Expert-recommended foods to combat fatigue

By Alistair Gardiner
Published March 16, 2021

Key Takeaways

Do you often feel lethargic? Groggy and unfocused? Struggling to make it to the end of the workday? These feelings and sensations may be linked to your eating habits.

According to Harvard Health, the key to keeping your energy levels high is eating a balanced diet, with foods that can be converted to energy at a steady rate, eaten in small amounts throughout the day. In order to keep fatigue at bay, your diet should involve a range of unrefined carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that primarily come from vegetables, whole grains, and healthy oils. It’s best to avoid sugary foods, which provide a quick burst of energy followed by a slump. 

Snacking can help keep you going—as long as you choose moderate consumption of complex carbohydrates, protein-heavy foods, and healthy fats, which provide a slow drip of energy for your brain and body through the day. 

Let’s look at eight foods that can help you maintain higher energy levels and keep those groggy feelings at bay, according to health experts.


Oatmeal ranks among those aforementioned complex carbohydrates. It’s full of nutrients and fiber, and your body will digest it slowly, which means starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal will help keep you energized for hours. Oatmeal is linked to many health benefits. As most of us know by now, oatmeal’s biggest claim to fame is its ability, as a soluble fiber, to decrease bad cholesterol. It also lowers blood sugar levels, provides antioxidants, eases constipation, promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, and more. 


Beans are another fiber-rich food that, while underappreciated, boast multiple health benefits. Beans contain high levels of protein. Additionally, this energy-dense food is rich in magnesium, which your cells use to make energy. Like oats, dried beans are a soluble fiber, which means they won’t cause an energy spike or a resulting crash that leaves you feeling drained later in the day. In short, they leave you feeling fuller, longer


While nuts have a lot of calories, they’re also high in fiber, which means they’ll take longer to digest, leaving you with a long, slow release of energy after eating them. Nuts also feature omega-3 fatty acids—the polyunsaturated healthy fats that improve levels of satiety and keep your energy levels boosted for longer. And, as a bonus, you can improve your heart health by eating nuts.


While not the most obvious snack, sardines offer high levels of protein, along with omega-3 healthy fats, calcium, iron and vitamin D. According to a review published in Nutrients, a “fatigue reduction diet” is one that features whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and, significantly, omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that those who regularly eat fish are less likely to be fatigued than those who don’t, according to the review authors. If you're not a sardine fan, try salmon.


When it comes to meat, chicken is an excellent source of protein and provides less saturated fat compared with other meats like beef or pork. Snacking on some grilled chicken will provide you with slow-release energy, without the higher levels of unhealthy fats found in red meats, especially if the skin is removed.


Snacking on berries—whether they’re blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, or others—can be a great alternative to other sweet treats. Unlike candy or baked goods, berries provide a slow release of sugars that won’t result in a spike in blood sugar and subsequent sugar crash. Plus, they boast antioxidant polyphenols, fiber, and vitamins. One study, published in Food & Function, found that berry consumption helped mitigate post-meal hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia in overweight adults and those with insulin resistance. And, an added benefit: Berries are among the fruits known to have anti-aging properties.


Eating just one medium egg, poached or boiled, will provide you with 5.5 grams of protein and only 62.5 calories. Starting the day with eggs, rather than a doughnut, can keep you feeling fuller longer and provide a sustained release of energy throughout the morning. And, although eggs get a bad rap because of their association with high levels of cholesterol and heart disease, some studies now show that eggs aren’t as bad as you think, They can be part of a healthy diet—especially if you avoid the bacon or sausage on the side.

Tea or coffee

While consuming too much caffeine can result in problems with sleep, drinking tea or coffee early in the day can help perk you up. According to a review published in Nutrients, adults can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day without experiencing negative health impacts. So don’t worry if you need to pour a cup or two of coffee or tea to combat lethargy. And, the good news? Both coffee and tea offer health benefits. So drink up!   


When it comes to making you feel satiated, water may not be able to compete with food, but it’s essential for the bodily functions that maintain alertness and break food down into energy, helping deliver fuel to your cells and get rid of waste. Beyond that, those who drink more water tend to consume less fat, sugar, salt, cholesterol, and total calories. So drink your water, but watch your intake—there are dangers to drinking too much water

To learn more about foods that specifically help with cognitive and physical performance throughout the day, click here.

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