Overheard On Campus: What types of food will help give me energy throughout the day?

Contributed by Brooke Vanevenhoven, R.N., M.S.N., A.P.N.P., & Dr. Chris Hayes, M.D.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

Have you seen those commercials for 5-Hour Energy? You know, the ones in which they talk about the “2:30 feeling” – when you’ve just about tapped out all of your energy in the morning and early afternoon and now you’re tired and sluggish? We all have that feeling from time to time. How can we avoid that “2:30” feeling without drinking loads of caffeinated soda or coffee or (even worse) guzzling down a 5-Hour Energy? Check out what Brooke Vanevenhoven, a nurse practitioner at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, and Dr. Chris Hayes, physician at University of Louisiana at Lafayette have to say about keep up your energy throughout the day. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.Assortment of whole grains

Brooke Vanevenhoven, a nurse practitioner at University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, says …

We get so many mixed messages about nutrition. No carbs, high protein, low fat, gluten free. It leaves our heads spinning sometimes. To break things down very simply, our bodies need a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in order to function properly. Our energy comes primarily from carbohydrates. The key is choosing the best carbohydrates to energize our bodies without consuming unnecessary calories.

When choosing carbohydrates to energize your body, it’s always best to choose options that not only fill you up, but also nourish your body. Whole grains are good options when choosing starchy foods. They take longer to digest and stick with you longer, provide a good source of fiber, and reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses. Whole grain breads and cereals, including oatmeal, are great breakfast options, especially if you avoid added sugar. Read the labels to be sure you are getting 100% whole grains.

Another great source of carbohydrates for energy is fruits and vegetables. By selecting a wide variety, including many different colors of fruits and veggies, you will get various vitamins and minerals as well as flavors. Try to include at least five varied servings daily. One small piece of fruit or a cup of greens or chopped veggies is considered one serving.

As Americans, we have access to a lot of snack foods, breads, pastas and other carbohydrates that provide us with absolutely no nutrition and empty calories. Sure, you can eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and feel energetic, but when you eat these kinds of carbs your blood sugar peaks quickly. This provides a short burst of energy, but will drop just as quickly, leaving you feeling sluggish and craving something more. In the meantime, you will not have nourished your body with anything it needs to function properly.

Bottom line, get your energy from healthy sources of carbohydrates: whole grain breads, pastas, and rice; and fruits and vegetables. Include a wide variety for nutrition and avoid the carbs that have no nutritional value. Combine that with a balanced diet including lean proteins and you will have the energy you need without all the extra baggage.

Dr. Chris Hayes, a physician at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says …

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “you are what you eat”, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to keeping your muscles strong and your energy level up. Everything you eat is eventually broken down into three basic molecules: sugars, amino acids, and fats. A proper balance of the three keeps your body running smoothly.

To keep your blood sugar levels steady, your energy up, and your muscles in good shape you should eat several small low sugar meals every day that contain complex carbohydrates (like whole grains), vegetables, fruits and lean protein (like chicken, fish, or lean beef). Vegetarians can do the same by combining legumes (beans) and grains (rice, wheat) together in the same meal for protein. Don’t miss meals even if you’re trying to lose weight. Your blood sugar will drop and your metabolism will slow down, reducing your energy level. Keep whole grain/high protein snacks on hand for days when you don’t have time for a sit down meal, and drink plenty of water. Dehydration can make you feel just as run down as low blood sugar can.

Advance planning is the key. If all you have available is junk, you’re going to eat junk. If the good stuff is available, that’s what’s more likely to go in your mouth, and home-prepared meals are often cheaper than fast food. So plan what you’re going to eat for the day and pack it in a lunch box or mini-cooler. Your body will thank you for the effort.

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One thought on “Overheard On Campus: What types of food will help give me energy throughout the day?

  1. Having worked in Student Affairs for most of my adult life (res. life, student activities, athletics, etc…) I wanted to say that it is OK to make suggestions in regard to the meals that food service is providing….If you think that things could be a bit healthier or more well balanced get with an RA or Res Life Coordinator and let them know what you think…Put a proposal together and present to the food service people…Trust me, they will listen to your suggestions….By doing this you are ensuring yourself of getting the foods that you need in order to maintain a high level of energy.

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