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Energy-boosting foods; myth or reality

13th Jan, 2022

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It’s safe to say we’re all pretty much running at an energy deficit – with long, demanding working weeks, and all the other responsibilities we have around that.

To counteract this – one of the most ubiquitous marketing slogans we see on food labels at the moment is ‘energy-boosting’. In fact, it’s almost impossible to go past a supermarket shelf of energy bars without seeing this promised to us dozens of times.

To think we could actually boost our energy without having to rely on sugary drinks or daily afternoon naps sounds too good to be true. But do any foods truly have an advantage over others when it comes to energy?

What is energy, exactly?

We get our energy from food and drink. Specifically, from carbs, fats and proteins. This energy travels around our bodies to be used up by every system and organ -  keeping us alive, basically.

Energy as we recognise it - that is, feeling energetic - largely comes from our blood glucose levels. This is the level of sugars in our blood at any given time. After eating, the body breaks down the carbohydrates into smaller parts, including glucose, which is then absorbed by the small intestine.

Can’t we just rely on sugar and caffeine?

The obvious solution to low energy is sugar and caffeine. But while these both give us a rush of energy, we pay for it later on.

Eating sugary foods raises our blood sugar almost instantly - but then it comes crashing down, and we feel more tired than we did to begin with. 

Caffeine blocks a molecule called adenosine, which accumulates throughout the day to prepare our bodies for sleep, from doing its job. But when the caffeine wears off,  the rising levels of adenosine flood our bodies and we feel even more tired.

So, are there any foods that genuinely boost energy?

One study analysed adults’ diets and found that they get most of their energy from bread, cake pies and biscuits, followed by soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, cheese, meat and sweets. But this doesn’t mean they necessarily felt especially energetic. In fact, it’s possible that they felt quite the opposite.

This is because different foods give us energy in different ways. Processed food and simple carbohydrates can actually make us feel sluggish, despite technically being high in energy (calories).

On the other hand, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, such as brown rice, contain a lot of fibre, which slows down digestion, meaning energy is released more slowly and consistently, and our blood sugar levels stay more stable.

So, in short - there's no evidence that a single food can provide an energy boost, sadly. But research has given us a good idea of what we can eat to at least keep our energy levels consistent, rather than up and down.

TYME loves fibre, and we make sure to include a good amount of it in all of our meals. Or Zesty Mexican, for example, is packed with black beans, which are a great source of fibre, while our Moroccan Tagine contains fibre-filled almonds, aubergine and chickpeas. 

Further reading:

How our bodies create energy

Why caffeine doesn’t actually prevent tiredness

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