9 Foods That Fight Fatigue

Pack these nutrient-rich foods so you can power through that afternoon slump.

August 5, 2011
woman eating yogurt
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Eat for Energy

Whether a late night, early morning, or intense workday has hijacked your energy, the forecast for the rest of the day is bleak: serious yawning followed by a search for a suitable alternative to the nap you're craving.

More: 50 Foods You May Not Need to Refrigerate

Instead of reaching for a sugary snack to help you stay awake during your morning meeting or power through an afternoon slump, try this stay-awake strategy: Snack on perfectly portable, fatigue-fighting foods. These nine picks will perk you up in no time.

pumpkin seeds
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Pumpkin Seeds

Fatigue-fighter: Magnesium

If your 30-minute workout leaves you feeling like you just climbed Mt. Everest, you might be low on magnesium. When researchers at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service restricted intake of the mineral among 13 women ages 47 to 75 for 4 months, they found that those with magnesium deficiencies required more oxygen uptake during physical activity, used more energy, and therefore tired more easily.

Snack on 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (one of the greatest fall weight loss foods) and you'll take care of about half of your recommended daily allowance, 310 mg for women (320 mg for ages 31+) and 400 mg for men (420 mg for ages 31+).

plain yogurt
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Fatigue-fighter: Probiotics

A stomachache could spell sleepiness if you're among the more than 1 million people in the United States who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Because research suggests that an imbalance in microorganisms in the digestive tract is partially to blame for CFS, Swedish researchers tested the effects of eating yogurt rich in probiotics—"good bacteria" that aids digestive health—on 15 CFS patients. After eating 2 deciliters (about 6.8 ounces) of yogurt twice daily for 4 weeks, 14 of 15 study subjects reported improvements in fatigue symptoms, physical health, or mental health.

More: At $1.64 per serving, cantaloupe and yogurt is a smart snack for your waistline and your wallet, and is one of the top foods for your gut.

bran cereal
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Wheat Bran Cereal

Fatigue-fighter: Fiber

You know that fiber can help you fight fat, and it turns out the nutrient can also help you feel more awake. Researchers at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who ate high-fiber wheat bran cereal suffered less emotional distress, experienced fewer cognitive difficulties, and were less fatigued than their counterparts who did not eat as much fiber. Study participants reported a 10% increase in energy levels and reduced fatigue 2 weeks after increasing their fiber intake. The UK scientists credited these improvements to better digestive health.

More: Headed to the gym? Eat a bowl of high-fiber, low-sugar cereal before your workout.

whole grain crackers
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Whole Grains

Fatigue-fighter: Complex carbohydrates

They might be a diet taboo, but carbs can help you lose weight and are essential to boosting energy. To stay out of a slump, pick complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain crackers or a bowl of oatmeal over refined carbs, like foods made from white flour. The body digests and releases complex carbs slowly, keeping your blood sugar (and your mood) stable.

Simple sugars, like those found in sweets and processed foods, on the other hand, provide a quick burst of energy, but cause your blood sugar to plummet just as quickly as it spiked.

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Fatigue-fighter: Omega-3 fatty acids

Belgian researchers found that patients with CFS had low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and those with the most severe fatigue symptoms exhibited the greatest deficiencies. Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid found in walnuts, may help relieve depression symptoms, which commonly contribute to CFS.

Up your omega-3 intake with a 1-ounce serving (1/4 cup, shelled) of walnuts for 190 calories.

dark chocolate
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Dark Chocolate

Fatigue-fighter: Polyphenols

If you're going to spring for sweets, be smart about your selection. Researchers at Hull York Medical School in the United Kingdom provided 10 CFS patients with 45 g of chocolate each day for 2 months. Study subjects received either dark chocolate or white chocolate that had been dyed brown. Those eating the dark chocolate reported significantly less fatigue.

The scientists suggest that polyphenols in dark chocolate increase levels of the happiness-boosting brain chemical serotonin and thus reduce feelings of fatigue.

hot tea
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Fatigue-fighters: Caffeine and l-theanine

Coffee beats out tea when it comes to caffeine, but your cup of joe is missing an important fatigue-fighting ingredient: l-theanine. When paired with caffeine, the amino acid found naturally in tea improves cognition more effectively than caffeine alone, according to a study published in Biological Psychology. When study subjects consumed a combination of caffeine (150 mg) and l-theanine (250 mg), they reported a host of cognitive benefits, including improved alertness, memory, and reaction time as well as decreased mental fatigue.

As an added bonus, tea is a powerful weight loss tool, so add it to your diet, ASAP. (We love this organic green tea from Numi.)

watermelon slices
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Fatigue-fighter: Water

If you're feeling fatigued on a hot day or after a sweaty workout, the cause may be as simple as dehydration, and the fix as easy as enjoying a delicious slice of summer fruit. In a recent study of athletes, 92% reported feeling fatigued when they limited water-rich foods and fluids for 15 hours. They also reported memory lapses and difficulty concentrating. If you can't glug one more ounce of H2O, opt for leafy greens or melons. The bonus: Hydrating with water-dense foods won't pack on the pounds. Enjoy a 1-cup serving of watermelon for only 46 calories. (Or try these fruit-infused water recipes for a refreshing sip!)

red bell pepper
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Red Bell Pepper

Fatigue-fighter: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is more than a cold fighter--the antioxidant also helps reduce oxidative stress, the result of too many free radicals in the body, another contributor to CFS. In a small study of 44 adults published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, those who received 6 g of vitamin C every day for 2 weeks felt less fatigued. Study participants also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

To get your C fix, enjoy 1 cup of sliced red bell pepper for only 29 calories and you'll squeeze in almost 200% of your daily recommended vitamin C--that's more than the amount in an entire orange.

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