Choose Nutrient Dense Foods to Boost Your Energy Levels

Having sufficient energy to achieve optimal performance during training and events is a must whatever your sport. A lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of a diet rich in carbohydrates and particularly those with a low glycaemic index, such as oats, wholegrain bread and pasta, which allow a sustained release of energy to power your activities. However, it is essential not to neglect the other nutrients that help to enhance energy levels, so make sources of these a priority in your training diet.


Although an adequate intake of protein is usually advocated for muscle growth and repair, protein is the main constituent of enzymes, the natural catalysts that speed up reactions within the body, including those that allow the release of energy. Most people despite exercising hard can manage to obtain enough protein in their diet, as long as they include it with each meal and snacks where possible. Anyone following a vegan diet may have to work harder to reach their protein requirements, but as long as pulses, nuts, seeds and soy products are included regularly throughout the day, even they won’t go short on dietary protein.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These essential oils might be better known for protecting you against heart disease, but a healthy circulation also aids energy release, as it ensures a more efficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the respiring muscles cells and also facilitates the removal of metabolic waste products. Oily fish are the best source of these fatty acids and where possible we should aim to include them at least weekly in our diet. While rapeseed and flax-seed oil also provide a useful source for anyone who avoids these fish, they are not used as efficiently by the body, so need to be used more regularly.

B vitamins

This group of vitamins helps us to metabolize the carbohydrate and fat we obtain from our diet to facilitate energy release and a deficiency in one or a number of these micro nutrients can leave you feeling lethargic – the last thing you need when you have an intense training session ahead of you. However, according to Glyco-Energy, these vitamins also have a number of other benefits with regards to training, as they help to support the muscles, nervous system and immune function, the latter of which can be reduced when exercising hard. B vitamins can be sourced from all the food groups, but conveniently they can be found in many carbohydrate rich foods including fortified cereals, fruit, vegetables, pulses and milk. If you eat a balanced diet it is usually not a problem obtaining an adequate intake of these, though your requirements are raised if you work out regularly. Vegans may also struggle to obtain sufficient vitamin B12 in their diet, as apart from foods fortified with this vitamin such as yeast extract, cereals and soya alternatives to dairy, plant-based foods do not contain any B12.


Iron is required for the formation of haemoglobin, the constituent of red blood cells that allows the transport of oxygen to the tissues for respiration – the process that allows the release of energy. If you have ever experienced iron deficiency anaemia you will be well aware how drained this leaves you feeling and along with breathlessness this makes it difficult to train. While it’s true that red meat is a very good source of iron, which the body is able to easily absorb, there are a range of other foods in the diet – including plant sources – that can help to meet your iron needs. Game meat, the darker meat from chicken and turkey, oily fish such as tuna and salmon, as well as eggs, offers alternative sources of iron. However, pulses, leafy greens, dried fruit, wholegrains and cereals with added iron also provide an essential source of iron if you predominantly eat a plant-based diet. The thing to bear in mind with non-meat sources of iron though is that they are not as readily available to the body for absorption, though this can be aided by including a source of vitamin C with meals and avoiding tea and coffee around mealtime, as these drinks inhibit iron uptake. Ideally include iron-rich foods with every meal and snacks where possible – dried fruit and nuts, a small bowl of fortified cereal or a sandwich with meat, fish or egg all make good options for between meals when training.

Other minerals

Just as protein forms part of enzymes, so do a number of minerals in the diet. You might not be so familiar with magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper, but without an adequate supply of these in the diet the production of enzymes involved in energy release is limited. Besides their role in energy production, they also offer other beneficial roles with regards to exercise. For instance, magnesium aids muscle contraction and a deficiency easily leads to muscle fatigue. Then not only is zinc essential for protein synthesis to support the muscles, but it also helps to boost immune function. Manganese additionally forms part of an enzyme with antioxidant activity, to help combat free radicals which are otherwise thought to contribute to muscle soreness. The table below indicates some of the best sources of these minerals in the diet.

Below is a list of minerals and which foods we need to include in our diets :


Nuts, pulses, leafy greens, potatoes, avocados, dairy produce


Seafood, red meat, poultry, dairy produce, pulses, nuts, oatmeal


Nuts, seeds, pulses


Seafood, offal, pulses, nuts, potatoes, leafy greens, dried fruit, cocoa

While other factors are also important for sustaining your energy levels such as remaining well hydrated, taking adequate rest and adopting good sleeping patterns, ensuring your diet is rich in nutrient dense foods alongside these measures will offer you one of the best chances of remaining energized to get the most out of your exercise.

Filed in: Diet and Nutrition
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