Medically reviewed on April 25, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Table of contents
Whether you’re feeling sluggish or trying to create a personalized diet plan, you might be looking for foods that can give you energy. Technically speaking, most foods provide energy.  So, if you’re wondering “does protein gives you energy,” the answer is yes. Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are all converted into ATP, the chemical energy carrier in your body. And cells use ATP to perform many functions.
But, are some foods better energy sources than others? Will some foods make you feel more energized?
In this guide, we’re exploring foods that give you energy—we’ll break down how your body metabolizes food into energy and which foods might make you feel more energized.
Before we get into a more detailed list of foods that give you energy, let’s zoom in on metabolism: the chemical reactions that break food down into useful energy for cells and biological processes. 
Metabolism is complex—multiple organs and cell types play a role in the countless chemical reactions needed to turn food into energy. To keep it relatively simple, we’ll explore the process in three general phases: 
During the first phase of metabolism, your digestive system breaks down complex macromolecules—the building blocks of all food products—into simpler molecules. What does that process look like?
All three of these processes fall under the umbrella of digestion. 
Digestion is critical, but it only produces about 0.1% of the energy your body uses.  The vast majority of energy production takes place in Phase 3, but before your body can start that phase, all of the compounds produced in Phase 1 must oxidize. 
During oxidation, either electrons or hydrogen atoms are separated from each compound. Oxidation transforms all of the compounds above into just a few substances, including :
The most prevalent of these compounds, by far, is acetyl coenzyme A.  But they’re all critical to metabolism.
There’s a better name for Phase 3: the Krebs cycle.1 To keep it simple, two important things happen during the Krebs cycle:
Cells can break down ATP to release energy—energy used to perform a myriad of functions that keep your body running.
It’s important to remember that most of all of the foods you eat are converted to energy via metabolism. That’s why it’s important to eat a balanced diet—your body needs all of the compounds described in the previous section to function properly.
Let’s break down just a few of the more energy-boosting foods.
While each individual fruit offers a unique array of nutrients, let’s focus on a few common compounds found in many fruits that support energy production: 
Like fruits, vegetables can also give you a more sustained energy boost and may support healthy weight loss. Many vegetables also contain vitamin C, potassium, and folate, but many vegetables also bring something unique to the table: vitamin A. 
While it’s also available in meat and dairy products, you can find vitamin A in: 
While it was previously assumed that Vitamin A primarily supported immune function and cell growth, it also plays a key role in mitochondrial processes—the reactions that produce ATP.
One study discovered that, when deprived of retinol (a form of vitamin A), mitochondria slowed to resting levels of ATP production.  Without retinol, mitochondria could still make ATP, but not efficiently. In this experiment, mitochondria returned to a higher energy output once retinol was reintroduced to the system.
While proteins (and the amino acids that constitute them) can be used to make ATP, lipids and complex carbohydrates are the most important sources for energy production. 
Above, we discussed how complex carbohydrates are broken down into simpler sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) like glucose, fructose, and sucrose.  But let’s zoom in on glucose—one of the most powerful ingredients the body uses to make ATP.
Glucose is one of many simple sugars broken down from complex carbohydrates during digestion.  It’s converted into ATP by the mitochondria in a process called “glycolysis”, which breaks down glucose into usable compounds that merge with ions in the mitochondria to form ATP.  From one glucose molecule, the mitochondria can produce four ATP molecules—that’s a lot of energy.
There are two reasons why caffeine might make you feel more energetic:
As mentioned, the breakdown of proteins into amino acids have a role in cellular energy production.1 However, it is also mentioned that cells typically only use amino acids in energy production when other sources (lipids and carbohydrates) are low. 
One of the most important things to remember about metabolism and energy production is that almost every food product can play a role in your body’s healthy functioning—that’s why it’s so important to eat a balanced, varied diet.
After all, there are numerous scenarios in which your body might be low on carbohydrates or lipids for use in ATP production. Let’s examine two hypothetical scenarios in which your body might use amino acids from protein to make energy:
As you can see, your body requires food from a wide variety of sources to produce the energy it needs to function. But, if you think you’re eating a varied enough diet and you’re still feeling sluggish or low-energy, you might still be head-scratching.
If this is the case, consider speaking to a healthcare provider like a Registered Dietitian. Registered Dietitians are experts on food, nutrition, and the biological processes that produce energy.  They can help you create a customized nutrition plan that helps you meet your health goals (like feeling more energetic) while accommodating your unique dietary needs.
If you’re looking for foods that give you energy, you’re in luck—almost all food products provide chemical compounds that your body can use to make ATP (the main source of cellular energy). 
On your way to a happier and healthier lifestyle, you might have even more questions about nutrition, energy, and more. That’s where Everlywell comes in.
We offer a variety of resources for people looking for answers about their health. We connect users with licensed telehealth providers, offer convenient at-home testing collecting kits (including a food sensitivity test), and publish resources based on peer-reviewed scientific research to help you learn more about your body.
Over one million users trust Everlywell as they create (and crush) their health and wellness goals. Learn more about how we’re expanding access to quality care, materials, and information.
Mediterranean diet for diabetics: what you need to know
Obesity and diabetes: what's the link?