Instant Energizers

Fatigue-busting tips to boost your energy at work or the gym.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It usually happens around 3 p.m. Your eyes get a little heavy, your energy starts to sag, and you feel like you need a nap or something to get you through the rest of the day.

Afternoon fatigue (or a similar slump at any time of day) can be caused by low blood sugar or dehydration, or it can simply stem from boredom or lack of sleep. And no, candy bars or caffeine won't help. They may work immediately, but after a short while, energy levels drop again.

Still, there are a few things you can do to perk up and get back to business, at your desk or in the gym. Eating small meals every three or four hours throughout the day is one way to prevent energy lulls. But if eating around the clock doesn't fit into your schedule, try boosting your energy with one or more of these five "instant energizers."

1. Hydrate Yourself

Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining energy. So before you head to the vending machine in search of a pick-me-up, drink a big glass of water.

"Being dehydrated can make you feel tired, so one of the easiest, calorie-free ways to beat an energy slump is with a tall glass of water or sparkling soda with a twist," says Carolyn O'Neil, RD, author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous. "As we age, our thirst mechanisms are not as reliable and don't work as well. Keep water bottles at your desk or in the car, and sip regularly."

If water just doesn't do it for you, try a glass of iced tea or cup of hot tea.

"It makes sense that cultures around the globe have enjoyed the daily ritual of 'tea time,' to enjoy a hot beverage and a little snack to perk up their sagging energy levels." says O'Neil.

Having a cup of tea helps hydrate you, and the addition of a small cookie or dainty tea sandwich is just enough to take the edge off your appetite and energize you until dinner.

"An added bonus is, tea is loaded with antioxidants and other health-promoting substances," O'Neil says.

Stock your pantry, briefcase, or desk with a variety of tea flavors and individually packed, simple cookies or 100-calorie snack packs so you can enjoy your very own "afternoon tea" time.

2. Bed and Breakfast

First off, you need a good night's sleep -- if you're sleep-deprived, it's going to be challenging to overcome energy lulls with anything other than a nap. Then, be sure to get your blood sugar perking with a healthy breakfast.

"Many people skip breakfast and this usually leads to a midmorning slump," says Marissa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

A bowl of whole-grain cereal, fruit, and low-fat milk makes a quick, healthy breakfast. If you just don't have time to sit down, whip up a smoothie or grab a breakfast bar, banana, or yogurt.

3. Grab a (Balanced) Snack

A balanced snack could be exactly what you need to rev up your energy levels. But not any snack will do the trick: "Think carbohydrates and protein," says Moore.

Some foods, like fruit, are simple carbohydrates that are easily absorbed and result in a quick rise in blood sugar and energy. Fruit also has the benefit of containing water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But if you add some low-fat or lean protein to your fruit, you've got a snack that can provide a steady stream of energy for several hours.

Plan ahead and take along one or more of these energizing snacks:

  • Apples with peanut butter
  • Hummus (or other low-fat dip) and vegetables
  • String cheese (or any kind of low-fat cheese) and whole-grain crackers
  • 100-calorie packs of popcorn, crackers, or simple cookies
  • Sugar-free cocoa with an added splash of skim milk
  • Rice cakes with nut butter
  • Low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg and a glass of juice
  • Glass of skim milk and graham crackers
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Low-sugar granola or cereal bar
  • Mini whole-wheat bagel and soft cheese
  • Trail mix of dried fruit and nuts

Of course, snacks also add calories. Keep your portions small, so you'll get the energy boost without weight gain.

4. Eat Before You Exercise

After a long day of work or a long night's rest, you need an energy boost before heading to the gym.

"The best pre- and postworkout snacks contain low-fat protein and carbohydrate," says Moore.

Protein helps your body repair muscle tissue, and carbohydrates give you fuel to help your body perform the physical activity and replenish blood glucose afterward.

"Make sure the foods you eat before working out are easily digested," says O'Neil, who recommends keeping the snack small.