Imagine strolling the veg aisle of your local supermarket and spotting a pile of watermelons with labels screaming ‘Mega-plus ultimate energy boost!’ Or catching a footy match where the players’ shirts herald the game’s sponsors: ‘Strawberries, for extreme endurance!’ Those foods, and heaps of others that fly under the radar, are at least as deserving of flashy labels as packaged snacks that promise a jolt.
“Most of the really great ‘energy foods’ aren’t marketed that way,” says sports dietitian Lauren Antonucci. “But some of the best choices are whole foods that are naturally high in nutrients like iron, protein and essential fatty acids.”
And we're all crying out for that kind of extra bump, right? Here, seven of the most highly charged, along with tasty ideas for how to eat ’em up. Start. Your. Engines.
At 93 per cent H₂O, this juicy orb is the fruit equivalent of an IV drip. “Most people don’t realise that water-rich foods can contribute up to 20 per cent of your fluid needs for the day,” says Antonucci. In young women, even mild dehydration is linked with fatigue, according to research in the Journal of Nutrition, because water is needed to sustain almost all of your body’s functions. A cup and a half of cubed melon is as hydrating as a 250ml glass of water, and it’s also packed with vitamins A, B₆ and C, which have their own energising properties.
Toss cubes with feta, olive oil, lime juice and chopped fresh mint leaves. Is it lunch time yet?
A quarter-cup delivers 30 per cent of your daily magnesium needs – great, since a third of Aussies aged 31-50 don’t get enough of it, according to the ABS’ Australian Health Survey. Being low on Mg can make you drag because your body uses it to generate ATP, the molecule that transports energy between cells. Almonds are also an excellent source of B vitamins like folate and riboflavin, which help you convert kilojoules into fuel.
Snacking on nuts or nut butters is the obvs strategy, but you can also use almond flour (from ground almonds) in place of breadcrumbs or to replace a quarter of the flour in baked goods.
Soy beans are a good source of folate, a B vitamin that plays a crucial role in turning food into energy. One cup of them (shelled) delivers more than a day’s worth of the vitamin, along with bonus magnesium and riboflavin, two minerals that provide extra pep.
Steam edamame in the pods and sprinkle with chilli powder and lime salt, or toss into cauli rice to bump
up the meal’s staying power. Yum.
Long before they appeared in your smoothie bowl, these seeds, packed with protein, fibre, magnesium and iron, were a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans, who used them in energising drinks before long-distance runs. You can, too: one study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found a DIY chia seed sports drink fuelled workouts as well as a store-bought one – sans added sugars.
Make your own citrusy, neo-Aztec energy drink by mixing 2 tbs chia seeds with 2 cups of water, the juice of ½ lemon or lime, and 1 tbs honey or maple syrup. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, then stir. You can also mix the seeds into yoghurt or oats for a quick fix. That’ll get you buzzing.
Popping a few during your morning run can put a literal spring in your step. “Athletes like them for their quick hit of carbs and electrolytes,” says sports dietitian Tara Gidus Collingwood. One University of California, Davis study found raisins were as effective at keeping runners’ stamina up as carb-based snacks designed for endurance. Athletes who ate either during a five-kay shaved a minute off their race time, compared with those who only drank water. The ideal amount, per the study, is 28g.
Jumpstart your morning by adding raisins and nuts to your cereal or yoghurt. “Nuts’ fat, protein and fibre keep you in the short term,” says Collingwood.
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Oranges get all the vitamin C glory but strawberries are, gram for gram, a superior source. When scientists gave overweight adults trying to shed kilos a daily dose of C, the test subjects felt less tired during 60-min treadmill walking sessions than those who weren’t taking the vitamin, according to a study in Nutrition. “Foods with vitamin C also help your body absorb more fatigue-fighting iron,” says Collingwood. One cup of strawberries delivers almost double your RDI.
Add sliced strawbs to a spinach salad to reap the combined benefits of
C plus iron from leafy greens.
Never tried these rich little fish? Give them a shot. Sardines are a top source of iron, crucial in transporting oxygen around your body – and oxygen feeds your muscles to keep them moving. Swiss research has shown women who have low stores of iron, even if levels aren’t low enough to rate as anaemia, have less energy and endurance than those with normal levels. Plus these guys pack CoQ10, a vital player in your cell’s powerhouse, the mitochondria.
Chop and mix with cooked pasta, roasted cauli florets, chilli flakes and olive oil. Not sold? Find similar amounts of iron in beef, shellfish, spinach and pumpkin seeds.