When our energy is low, it can feel tempting to turn to coffee or other quick-burst sources of energy, but the short-term fix of caffeinated or high-sugar options may contribute to adrenal fatigue and other health complications in the long run. Instead, incorporating more fibrous “rainbow” foods into a clean-eating lifestyle can help support sustained and balanced energy levels as we move through the day. When supporting our bodies with plant-based foods, we rely on different opportunities for a few key nutrients. It’s not uncommon to feel the occasional lull in energy as our bodies crave more of one nutrient or another.
With a little bit of planning and some delicious recipes, we can integrate plant based foods into our daily lives and feel energized all day long.
Here, we’ll highlight some of the best plant-based foods for energy, including chia seeds, leafy green vegetables, nuts, sweet potatoes, and lentils, and share some ideas on how to incorporate these into our daily meals and snacks.
Chia seeds are a well-known superfood. “Chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength” — and so, unsurprisingly, a serving of the tiny seeds can provide enduring energy for mind and body throughout the day. Chia seeds offer the most concentrated plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce inflammation. Soaking these seeds helps us get the most benefits — extremely absorbent, the seeds expand when mixed with water to form a gel-like substance, which can help the body feel full and satiated for a long period of time. Their unique properties also slow the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. Chia seeds’ absorbent quality helps our bodies regulate hydration/fluid retention and retain more electrolytes. All this combines to support healthy and sustained energy. Chia seeds are highly versatile and can be incorporated into many different recipes. Check out our tasty, fruity chia seed recipe here: Chia Seed Pudding with Nourishing Toppings.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli, and brussels sprouts are excellent sources of nutrients and antioxidants. They help to improve eye health, boost bone strength, regulate metabolism, and support brain function.
Nutrient-wise, leafy green vegetables are very high in iron and in vitamin C — boosting energy levels and heightening immunity. Greens are delicious and adaptable for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Add them to your morning smoothie or green juice, create a salad, or steam green veggies and spice them up for an anytime snack.
Nuts are a wonderful source of long-lasting energy for body and mind. Beloved by folks from all backgrounds, including health-conscious athletes and backcountry trekkers, their combination of good fats, fiber, and protein content makes them a slow-burn food that delivers steady stamina throughout the day. Nuts provide a wide range of B vitamins, giving you extra mental and physical energy to tackle any task. They are also rich in iron, zinc, potassium, and energy-boosting magnesium, and carry key antioxidant minerals including selenium, manganese, and copper that keep the immune system strong and balanced.
We recommend soaking nuts before consuming them. Soaking them overnight, or for at least eight hours, unlocks higher nutrition potential, increases vitamin levels, and removes the enzyme inhibitors that slow down digestion. Nuts are also great when consumed in a butter form. Almond butter, for example, can be a staple ingredient in homemade energy balls or granola bars.
High in fiber and complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are naturally digested more slowly and provide a steady supply of energy. Whether you call them sweet potatoes or yams, these orange and creamy-white tubers are among the best complex carbs out there. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, magnesium, potassium, and iron — all fantastic, nourishing nutrients. Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes release glucose into your system more gradually than their refined carbohydrate cousins (including white grain products such as many breads and white rice). As a high fiber vegetable, sweet potatoes not only fuel us, but can also help us manage our weight, keeping the body feeling fuller and happier for longer. Sweet potatoes can be tossed into stews, incorporated into salads, or baked on their own with sweet or savory toppings of your choice. We love to bake them in the oven as thin-sliced “fries,” with coconut oil and cinnamon!
Another excellent slow-burn plant-based source of energy are lentils. These fiber-rich complex carbs provide lots of iron, which is key to energy production and metabolism. Lentils are relatively low in calories but high in protein, packed with incredible minerals and vitamins to sustain you throughout your day. We suggest soaking lentils for two to four hours before cooking, to make sure they’re easy on the digestive system. Lentils are wonderful in soups, in salads, or incorporated into a dhal recipe. One of our favorite lentil companies is Timeless Lentils, based out of Conrad, Montana. For a tasty lentil recipe, check out our recipe here: Lentil Soup with Broccoli and Pomegranate Seeds.
Fuel up and feel nourished
Plant-based foods provide us with clean energy, vital nutrients, and even a healthier gut microbiome — plus, choosing plants over meat products supports a healthier environment. With a little bit of planning and some delicious recipes, we can integrate plant based foods into our daily lives and feel energized all day long.