Most of us have a clear understanding that food is the body’s primary energy source. Once consumed, it is broken down within the digestive system into either fats, proteins, or carbohydrates. After they have been broken down into their smallest forms, they are then transported throughout the body to take part in their respective metabolic processes. Energy production is their primary role of carbohydrates and fats within the body.
Both are used as our primary sources of energy (it is important to note that protein can also be used for energy in times where carbohydrates and fats are unavailable). Taking this into consideration, it becomes apparent that all foods give us energy in this specific capacity, but it is still important to note that not all foods are created equal. As such, some foods have the potential to give us more energy than others.
Building on this concept further, some foods actually have the potential to give us greater quality energy than others. Additionally, some foods contain specific compounds that can increase energy levels even further, in which we can see reductions in fatigue and increased energy production.
Energy Quality: The Glycemic Index and Insulin
To understand this concept based around energy quality, it is important that we briefly touch on the notion of the Glycemic Index (also known as the GI). The GI ranks carbohydrate rich foods in accordance to their impact on blood glucose levels. When foods containing carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into glucose in the digestive system. After being broken down, they are transported into the blood, causing an increase in blood sugar.
This increase in blood sugar causes an increased secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin’s primary role is to promote the movement of glucose from the blood. This will in turn cause a subsequent drop in blood sugar (returning them to resting levels). If a food ranks high on the GI, then it will cause a rapid increase in blood sugar. This results in a rapid increase in insulin secretion, which as we known results in another rapid decline in blood sugar levels.
This process describes the rapid energy rush we see after eating a sugary meal, which is often followed by an energy crash. This crash in energy is often associated with feelings of lethargy, mental fuzziness, and fatigue. It is important to note that those foods generally ranking low on the GI are whole foods (think fruits and vegetables). Whereas foods that have undergone a large amount of processing typically rank with a high GI (think pastas, breads, and junk foods).
Top 5 Energy Boosting Foods
With all that in mind, we will delve into the top 5 foods providing lasting energy without an associated energy crash, while also touching on the specific compounds they contain that further enhance energy production. These foods are ranked from 1-5 based on their ability to provide energy to the body, taking into consideration the rate that they are digested and absorbed, the duration that their energy lasts, and their vitamin and mineral content. These foods can be easily added into the diet on a daily basis to give your body an easy energy boost.
Eggs are a fantastic food that not only contain an abundance of healthy fats, but are also very high in protein. Both of these factors alone can provide a sustained release of energy within the body, while also promoting the repair and development of muscle and connective tissue.
Eggs are also extremely rich in the B group vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6. Each of these compounds play an important role in the body’s energy production processes, where they facilitate the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates for energy. As such, eggs also have the capacity to boost energy production, further increasing energy levels.
Quinoa is a type of whole grain extremely rich in protein. Additionally, while also rich in carbohydrates, Quinoa registers incredibly low on the GI index. This means it provides a slow and gradual release of glucose into the blood, greatly limiting insulin secretion. The result of which is a long lasting and gradual stream of energy entering the body, without a “sugar crash”.
As a bonus, Quinoa is also extremely high in phosphorous and manganese. Each of these compounds play are essential at producing nerve impulses, and increasing our consumption of them can help maintain the health of nervous system, while enhancing the body’s capacity to breakdown fats for energy. As such their consumption can lead to an increase in function and reduced feelings of fatigue.
Spinach in itself doesn’t actually contain a heap of energy per gram, but it is extremely rich in the mineral iron. Iron plays an incredibly important role in the body, where it aids red blood cells by carrying oxygen around the body, to the working muscle tissues and the brain. As oxygen is essential to breaking down both fats and carbohydrates for energy, this process is imperative to efficient energy production, and explains why the consumption of spinach can often alleviate symptoms of fatigue while simultaneously increasing energy levels.
4. Black Beans
Black beans are quite high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, in which they rank extremely low in GI. As such they are a great source of sustained energy to the body, lasting well after its initial consumption. In conjunction with this, black beans are also extremely rich in the mineral magnesium.
Magnesium is essential to the maintenance of cellular health, increasing its capacity to absorb and use nutrients that are essential for energy production, while also playing a role in over 300 biochemical processes within the human body. By ensuring we have adequate magnesium available in the body, we maximize the body’s ability to produce lasting energy, while also improving its capacity to perform other metabolic processes.
Lentils are quite similar to black beans because they contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates. However, lentils contain even higher amounts of fiber. This fiber actually slows the digestion of all macronutrients even further, greatly delaying absorption. As a result, Lentils are a food that provide an extremely slow release of energy to the body throughout the duration of the day, as their already low GI carbohydrates are absorbed extremely slowly into the bloodstream. Lentils are also rich in Magnesium, which as we know, is essential to energy production.
While in a physical sense, all foods provide us with energy, it quickly becomes apparent that some foods provide more and higher quality energy than others. By choosing whole foods ranking low on the GI, we ensure we receive a slow and gradual release of energy into the body, while simultaneously avoiding the energy crash associated with high GI foods.
Additionally, by prioritizing foods that contain essential B group vitamins, in conjunction with the minerals phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and iron, we can maximize the body’s ability to produce and metabolize energy. This can stave off feelings of lethargy while maximizing energy production significantly.
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