Q: How can I boost my energy on a plant-based diet?

Q: I don’t always feel as though I have as much energy as I should. What can I do to feel more energetic on my vegan diet? Are there certain foods I should be eating?

Ginny Messina, R.D.:

The most important thing you can do is make sure you’re eating enough food in general. Vegans often have lower calorie intakes than people who eat meat. And while that sometimes can be a good thing, it can also be a problem if you aren’t eating enough to maintain energy. If you aren’t losing weight, though, chances are you’re getting enough food. In that case, there are a few other things you can do.

 

  • Make sure you get plenty of magnesium. This essential mineral is involved in many reactions needed for production of energy in the body. Some people fall short in this nutrient although it’s easy to get plenty on a vegan diet. The best sources of magnesium are beans, nuts (especially almonds and cashews), spinach, Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds and quinoa.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration causes fatigue. Even when you’re only a little thirsty, it can have a big effect. You might be surprised to find that you quickly feel more energetic after a glass of water.
  • Eat more “slow carbs.” These are carbohydrates that are digested more gradually, which means they release glucose more steadily into the blood stream. This in turn provides a steady supply of fuel to cells. In contrast, quickly-digested carbs, like sweets and refined grains, dump lots of glucose into the blood causing a glucose spike followed by a rapid decline. You might feel a burst of energy, but it’s followed by that post-snack slump that most of us have experienced. Best choices for slow carbs are beans, breads made from whole grains that haven’t been ground into flour, oats, pasta, barley, and muesli. Choose whole fruit more often than smoothies and whole baked potatoes more often than mashed potatoes. The less a food has been manipulated, the more slowly it’s digested.
  • Don’t over-do it with carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-rich foods are good for you, but make sure your meals include protein and fat-rich foods, too. Include beans, soyfoods or nuts in your meals and snacks to slow digestion of carbohydrates. Meals with a little more protein and fat can help delay hunger—something that also saps energy.

Finally, don’t forget that energy is not all about what you eat. Managing stress, getting enough sleep and getting some exercise every day is crucial for feeling energetic.

 


More tips for feeling your best:

Ten Tips for Staying Happy and Healthy on a Vegan Diet

 

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