You don't need added sugar to give you a boost of energy. Here are the best foods to give you energy naturally all day.
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Although sugar delivers a quick boost of energy, it can later lead to the dreaded blood sugar crash, leaving you feeling even more exhausted than when you started. And the reality is that most people eat way more added sugars than they realize. The average American adult consumes 17 teaspoons (68 grams) of added sugar every day, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's far more than the American Heart Association's recommended max of 6 teaspoons for females and 9 for males. Though added sugars certainly don't need to be avoided altogether, focusing on consistent meals and snacks with complex carbohydrates balanced with protein and healthy fats will keep you energized all day.

In this plan, we map out a week of delicious recipes to help give you a little more pep in your step by focusing on foods that deliver energizing nutrients without giving you blood sugar spikes. We set this plan at 1,500 calories per day, a level where most people will lose weight. We included modifications for 1,200 and 2,000 calories a day for those with different calorie needs.

Added vs. Natural Sugars—What's the Difference?

While sugar is present in a lot of foods, it's important to differentiate between natural and added sugar. Natural sugar is present in foods such as fruit, starchy vegetables, carbohydrates, and unsweetened dairy. Added sugar is not naturally occurring and is added to foods to increase sweetness. Added sugar can be listed as high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or simply sugar; however, these are all considered added sugar despite the fact that honey and maple syrup are naturally produced sugar. Commonly consumed foods with added sugar are sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, and sauces, such as ketchup and bbq sauce. Since 2018, per the FDA's new guidelines, the nutrition label breaks out added sugar from natural sugar so you can see how much is in the food per serving.

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

Unlike sugar, carbohydrates are not distinguished into simple and complex on nutrition labels; though, they act differently in your body. Simple carbohydrates, such as honey, sugar and milk, are composed of just one or two sugar molecules, so they break down quickly when digested. Complex carbohydrates are composed of multiple nutrients and, therefore, take longer for your body to digest. Examples of complex carbs are grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Because complex carbs contain additional nutrients, such as fiber, it's best to choose these over simple carbs when possible. 

Best Foods to Boost Your Energy

Prioritize nutrient-rich foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber and protein to help your blood sugar stay even throughout the day:

  • Complex carbohydrates
    • Whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur, barley, brown rice, oats, whole-wheat bread, pasta and couscous)
    • Legumes (beans, lentils)
    • Starchy vegetables high in fiber (sweet potato, potato, winter squash)
  • Protein
    • Meat
    • Poultry
    • Fish, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids such as sardines, salmon, tuna and mackerel
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Nut butters (check the nutrition label and choose those without added sugars)
    • Eggs
  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and kale
  • Whole fruit
  • Unsweetened dairy
    • Milk
    • Kefir
    • Plain yogurt
    • Cheese
  • Foods with naturally occurring caffeine
    • Coffee
    • Green tea
    • Yerba mate
    • Cacao

How to Meal-Prep Your Week of Meals:

  1. Make Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix to have for breakfast on days 2 through 5.
  2. Make Chicken & White Bean Soup to have for lunch on days 2 through 4.
  3. Make Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili to have for dinner on days 3 and 4, and lunch on day 5.

Day 1

a blue bowl full of chicken and vegetables and a smaller bowl with dressing

Breakfast (395 calories)

A.M. Snack (121 calories)

  • 3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries

Lunch (359 calories)

P.M. Snack (181 calories)

  • 8 pecan halves
  • 1 dried apricot
  • 1/2 oz. cacao nibs

Dinner (452 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,508 calories, 83g fat, 93g protein, 102g carbohydrate, 22g fiber, 1,440mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit the clementine at breakfast, the yogurt at morning snack, and pecans and cacao nibs at afternoon snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the blueberries and yogurt to 1 cup at morning snack, increase the cacao nibs to 1 oz., the pecans to 16 and the apricots to 14 at afternoon snack, and add 1 serving whole-wheat baguette at lunch.

Day 2

BBQ Shrimp with Garlicky Kale & Parmesan-Herb Couscous

Breakfast (310 calories)

  • 1 serving Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup coffee with 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

A.M. Snack (192 calories)

  • 1 medium pear
  • 1/2 oz. cacao nibs

Lunch (368 calories)

P.M. Snack (214 calories)

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves
  • 1 string mozzarella stick

Dinner (414 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,497 calories, 55g fat, 104g protein, 159g carbohydrate, 28g fiber, 1,546mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit the pear at morning snack, the walnuts at afternoon snack, and the strawberries at breakfast.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the yogurt and strawberries at breakfast to 1 1/4 cups, increase the cacao nibs to 1 oz. at morning snack, increase the walnuts to 1/2 cup at afternoon snack, and add 1 serving Basic Green Salad with Vinaigrette to dinner.

Day 3

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
Credit: Photographer /Antonis Achilleos, Prop Stylist / Kay Clarke, Food Stylist / Emily Nabors Hall

Breakfast (310 calories)

  • 1 serving Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup coffee with 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

A.M. Snack (233 calories)

  • 1/2 cup hummus
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots

Lunch (368 calories)

P.M. Snack (271 calories)

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds
  • 1 cup green tea

Dinner (323 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,504 calories, 51g fat, 91g protein, 187g carbohydrate, 49g fiber, 1,812mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Reduce the hummus to 1/4 cup at morning snack, omit the whole-wheat baguette at lunch, and omit the blackberries at afternoon snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the yogurt to 1 cup at breakfast, increase the hummus and carrots to 1 cup at morning snack, and increase the almonds to 1/2 cup at afternoon snack.

Day 4

Chicken & White Bean Soup

Breakfast (310 calories)

  • 1 serving Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup coffee with 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

A.M. Snack (305 calories)

  • 1 medium apple
  • 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter

Lunch (368 calories)

P.M. Snack (195 calories)

  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn
  • 1 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
  • Pinch of salt

Dinner (323 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,499 calories, 49g fat, 81g protein, 192g carbohydrate, 38g fiber, 1,547mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit the morning snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the strawberries to 1 cup at breakfast, increase the peanut butter to 1/4 cup at morning snack, double the serving of the Chicken & White Bean Soup at lunch, and increase the popcorn to 3 1/2 cups at afternoon snack.

Day 5

Chicken & Spinach Skillet Pasta with Lemon & Parmesan

Breakfast (310 calories)

  • 1 serving Quinoa & Chia Oatmeal Mix
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup coffee with 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

A.M. Snack (265 calories)

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 oz. cacao nibs

Lunch (323 calories)

P.M. Snack (271 calories)

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds
  • 1 cup green tea

Dinner (334 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,503 calories, 61g fat, 74g protein, 177g carbohydrate, 46g fiber, 1,283mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit the blueberries at morning snack and the almonds at afternoon snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the yogurt to 1 cup and the strawberries to 1 1/4 cups at breakfast, double the chili serving at lunch, and double the blackberries at afternoon snack.

Day 6

Pesto Salmon
Credit: Will Dickey

Breakfast (350 calories)

  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin
  • 1 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 cup coffee with 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

A.M. Snack (206 calories)

  • 1/4 cup unsalted roasted almonds

Lunch (345 calories)

P.M. Snack (171 calories)

  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped

Dinner (446 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,518 calories, 77g fat, 77g protein, 141g carbohydrate, 26g fiber, 1322mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit the morning snack and the yogurt at afternoon snack. Reduce the apricots to 6 pieces at afternoon snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Increase the almonds to 1/2 cup at morning snack, add 2 clementines to lunch, and increase the apricots to 1 cup at afternoon snack.

Day 7

Air-Fryer Greek Turkey Burgers

Breakfast (293 calories)

A.M. Snack (233 calories)

  • 1/2 cup hummus
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots

Lunch (269 calories)

P.M. Snack (271 calories)

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds
  • 1 cup green tea

Dinner (445 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,510 calories, 79g fat, 76g protein, 131g carbohydrate, 35g fiber, 2157mg sodium

To make it 1,200 calories: Omit morning snack and omit blackberries at afternoon snack.

To make it 2,000 calories: Add a small banana and eat the whole English muffin at breakfast , increase the hummus and carrots to 1 cup at morning snack, swap for a large apple at lunch, and increase the almonds to 1/3 cup at afternoon snack.