The definition of a calorie is a unit of energy. All too often, this word has a negative connotation. However, if you’re looking for an energy boost, you’ll want to be sure to eat enough calories from various food groups. “This energy helps to run all the normal bodily processes that keep us alive, along with the energy we need to be alert and active during the day,” explains dietitian Alisha Virani, MS, RD, CDCES. “Providing the body with nutrients it needs to run these daily functions is vital for optimal health and sustained energy.”

Unfortunately, when individuals are trying to ‘eat healthier,’ they may not eat enough food or enough food from specific groups, resulting in fatigue. “We can’t run on an empty tank,” says dietitian Catherine Karnatz, MPH, RD. “Not eating enough food and nutrients on a regular basis can sabotage our energy levels and leave us feeling fatigued.”

Here are three general nutrition tips for adequate and stable energy:

  • Eat often. Eating every few hours supports stable blood sugar levels, energy, and focus. “It takes us roughly 4-5 hours to digest a full meal so eating on a regular schedule is a good way to sustain energy levels throughout the day,” says dietitian Letal Yerganjiev, MS, RDN, CDCES, RYT.
  • Strike a balance of food groups. “Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that come from our foods are broken down into their smaller components in order to be used by our cells for energy,” explains Virani. As dietitian Heidi Schauster states in her book, Nourish: Carbs (like bread, fruit, and pasta) energize, fats (like avocados, nuts, and butter) satisfy, and proteins (like beef, chicken, and eggs) sustain. “Consider the framework of having all three macronutrients as well as some color on your plate from brightly pigmented produce,” suggests Yerganjiev.
  • Eat according to your body’s cues. “Listen to your body when it’s signaling that it’s hungry,” encourages Karnatz. If you’re connected to your body’s cues, intuitively eating and honoring your body’s communication can ensure good energy levels.

All foods can fit into an energizing meal and snack pattern. As you learn which combinations of foods and eating pattern works best for your energy levels, take the 4-day meal plan as a gentle, flexible guide. Since individual nutrition needs vary greatly, it’s only intended to be an example of four days’ worth of regular, balanced meals and snacks in a 3-meal, 2-snack structure.

4-Day Meal Plan for Energy

Day 1

  • BreakfastPeanut butter toast or bagel – 2 slices of whole grain bread or a whole wheat bagel topped with a hearty spoonful of peanut butter, 1 sliced banana, a small handful of chia seeds, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey.
  • LunchTurkey wrap and side/s – 1 large tortilla, 2-3 slices of turkey, a slice of cheese, a spoonful of mayo, veggies of choice (lettuce, tomato, etc.), and choice of side (i.e., a snack bag of pretzels and/or pear).
  • Snack: Large handful of your favorite trail mix
  • DinnerMediterranean platter – ¼ to 1/3 of a (regular, 10-inch) plate of Greek salad (with feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and dressing), 1/3 to ½ of pita bread, and ¼ to 1/3 of spreads like hummus and tzatziki.
  •  Snack: 1 cup of ice cream topped with some sliced banana and cinnamon

Day 2

  • BreakfastPancakes and eggs – 2-3 Kodiak Cakes pancakes with a handful of blueberries, a drizzle of maple syrup, and one to two eggs (prepared to your liking)
  • LunchPower bowl – one roasted and cubed sweet or white potato, about a cup of cooked and seasoned veggies (like broccoli, onion, and/or kale), a handful of sauteed and seasoned chickpeas, a half an avocado sliced, and a good drizzle of your choice of creamy dressing.
  • Snack: 1 cup* of Greek yogurt topped with a handful of granola and/or berries
  • DinnerSalmon curry — ¼ to 1/3 of a (regular, 10-inch) plate of veggies (like carrots and cauliflower), 1/3 to ½ of a plate of rice, and ¼ to 1/3 of salmon in homemade or store-bought curry sauce. 
  •  Snack: two squares of dark chocolate and a few (2-4) cubes of cheddar cheese

Day 3

  • BreakfastAvocado toast – 2 slices of whole-grain toast topped with half an avocado, 2 fried or sunny-side-up eggs, and Everything but the Bagel seasoning
  • LunchSalad & grain bowl — A few handfuls of lettuce topped with one chopped apple, about a cup of grains (such as cous cous or farro), and ½-1 cup of cooked and seasoned chicken, a handful each of crumbled goat or blue cheese and chopped walnuts, and your favorite balsamic dressing.
  • Snack: Hearty granola bar (i.e., Clif bar)
  • DinnerBeef & Bean Quesadilla – 2 medium or large tortillas, filled with about a cup of cooked and seasoned (50/50) bean and beef mixture and a hearty handful of shredded mozzarellas, topped with a spoonful of salsa and guacamole with a side of sauteed peppers and onions.
  • Snack: 1-2 handfuls of crackers with a few spoonfuls of hummus or your favorite dip

Day 4

  •  BreakfastEgg Burrito — 1 large tortilla, 2-3 eggs (scrambled in a bit of oil or butter), a large handful of spinach (sauteed in a bit of oil or butter), a small handful of crumbled feta, and a spoonful of salsa
  •  LunchSandwich and side — 2 slices of whole grain bread with around ½ cup tuna salad, a slice of cheese, optional lettuce and tomato, and a side of choice (i.e. apple slices and/or pretzels)
  • Snack: 2-4 dried dates stuffed with peanut butter and chocolate chips
  • DinnerBowl of nutrient-dense and flavorful chili, topped with a handful of shredded cheese and ¼ to half a sliced avocado.
  • Snack: A few holiday cookies and a glass of milk

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