By Stephanie Rogers
It's three in the afternoon, your energy is flagging and all you want to do is take a nap, but instead you have to sit through a boring meeting. While you could just have a second - or seventh - cup of coffee, you could also have some pumpkin seeds, an apple, a few red bell pepper slices with hummus or a piece of dark chocolate. These 20 foods can help relieve fatigue, sharpen your focus and give you the jolt of energy that you need to avoid falling asleep at your desk.
Leafy Greens Spinach, kale, arugula and chard. Virtually every variety of leafy greens is flavorful, packed with vitamins and minerals, and a low-calorie addition to your meals. Not only do they contain vitamins C and A, which are important for energy levels, they also contain depression-fighting folate.
Nuts Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews contain protein for endurance and coenzyme Q10, a nutrient that helps produce energy inside our cells. This combination makes them an ideal fuel choice for both a quick energy jolt and long-term endurance.
Lean Meats Skinless chicken, turkey and other lean cuts of meat contain the amino acid tyrosine, which helps fight fatigue. They also have lots of iron, B-vitamins and the protein your muscles need for endurance whether you're working out, competing in an athletic event or just trying to get through a hectic day.
Salmon Salmon has two grams of essential fatty acids per four-ounce serving, and these EFAs do more than just regulate insulin and facilitate healthy brain function. They also help ease inflammation, so stiffness in your joints or muscles won't slow you down.
Eggs There are plenty of foods that provide the protein vegetarians need, but perhaps none do so in such a powerful, compact package as an egg. Eggs offer many of the same benefits as lean meats, including protein, B-vitamins and iron.
Whole Grains It's common knowledge that consuming carbs will give you a quick energy boost, which makes them great before a long workout. But the pick-me-up from refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice won't last; within 30 minutes you'll be feeling sluggish again. Choose refined carbs like brown rice, oats or whole-wheat bread instead.
Coffee This one's a no-brainer. The caffeine in coffee is perhaps the most powerful and well-known energy-booster there is, and millions of people rely on it every morning just to get out the door. But when you combine some of these other pick-me-up foods in each of your daily meals, you may find you don't need coffee as much as you used to.
Tea Like coffee, black tea and green tea both contain caffeine, but they've also got the amino acid L-theanine, which can aid in alertness and memory.
Beans Lean protein, iron, B-vitamins and amino acids make beans an obvious go-to for energy, but another big benefit comes from their fiber content. Fiber slows digestion, giving your body a longer-term source of energy.
Apples Fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants have a lot of energy-boosting power on their own, but apples also contain fructose, which is quickly and efficiently processed by our bodies for energy.
Bananas A favorite of bodybuilders, bananas offer potassium, which helps muscles contract properly, as well as the fruit sugars fructose and glucose. Glucose is rapidly digested and turned into energy, so that you'll start feeling more alert right away.
Pumpkin seeds Like nuts, pumpkin seeds contain muscle-sustaining protein, vitamins and healthy fats. They're also full of magnesium, which helps convert food into energy.
Water with lemon When you're feeling a little slow, take the time to drink a glass of water, preferably with a slice of lemon for a little bit of added vitamin C. Dehydration can sap both metabolism and energy levels. Try coconut water, too, which contains electrolytes and potassium.
Watermelon It may seem like mostly - well - water, but watermelon is a surprisingly good source of energy-boosting B-vitamins, potassium and fructose. And thanks to its high water content, it's hydrating, too.
Blueberries Blueberries are often listed among so-called "superfoods" for a reason. Antioxidants in blueberries can help improve cognition, and were even found to have an anti-aging effect in a 2007 study on rats. Pair them with walnuts, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and you've got ideal brain food.
Red Bell Peppers You can get 380% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C just by eating one red bell pepper. Vitamin C helps the healing process, so your body feels less fatigued.It also contains the phytochemical lycopene, fiber and vitamin B6.
Dark Chocolate Not only does dark chocolate boost metabolism by lowering stress levels, it also increases alertness and sharpens cognitive skills for a short-term period after eating it. A study found that flavanols in dark chocolate increase blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours, helping to fight fatigue.
Low-Fat Yogurt The same amino acid that makes lean meat such a good choice for relieving fatigue and sluggishness can also be found in yogurt. Choose fat-free or low-fat greek yogurt to eliminate added sugar and get even more protein.
Green Smoothies Take the energy-packing power of leafy greens, greek yogurt, apples and bananas, and combine it with any other fruits you like, and you've got a wake-up call in a glass. Spinach and kale are favorites for green smoothies because their mild flavor is masked or even complemented by the flavors of the fruit.
Hummus Hummus combines the protein of chickpeas and sesame-based tahini with vitamin-C-packed lemon juice and the essential fatty acids in olive oil. Eat it with strips of red bell pepper and some baby carrots for triple benefits.
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Photos: juliegibbons, bobjudge, ralphandjenny, woodleywonderworks