Foods for Fuel

By Stephanie Bouquet, SB Nutrition Consulting

(reprinted from Coastal Grower Magazine, Spring 2012)

Do you feel like you run out of energy before the day is over? Is it challenging to fit in daily exercise because your body feels sluggish? The culprit to low energy levels may be in part how you are fueling your body.

Food is not only one of life’s pleasures; it’s also the body’s primary form of energy. To boost day-to-day vigor, begin to think of your body like the car you drive. It’s important to provide your body with the right fuel at the right times during the day for peak performance.

Try these strategies to increase your energy during the day:

• Consume evenly sized meals every four hours throughout the day.  

The energy from foods we consume raises our blood sugar level in a four-hour bell curve. Waiting longer than that to refuel causes your blood sugar to drop too low and extreme hunger can lead to less than optimal food choices. It’s important to have consistency in the diet and to plan for a snack if meal times are delayed. Combining at least three different kinds of foods at each meal and at least two kinds for snacks ensures you will get a good mix of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to fuel your body and stabilize your blood sugar level. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently developed an easy-to-use visual of this concept called MyPlate which can be viewed and used interactively at

• Include a carbohydrate food at each meal and snack.  

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel for muscles. They are also the only source of energy our brain uses. In recent years, carbohydrates have been viewed as bad or fattening foods. There are no bad foods but rather bad habits that have developed with foods. Choosing fiber-rich carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains most often will give the body the “gas” needed to perform efficiently and provide overall health. Watch out for energy drinks and sweetened coffee drinks that give a large dose of carbohydrate (i.e. sugar) and quick burst of energy, but then subsequently drop the blood sugar too low causing greater fatigue and lethargy.

• Include a protein source at each meal and snack.

Protein keeps us full and helps maintain level blood sugar until the next time we fuel our bodies. Including a protein food at most meals is common in the American diet, but the lack of protein found in a typical snack is a major dietary downfall. For example, adding a small handful of nuts to an apple for a mid-morning snack will hold blood sugar level until a meal is consumed a few hours later. Lean proteins such as reduced fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, chicken, fish and beans are recommended protein sources.

• Add heart-healthy fats for energy and flavor.

The addition of fat in our diet makes foods more pleasurable and aids in meal satiety.  Choosing unsaturated fats (found in avocado, seeds, olive oil, oily fish, nuts and nut butters, for example) in place of animal-based saturated fats or manufactured trans fats (margarines, fast foods) can also lead to improved overall heart health. Recent dietary studies have linked the use of unsaturated fats to the reduction of other inflammatory diseases of the body.

Drink plenty of water and fluids throughout the day.  

Walking around in a state of dehydration can cause fatigue. A good rule of thumb for hydration needs is to drink in ounces half of your body weight throughout the day. Foods such as low fat dairy products, vegetables and fruits contain a large water content which also contributes to recommended daily fluid needs.  Watch your intake of caffeinated beverages and sodas (regular and diet) as they may further contribute to dehydration.

Slow down and enjoy foods consumed.  

Busy schedules may make eating on the run normal without much attention to how much or how quickly our body is fed. An internal feeding mechanism does exist between our brain and stomach that signals when we have eaten enough. Unfortunately, it takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to process this connection, so if you consume meals or snacks in a shorter time frame, chances are the amount eaten is more than your body needs at one time. A larger than needed food intake diverts energy to digesting these foods which leads to difficulty staying awake after a large business luncheon, for instance.

• Vitamin and mineral supplements may be helpful.

Vitamins and minerals do not give you energy, but they unlock the energy stored in food so your body can use it as fuel. If your diet is not as balanced as you’d like, consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing 100% of the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) to fill in the deficient spots. Other supplements to consider include: Iron, Calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. A registered dietitian can provide further insight into your dietary intake and make suggestions for improvement.