Nutrition on the Go: Fuel Your Body with Key Nutrients to Power Your Busy Life
Healthy eating is the backbone of any healthy lifestyle. It provides the energy you need to focus throughout the day, helps keep your immune system operating at its best, and fuels your body for physical activity.
Of course, eating right is easier said than done—especially when life gets busy. When you have a lot on your metaphorical plate, it’s tempting to forego healthy, nutritious meals. That might mean replacing them with fast food, a snack from the vending machine, or simply skipping the meal.
In other words, when life gets busy, many people tend to deprive themselves of the key nutrients that will keep them operating at their best. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to learn which nutrients will help power your busy life and how to incorporate them into your daily meals.
If you’re completely new to the world of nutrition, don’t worry—this section provides a quick, crash course on the basics. And if you’re a seasoned expert (pun intended), a little review never hurts, right?
Nutrition—in the context of this article—refers to the process of providing your body with the food it needs to support normal growth and development, as well as maintain essential body functions. To do each of these tasks, your body requires a variety of nutrients. These nutrients range from amino acids, fats, and carbs to vitamins, minerals, and everything in between. So when people throw around phrases like healthy eating, nutritional food, or a good diet, they’re referring to eating habits that provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function. But also avoiding—or reducing—the intake of less nutritious options.
Though it can sound involved—and, frankly, intimidating—eating a well-balanced diet can be done easier than you think. In fact, simply eating a large variety of whole foods can provide the building blocks of a balanced diet. You can reach for a variety of different foods: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.
Between these food groups, you can get most of the nutrients you need on a day-to-day basis. So if you’re eating the recommended daily amount of each food group, your diet likely has a strong foundation. From there, you can adjust your eating habits to focus on specific nutrients—but more on that later!
The Importance of Nutrition on the Go
The food you eat directly fuels your energy levels. Carbohydrates such as sugar, for instance, can provide quick, temporary bursts of energy. But the benefits of good nutrition go far beyond your energy levels.
Nutrition is the unsung hero (or villain) of your day-to-day experiences. Whether it’s the quality of your sleep or your ability to focus throughout the day, nearly every element of your day is affected, in part, by what you put in your body.
This makes nutrition especially important when you’re busy. An inability to focus can set you behind on the day’s tasks. Similarly, a poor night of sleep can throw off your entire day. But in both cases, you can set yourself up for success by focusing on your eating habits.
Naturally, the optimal meal plan looks a little bit different for everyone. It’ll take time and experimentation to figure out what works best for you. But there are some general guidelines to start you on the right path. The next section breaks down some of the nutrients you’ll likely need to fuel your busy life and why they are so important.
Key Nutrients to Get You Through Busy Days (And Where to Find Them)
A well-balanced diet ensures you have a solid foundation, but you’ll still need to pay close attention to the foods you eat. Each day, you should strive to consume a variety of foods. This will help you maintain a baseline level of nutrition to keep you going.
Once you’ve established that baseline, you can focus on other key nutrients. The list below outlines some of the vitamins and minerals that especially power your busy lifestyle. This is not an exhaustive list of what your body needs, but rather a list of key nutrients involved in healthy energy production that you can use to help supplement an already balanced diet.
B vitamins: It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating—food is fuel. That being said, your body has to perform chemical processes to convert the food you eat into usable energy. This is where vitamins B1, B2, and B3—AKA thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin—come into play. These three B vitamins help support the ways your body breaks down and processes macronutrients. These processes, which spark electron transfers, also need support from B vitamins to produce one of the body’s main sources of energy.
When it comes to energy production, vitamins B5 and B7 (pantothenic acid and biotin) also play an important role. Similar to the other B vitamins, these two vitamins facilitate a number of chemical processes and reactions that help your body metabolize various substances and create usable energy.
B vitamins aren’t all about energy production, though it is one of their main functions. Vitamin B9, AKA folate, helps your body build DNA and RNA, supports tissue growth, and promotes the regeneration of red blood cells. Obviously, these are important bodily functions.
To metabolize—or break down and process—folate, your body needs vitamin B12, or cobalamin. So remember how folate helps your body perform a number of crucial functions? Well, your body also relies on vitamin B12 for those same processes.
At this point, hopefully one thing is clear: the B vitamins do a lot. So where can you find them? The B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods including pork (B1), brown rice (B1), leafy greens (B2, B3, and B9), dairy (B2 and B5), and fish (B3, B7, and B12). For an in-depth look at each of the B vitamins, check out this guide!
Electrolytes: Contrary to popular belief, electrolytes are more than just salt. Electrolytes are water-soluble substances that conduct electrical charges. Some of the most common electrolytes found in your body are calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Your body uses electrolytes—and their conductive properties—to support healthy muscle contraction, chemical reactions, and fluid balance. Because your body is about two-thirds water, nearly every cell contains electrolytes.
Electrolytes exit the body through fluids—usually through urine and sweat. Those found in your urine are typically excess electrolytes, meaning your body doesn’t need them. If you’re sweating a lot, however, it may be necessary to deliberately replenish your body’s supply of these electrically charged minerals. So how do you do this?
It’s simple: just eat and drink electrolyte-rich foods and beverages. These include bananas, dairy products, coconut water, avocados, and watermelon. (It’s important to note that excessive amounts of electrolytes can also have detrimental effects on your health. If you suspect you have too many or too few in your diet, you can have a urine test done to measure your levels.)
Calcium: Calcium is mentioned twice in this list because it’s one of the body’s most important nutrients—crucial enough to merit its own section, too. You’ve probably heard that calcium helps maintain strong bones. While that’s true, calcium does a whole lot more, too.
That includes supporting:
- healthy muscle function
- nerve signals
- a healthy heart beat
- normal cell signaling
As you can see, calcium plays a vital role in your body’s daily function. Additionally, too little calcium in your diet can negatively impact cognition—which can be catastrophic during a busy day.
You can find calcium in dairy products, tofu, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale).
Magnesium: Like calcium, magnesium is also an electrolyte. The essential mineral also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to produce energy. And it helps regulate your body’s levels of another key nutrient—calcium. Too little magnesium in your diet may result in muscle weakness and fatigue.
If you’re looking to add more magnesium to your diet, consider snacking on whole nuts or pack a salad of leafy greens for lunch.
Iron: As with most of the nutrients listed, iron plays a vital role in energy production. It also helps your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue—which can throw a wrench in your busy day.
Meat is one of the main sources of iron in many people’s diets. If you are vegetarian, focus on eating iron-rich foods, such as beans and nuts.
Vitamin C: Nothing interrupts a busy schedule like a cold. Not feeling your best makes it incredibly difficult to take on your daily tasks. Enter vitamin C, which supports the production of leukocytes—white blood cells that help maintain your health.
Most nutrients have many roles, and vitamin C is no different. In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, this vitamin also helps optimize your body’s creation of metabolic energy (energy extracted from nutrients.). Specifically, vitamin C supports the process your body uses to transport and process fatty acids.
So whether you’re looking to maintain a healthy immune system or support healthy energy levels, it’s crucial that your body gets enough vitamin C. You can load up on this vitamin by eating more citrus (or drinking orange juice), broccoli, or Brussels sprouts. Snacking on raw bell peppers is another good option.
Zinc: Like vitamin C, zinc plays a key role in the health of your immune system. (It also does a whole lot more, from supporting eye and kidney health to helping optimize DNA production.) Zinc is most commonly found in meat, seafood, and eggs. So vegetarians and vegans, take note: you might need additional sources of zinc in your diet. This could mean eating more legumes and nuts, or simply taking a dietary supplement.
Water: Good old H2O. Pretty much everyone knows they need to drink a lot of it, and yet many people don’t. Dehydration can cause headaches and fatigue. Fortunately, there’s a surefire way to avoid this: drink more water. If you struggle with proper hydration, consider investing in a large water bottle to carry with you throughout the day. There are even apps that can help you track your hydration!
Balancing Your Diet and Your Schedule
When it comes to healthy eating, it’s easy to let your schedule interfere. But eating a balanced diet doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time. It just means more planning and a little bit of prep.
If you find yourself munching on vending machine snacks throughout the day, consider stocking up on nutrient-rich snacks like nuts or fresh vegetables and hummus. Similarly, a homemade, vegetable-packed sandwich can make an excellent, nutritious lunch—you just have to set aside time to make it.
At the end of the day, balancing your diet might mean balancing your schedule. Nutrition doesn’t necessarily require hours and hours of planning and preparation—15 or 20 minutes of meal prep in the morning can make all the difference. In an hour or two on Sunday, you can knock out your meals for the week. Find what works with your schedule and stick with it.
Nutritious meals might seem time consuming, but they’ll supply the fuel you need to push through a busy day. And with optimal energy levels and focus, maybe you’ll find that nutrition saves you time after all.