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May 19, 2022 Kristen Peairs

Eating for Energy at Work

How can I eat for energy throughout the day?

Having enough energy to get through a workday is a big topic, and it is one of the most common problems that nutrition clients ask me about. Unfortunately, what to eat for more energy does not have a one-size-fits-all solution.

I have learned to inquire about many factors that influence a person’s energy, including sleep, activity, mindset, foods, fluids, and overall wellness so that I can more accurately assess what part of their concern might be dietary versus something else.

It doesn’t make it any easier that commercials are everywhere, broadcasting exactly what can be bought to create a fast track to the energy so desperately being sought.

Unfortunately, a more comprehensive solution isn’t often investigated until a person’s lack of energy has developed beyond an annoyance and into a bigger problem.

I did not understand all of the concerns about low energy until it was all I could do to drag myself from bed, to work, to bed again. Medication, testing, and more medication were not helpful.

Getting quiet, asking for inspiration, and then acting on the inspiration started me on the path to the solution I was looking for.

Five things I learned on my journey to having more energy are as follows:

  1. There are three primary categories of energy that food supports.
  2. The types of foods and fluids being consumed matter.
  3. The frequency at which foods and fluids are consumed matters.
  4. Caffeine can be hurtful for stressed human bodies.
  5. Lack of energy is rarely just about food.

There are three categories of energy that food supports:

  • Blood sugar energy
  • Chronic stress energy
  • Endurance energy

1. Blood Sugar Energy

When my clients report having sudden energy drops during the day, I ask:

  1. How frequently are you eating?
  2. Are you eating at the same times every day?
  3. What are you eating when you eat?

It helps the body to maintain balanced blood sugar if food is consumed at consistent intervals. Carbohydrates that contain fiber should be a part of every meal. Adding a little protein is helpful.

Tips to Keep Blood Sugar Balanced

  1. Eat carbs plus a little protein at each meal (ex. Whole wheat toast with peanut butter OR fruit with low-fat yogurt OR oatmeal with nuts).
  2. Eat at the same times every day.
  3. Eat at least every 4-5 hours.

If sudden energy drops happen regularly, it’s important to check in with a physician. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include lightheadedness, irritability, nervousness, excessive sweating, and sudden feelings of excess hunger.

2. Chronic Stress Energy

For clients who have low energy after experiencing a large amount of stress over many months or years, I make a different recommendation. These clients usually feel tired most of their waking hours. Even with 7 or more hours of sleep, they still experience fatigue. Physiologically, when a person is under stress, their adrenal glands produce adrenaline. Adrenaline helps the body be ready to fight or flee. A chronically stressed person’s body has repeatedly been dosed with adrenaline and the constant effect of elevated alertness can be very hard on all the body systems, particularly the nervous system. When the nervous system is aggravated, anxiety, depression, and feelings of pain can be worse.

For chronically stressed folks, I recommend eating small snacks of a little vegetable and fruit every 1 ½ – 2 hours. These small snacks are easy for the body to digest into life-supporting energy. These little doses of energy, over time, can help heal damage accumulated during chronic stress.

Adrenal Stress Support Snacks:

  • Celery plus apples and dates
  • Spinach plus orange slices and avocado
  • Red leaf lettuce plus grapes
  • Cucumbers plus pineapple

3. Endurance Energy

The third type of energy is what I call endurance energy.

When a person knows that they will be exerting more energy than usual (as in the case of a prolonged physical activity) or will be having a significant gap between one meal and the next, eating for endurance might be the solution.

When eating for endurance, it’s important to include whole-food-based carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the meal. Good quality food supports optimum performance.

Endurance Support Snacks:

  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Whole-grain granola bars

What are the best foods to eat for energy?

Eating for Energy at Work - bearded man in suit sitting outside and eating lunch

Once a person understands what type of energy they need, they can choose the best foods to support themselves. In general, choose whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat proteins, and good quality fats are all helpful for maintaining energy throughout the day.

For most people, consuming a small amount of vegetables and fruit every few hours can be quite helpful for energy balance throughout the day.

How does hydration relate to energy?

The body needs adequate fluid to function properly. Even mild dehydration can increase irritability, headaches, and fatigue. When considering fluid intake, remember to account for the fact that fluid is part of fruits, veggies, soups, beans, and meats. Really, any food that isn’t dry and crumbly contains some amount of fluid.

How much hydration do I need each day?

A formula you can use to get a general idea of how many ounces of fluid your body needs is body weight (in pounds) multiplied by 2/3. For example, if your weight is 130 pounds, multiply 130 by .66 and you’ll get 85.8 ounces. Divide 85.8 ounces by 8, and you’ll discover that about 11 cups of fluid is your target consumption for the day.

A Word About Caffeine-Containing Beverages

Caffeine makes our bodies run faster without providing the vitamins, minerals, and life-supporting calories needed to maintain the accelerated pace. The way that caffeine makes us feel energized is by triggering the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol (a stress hormone). Cortisol can make stressful life situations feel more anxiety-producing than normal.

If caffeinated coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks are being used to cover up fatigue from lack of sleep, illness, stress, or other factors, it may actually be damaging to the mind and whole body.

Consider reducing or eliminating caffeinated beverages if chronic stress, anxiety, or depression are present.

What Should I Eat for Energy at Work?

To have the most energy at work, it’s important to remember to do three things.

  1. Know your needs: What kind of energy do you need, and how frequently do you need it?
  2. Plan ahead: Pack a bag of snacks for your workday.
  3. Include fluid: Water, coconut water, herbal tea, caffeine-free tea, caffeine-free coffee, etc.

Energy Snack Suggestions

  • Celery and apples
  • Dried fruits and nuts
  • Granola bars and coconut water
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Cheese and whole-grain crackers
  • Water infused with fresh fruit

If you’d like to do further reading on this subject, here are a few interesting articles.

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Kristen Peairs

Kristen Peairs is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Massage Therapist, and Professional Educator.

Throughout her 20-year career, she has worked with many people suffering from a diversity of chronic health conditions. Understanding how food affects the brain and the whole body has been a key factor in the success of her healing strategies.

At Nivati, she has researched, written, and filmed over 100 health and wellness videos for their content library.

Kristen is currently writing a cookbook for people living with food allergies and intolerances.

She is a graduate of Bastyr University and holds a Master's of Science in Nutrition.

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