levels then and for future workouts! Post-workout fuel would include carbohydrates, protein, and fat! 

For more information, read my article What Foods Give Instant Energy to an Athlete?

What Foods Affect Energy Levels?

Foods that cause big changes in your blood sugar can affect your energy levels. Carbohydrates in the food you eat break down into sugars that get absorbed into the bloodstream and then travel to your muscles to give them energy. Rapid spikes in blood sugar and then dips in blood sugar can sometimes cause people to not feel too great.

During times that you are not being very active, really focus on eating complex carbohydrates (like whole grains) rather than simple sugars (like sports drinks, soda, and candy), and balance those carbohydrates out with some protein and fat. 

No foods are really off limits, but you can maximize your energy levels by pairing foods together and eating the right kinds of foods at the right times during your day. You might be surprised at how much little changes can make a huge difference!

What About Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural drug that many people are tempted to use when they feel low on energy. The thing about caffeine is- it might make you feel a bit more energized, but it is throwing your entire body into overdrive and making it work harder. I would much rather people get their energy from a true food source (carbohydrates) rather than something that will only make them feel energized.

It is recommended that healthy adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine each day. Teenagers really shouldn’t have more than 100 mg in a day, and children should avoid caffeine altogether.

Many people recommend that teenagers avoid caffeine altogether and adults cut back on their caffeine intake, which is the safest and healthiest option. Even small amounts of caffeine can cause negative effects in some people. These side effects may include:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Change in appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Increased urination and dehydration

I encourage everyone to be aware of their caffeine intake and make sure they are getting the energy their body needs from a well-balanced diet. If you notice that you are experiencing any possible symptoms of too much caffeine or if you feel yourself becoming reliant on it, work on cutting back on how much you are consuming.

The chart below shows average amounts of caffeine in different popular foods and beverages. How much caffeine are you consuming?

Children, teenagers, pregnant women, and those with other health conditions should always talk with their doctor before consuming caffeine. For more information on Caffeine intake for sports, check out my article, Is it OK for Teenagers to Drink Tea? Ask a Dietitian.


Eating the right foods at the right time can make a huge difference in energy levels! Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, but protein and fat help to slow down digestion and sustain that energy. However, if you are eating properly and still feeling tired, there may be other things going on.

If you find yourself constantly feeling tired, it is worth getting to the root of the problem rather than compensating with caffeine or excess food. You can work with a dietitian to evaluate your eating habits and they may refer you to a doctor if they suspect other underlying factors.


Aronson D. Eating for energy. Todaysdietitian.com. Published April 2009.

Gidus T. Eating to boost energy. Eatright.org. Published July 17, 2020.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Caffeine: how much is too much? Mayoclinic.org. Published March 19, 2022.

TeensHealth. Caffeine. Kidshealth.org. Reviewed June 2020.

Weisenberger J. Is your kid overcaffeinated? Eatright.org. Published October 25, 2018. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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