Diet Secrets To Boost Your Energy

Fatigue, particularly among older adults, has become a common complaint in doctors' offices or clinics. In fact, Joan Eckerson, professor and chair of the department of exercise and prehealth professions at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, told Consumer Reports that this condition involving low levels of energy is "largely underreported" in the elderly. He added that by some estimates, as many as 50 percent of older adults suffer from some sort of mild fatigue. 

That feeling of exhaustion can be caused by underlying health conditions and medications, as well as loneliness, anxiety, boredom and stress-fueled changes to normal healthy habits (e.g. eating junk food, drinking more alcohol), all of which are exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. However, there is a solution to all of these energy-draining factors. "From an 'energetic' standpoint, nutrition is one of the most helpful modifiable behaviors that can help an older person feel better," Wayne Campbell, a nutrition science professor at Purdue University in Indiana, said.

Eckerson and Campbell have shared the following diet secrets that will help boost your energy this season:

Slow Carbs 

Carbohydrates fuel your muscles and brain. However, for energy, you need to eat more of those from whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. They are not only full of nutrients, including fiber, but they also supply a steady release of energy as blood glucose. 

Campbell said that when you are older, your body does not process carbs as well as it used to, meaning your pancreas may need to produce more insulin to handle the carbs consumed, especially non-whole-grain ones. Refined carbs such as cereals, white rice, crackers and sugary foods can cause your blood sugar levels to zigzag, draining out your energy.

Choose The Right Calories 

Eating too much or too little calories can affect energy. 

Obesity, which is suffered by over a third of older adults, makes calorie management difficult. Those who are obese might have been eating too much refined carbs, especially sugars and unhealthy fats. 

Campbell advised needing fewer calories in general than when you were younger to maintain weight, leaving less room for junk. This can be done by minimizing sweets and highly processed snacks. "The general Western diet is a contributing factor to feeling less energetic," Campbell told Consumer Reports.

Enhance Appetite

Characterized by weight loss and fatigue, the "anorexia of aging" is caused by problems such as decreased appetite, dry mouth and lack of access to high quality food. 

If you have little to no appetite, try eating smaller portions rather than taking large meals. If you are underweight, look for healthy foods that are not too filling but have calories. For example, you can choose whole milk yogurt, snack on nuts and dried fruits and use olive oil on vegetables.

Fight Inflammation 

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other health conditions are tied to fatigue and chronic inflammation. 

According to a 2019 review article published in Nutrients, it has been believed that tamping down inflammation potentially improves low energy levels resulting from these diseases and even helps control some of these same diseases. All of these are possible through antioxidants, healthy fat and fiber, which are found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes such as beans and lentils, nuts, fish and plant oils (e.g. olive, avocado).

The foods above are core parts of the Mediterranean diet, which had been linked by some studies to improved energy. Aside from its anti-inflammatory effect, the diet also enhances healthy aging by supporting the microbiome, a collection of healthy bacteria and other microbes living mostly in the gut. 

Among those studies is one conducted by researchers at Ireland's University College Cork. They found that older people following a Mediterranean diet for a year had a more diverse microbiome and were less likely to be frail, in addition to having improved cognition factors associated with fatigue. 

Aside from increasing blood flow, vegetables such as dark leafy greens, celery and beets contain nitrates, which are thought to support the mitochondria, a part of the cell responsible for energy production.

Increase Protein Intake 

This important macronutrient is key for energy in your body, especially in muscle building. Muscle mass is needed for you to stay physically active and be in good health in general. Age-related muscle loss can lead to sarcopenia, a condition characterized by low stamina that increases risk of various health problems.

Campbell encouraged older adults to consume the same amount of protein-rich food that they were eating when they were younger but advised about the quality of those foods. For older adults, they should aim for about a 0.6 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Lean meat, poultry, beans, soy, nuts, dairy and eggs are among the high quality sources of protein.


Eckerson said that dehydration can lead poor sleep and fatigue, adding that as you get older, the thirst mechanism is "blunted," meaning you may not want to drink as much as you should. 

Though there are no set hydration rules yet, the general guideline still counts (for men, about 15.5 cups daily; for women, 11.5 cups). Also, remember that foods high in water and other liquids such as many fruits and vegetables count as well.

Use Caffeine Wisely 

Caffeine is a double-edged sword: It can disrupt your sleep if consumed late in the day but can help boost your spirits in the morning. 

Eckerson advised keeping your caffeine intake below 400 milligrams daily (12 ounces contains nearly 150 milligrams). If you are not used to the "drug," it can worsen your bladder problems or cause you to urinate more often so keep it easy.


As you get older, the risk of common nutrient deficiencies grows. That does not mean you should self-diagnose, though, so check with your doctor first, who will better decide whether you need supplementation. Nutrients that you will need more of as you age include iron, magnesium and vitamin B12, all of which are found by studies to aid in overall health.

looking tired Facial cues, such as hanging eyelids, indicate fatigue. Creative Commons

Join the Discussion