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Why high energy levels start with your first meal

Your energy levels at work can be boosted by how, when and what you eat. It all starts with breakfast.

7 min read


Why high energy levels start with your first meal


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When I was growing up, Duracell was the king of batteries, at least in my young mind. Their ads were everywhere, all depicting people in high-risk jobs (like working underground or in the Arctic) who relied on their batteries to get through their toughest moments.

We all knew the slogan: “No other battery looks like it or lasts like it.”

At some point, I was introduced to Energizer. Rather than rely on statistics or personal stories, the company demonstrated their batteries’ lasting power through a drum-beating rabbit powered by Energizer that outperformed all similar devices with other batteries (including Duracell.) It quickly became the new symbol of staying power. It just kept “going and going and going.”

All our talk about productivity assumes that you ensure there to be enough energy in the tank needed to get all your stuff done. After all, you can only do as much as your energy levels permit. Sure, you can trick your system for a bit with caffeine and other stimulants, but that approach is neither healthy nor sustainable.

The strategies that I share below to help you maintain high energy levels throughout the day will come as little surprise. We all know that what we eat and how we care for our bodies are central to being able to engage in our work at consistently high levels. Yet so many of us fail to practice what we know, which results in low energy and a sense of underperformance.  

Why does this happen? I suspect that there are multiple reasons. The first is that it’s not knowledge but rather a willingness to commit consistently to our goals which drives results. Second, we have an idea about eating well and engaging in self-care. But far too few of us really possess ample knowledge to develop an effective plan.

Either way, let’s dive into some of the key strategies that will help us boost our energy levels naturally and get more done.  

Eat a proper breakfast

Without question, energy starts with the foods we eat. Food provides the fuel our bodies need, and choosing the right foods can go a long way in helping us get through our days with increased drive and focus. This is particularly true for breakfast.

For many, however, the first meal of the day is taken “on the go.” We grab a pastry and a coffee (or something similar, more on that later) and we’re off to the races. The problem is that such an approach may result in starting off with an energy deficit, forcing us to tap into energy reserves early on. Once we wake up, our bodies need fresh fuel (after all, last night’s dinner is now digested.)

Clearly, we need a better strategy if we want to max out on the benefits of a healthful breakfast. Do it right and the benefits can last all day.

So, what are some good choices to consider? Start with complex carbohydrates, or foods full of fiber and nutrients, such as oatmeal (steel cut preferred.) Oatmeal is slower to digest and supplies energy evenly instead of all at once. This helps keep your blood sugar on an even keel and avoid a mid-morning energy crash. A bowl in the morning will keep you going for hours. Oats are also rich in vitamins and minerals that help the energy production process. These include B vitamins, iron and manganese.

Other solid choices include high-fiber, whole-grain cereals and breads. They are less processed than their more popular counterparts, and your body will retain more nutritional value in the form of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Some protein should be added to your breakfast routine, as well. These foods are satisfying (to curb your appetite) and offer a steady and sustained source of energy. They also help slow the digestion of carbs, thereby decelerating the release of sugars into the blood. Common protein-rich breakfast foods include (Greek) yogurt, eggs (eaten in moderation), nuts and fish. Lox, made from salmon, is a great sandwich or bagel topper.

Don’t forget to add fruit. Bananas may be one of the best foods for energy. They are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B6, all of which can help boost your energy levels. Apples are a good source of carbs and fiber (their skin is particularly fibrous.) They also have a high antioxidant content. Antioxidants have been linked with slowing the digestion of carbs, so they release energy over a more extended period of time.

Other great choices include avocado (a superfood rich in healthy fats, B vitamins, and fiber) oranges (famous for their high vitamin C content) and strawberries (a great source of carbs, fiber, sugars and antioxidants that can enhance your energy levels).

If time is a problem for you, consider making breakfast smoothies the night before. Combine fruit, juice, yogurt, wheat germ and other ingredients in your blender with a bit of ice, and you have a refreshing, high energy breakfast ready to go.

Consume nutritious foods wisely throughout the day

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but it is far from the only one you’ll need to get you through it. For foods to give you that much-needed boost when you need it, you need to eat the right ones at the right time and in the proper quantity.

For starters, don’t skip meals. That’s a huge no-no. Your body needs constant fuel, and if you don’t provide it, it will break down muscle tissue (which burns more calories than fat tissue) to generate it. And it still won’t be as effective and efficient as when you supply your body with fresh fuel. So, even if you’re trying to lose weight, you have to be smart about it and approach eating the right way.

When eating, seek out energizing foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting substances. Add small amounts of healthy fats for a balanced diet that is sure to provide you energy all day long.

Here are a just some of the energizing foods not already listed above that will do your body good, so long as they’re not consumed in excess.

  • Animal products such as fatty fish (like tuna and salmon) and low-fat dairy products
  • Fruit, including blueberries, cantaloupe, citrus, mango
  • Vegetables and legumes: These include beans, soy, spinach, sweet potato, tomatoes (technically a fruit but not for nutritional purposes)
  • Whole grains
  • Tea

Don’t go for long periods of time without fuel for your tank. For the between-meals munchies, keep healthful snacks with you. Solid choices include combinations of complex carbs and lean protein — like low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers, whole fruit and a handful of nuts, or a low-fat granola bar.

Of course, food is not the only consideration in our quest for maximal energy. We will discuss other strategies relating to hydration, sleep, exercise and more in a later post.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is an executive coach who helps leaders and their teams become more productive. Download his productivity blueprint and take his productivity assessmentReach out to him to learn more about his high-powered mastermind groups that help leaders power up, problem solve, and get more done.

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