What to Eat If You Are Tired All the Time?

A sluggish mind and low energy from consistently feeling tired make it hard to function well. Fatigue negatively impacts all aspects of a teenager’s life from relationships to academics and athletics. While many factors can contribute to energy levels throughout the day, nutrition plays an important role in boosting energy levels. Teens fighting constant fatigue may wonder what they should eat if they are tired all the time.

A variety of factors contribute to energy including sleep, medical conditions, stress and dietary choices. Among these dietary choices, ensuring adequate intake of nutrient dense foods will help alleviate feelings of low energy.

If you are tired all the time, some of the top energy supporting foods you should eat include whole grains, fatty fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, bananas, watermelon, dark leafy greens, and water.

Overall, consuming balanced meals with half the plate fruit and vegetables, a quarter grain and a quarter protein will help a teenager best meet their energy needs. Continue reading to learn more tips for addressing constant feelings of tiredness.

What Foods Help You Feel Energized?

Some foods leave teens feeling sluggish while others offer mental clarity and energy. The difference usually comes down to the nutrient profile of each food. Nutrient dense foods will give far more sustainable energy than those with mostly sugar or those that are highly processed.

The following foods help a teenager feel energized throughout the day:

Whole grains– These types of grains boast of energizing complex carbohydrates along with fiber to keep blood sugar levels regular. They also contain iron and B-vitamins to support energy production and utilization in the body. Examples of whole grains include oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat, popcorn and many others. Look for the “100% whole” claim to ensure the product is a whole grain rather than a refined counterpart.

Fatty fish– Salmon, tuna, sardines and other sea food varieties provide quality and complete protein essential to strong muscles and organs. In addition to protein, fatty fish are rich in the essential fatty acid omega 3, which offer a host of benefits. These benefits include better sleep, decreased inflammation, improved mental health, and healthier skin, brain and heart. 

Eggs– Versatile, easy to digest and a source of nutrient dense protein make eggs a perfect addition to an energizing snack or meal. The protein helps keep blood sugar stable, and nutrients such as choline and vitamin D support a healthy and alert mind.

Nuts– A handful of nuts can go a long way. The protein, fiber and healthy fats keep blood sugar stable, promote feelings of satiety and provide a dense and quick source of energy. Nuts are also linked to improved heart health and a decreased risk of chronic disease.

Beans– A great ratio of carbohydrate and protein in beans supports lasting energy levels. Beans also contain high levels of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals to build a healthy gut and improve overall health. Furthermore, beans provide iron, which is essential to oxygen transport in the body.

Bananas– Known for their high content of the electrolyte potassium, bananas also offer teens a simple snack that can quickly and sustainably boost energy levels with natural sugars and fiber.

Watermelon– 92% of this delicious fruit consists of water, which helps hydrate an individual. This fruit also provides quick, but stable energy and offers a host of nutrients and antioxidants.

Dark leafy greens– Spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, and other dark leafy vegetables deserve a spotlight in the array of energy boosting foods. Dark leafy greens are generally high in iron, magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin K, Vitamin A, fiber, and countless other nutrients. They deservingly play an important role in supporting healthy blood and well-being.

Water– Inadequate intake of fluids is one of the most common culprits of fatigue or a sluggish mind. Staying hydrated keeps up energy levels, provides mental clarity and boosts overall health.

What are Some Reasons for Having Low Energy?

If you’re feeling tired and lazy all the time, there may be a reason!

1. Not Eating Enough

Calories provide the energy the body needs to function properly. Inadequate intake of calories will cause the body to conserve energy for more vital functions, resulting in less energy availability for day to day activities.

Adolescents should eat until satisfied and frequently enough to feel energized throughout the day. Calorie needs differ according to a variety of factors and a teenager should listen to hunger and fullness cues. Those who struggle with disordered eating and thought patterns should reach out to a healthcare professional.

2. Skipping Breakfast

After a long overnight fast, the body’s available energy will be low. Teenagers who skip breakfast may find themselves feeling less energized, not only in the morning, but throughout the day as well. They may find it hard to meet nutrient and calorie needs without the nutrient rich foods often consumed at breakfast time.

A good breakfast should contain a balance of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats. A nutrient dense meal will provide more benefits and more sustainable energy than a higher sugar meal. Instead of a pop-tart or bowl of sugar cereal, a teenager could enjoy an egg burrito or a banana and peanut butter oatmeal bowl.

3. Unbalanced Meals or Snacks

A carbohydrate focused eating occasion can lead to a quick energy spike and subsequent crash. A protein or fat centered plate lacks the energy and satiating characteristics of carbohydrates.

To avoid energy slumps between eating occasions, teenagers should create plates with a mix of energizing carbohydrates, satiating protein, fiber and healthy fats. The MyPlate model offers great guidance with half the plate fruit and vegetables, a quarter grain and a quarter protein.

4. Nutrient Deficiency

Teenagers who fail to eat balanced meal patterns or experience malabsorption may find themselves at risk for a vitamin or mineral deficiency. A common symptom of a nutrient deficiency will present as decreased energy.

However, a teenager should not assume or self-treat a nutrient deficiency without a diagnosis from a doctor. Improper use of nutrient supplements can lead to toxicity or other poor health outcomes. You can get simple blood work tests at your next doctor’s checkup. Common nutrient deficiencies among teenagers that could lead to fatigue include iron, vitamin D, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals.

5. Lack of Movement

Adding in exercise and any type of movement during the day can actually help a teenager feel more energized. A lack of movement decreases heart health, clarity and mental health. Movement can be as simple as walking with a friend or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You don’t have to get your running shoes out to find benefits from regular movement, just be creative and find ways to be more active.

6. Poor Sleep

The late nights combined with early mornings often lead to decreased, rather than increased productivity. Poor quality sleep will cause fatigue throughout the following day among other mental and physical health disadvantages. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of consistent, quality sleep. Put away all screens 2 hours before bedtime and have a nighttime routine that helps you relax and unwind. Your health will benefit from quality sleep.

7. Mental Health

Ongoing stress and anxiety can significantly drain a teenager’s energy. Teenagers who chronically feel stressed or anxious may need to readjust schedules, balance priorities, take time out for themselves and speak to a trained professional.

See also: What are the Best Foods for Brain Health?

8. Underlying Health Conditions

Some instances of constant low energy may result from a health or medical condition. Adolescents should seek medical advice when fatigue seems to affect daily living. Conditions such as depression, thyroid disorders, malabsorption, cancer and illnesses can all affect energy levels.

Nutrients You May Be Missing If You’re Always Tired

Nutrients play an important role in maintaining health and energy production. Deficiencies in certain nutrients will cause adolescents to feel tired and unwell. However, fatigue can result from a variety of other issues. Make sure to seek advice from a healthcare professional, especially before starting any nutrition supplement. Taking too much of a nutrient can negatively affect health too.

Carbohydrates Main source of energy Grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt
ProteinHelps regulate blood sugar, increases satiety and supports healthy body systems and tissueMeat/poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products
Dietary FatLarge source for energy production and storage. Provides satiety, regulates blood sugar response and protects organ health Unsaturated fats: fatty fish, nuts, seeds, plant oils, olives, avocado 
IronHelps transport oxygen through the blood. A deficiency cause anemia with the classic symptom of little energy.Meat/poultry, fish, legumes, fortified cereals, leafy greens, dried fruit, nuts
PotassiumMain electrolyte and supports a healthy heartFruit, vegetables, legumes, dairy
MagnesiumCrucial to healthy muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control and protein synthesis Whole grains, dark leafy greens, milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, seeds, nuts, legumes
Vitamin DLow vitamin D causes tiredness. Adequate amounts also protect bone health.Seafood, fortified dairy or juice, UV treated mushrooms, eggs
B VitaminsAssists with energy production and helps build healthy blood cellsGrains, protein foods, dark leafy greens, citrus fruit, bananas, avocados

How to Quickly Boost Your Energy During the Day

Sometimes a teenager needs a quick burst of energy to get over that mid-day slump or start an important paper later in the day. One of the quickest ways to boost energy comes from simply filling up and drinking a water bottle. Many teenagers don’t realize they are dehydrated, which can significantly reduce energy. Beverages high in sugar may lead to a quick boost in energy but will ultimately leave a teenager tired again. Water and other unsweetened beverages make the best choices for hydration.

A well-timed snack or meal can certainly make a difference in energy. However, the wrong foods can also contribute to energy crashes. The best energy supporting snack will have carbohydrates to boost energy. It will also contain healthy fats, protein or fiber to maintain that higher energy level for a longer period of time. Simple carbohydrates and high amounts of sugar can lead to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes while too much protein or fat can cause a person to feel sluggish.

Food Examples:

  • Fruit with nut butter
  • Bean and cheese quesadilla
  • Hummus and whole grain crackers
  • Trail mix with dried fruit
  • Tuna fish on whole grain bagel
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Oatmeal with berries

Another tip to increase energy is to expend a little energy. A short walk, a small stretching routine or some other form of activity can get the blood pumping and oxygen transported throughout the body.

Take a look at your pre-sleep habits as the hours before create the quality of sleep. Even ten hours of poor sleep can leave a teenager feeling drained of energy throughout the day. To improve sleep quality, teenagers should limit caffeine, high fat and high sugar before in the hours before bedtime. They can also avoid electronics, create a routine and take time to wind down.

See Also:

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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