Increasing Energy: Are We Looking in All the Wrong Places?

drinking coffee low energy

Constantly feeling tired is commonplace, leading many of us to seek sugar and coffee for a quick energy boost. And while you may assume your lackluster energy is normal and expected when leading a busy lifestyle, feeling drained on the regular can affect your quality of life.

But what if we’re looking for energy in all the wrong places? Are sugar and coffee getting to the root of your energy woes?

To create more energy to do all the things, we need to learn how to fuel the central powerhouse in our cells - otherwise known as the mitochondria. In this article, you’ll learn the essentials required to fuel your mitochondria for long-lasting energy and an enhanced quality of life.

What are Mitochondria and What Do They Do?

Mitochondria are tiny structures in our cells that generate the energy we need to live.1 

Their role in providing energy is well known to scientists but is only more recently gaining attention from the public.

They create a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which produces 90% of the energy our body needs to function. This explains why there are thousands of mitochondria in every cell of the body.2

In the simplest of terms, you can think of the mitochondria as teeny microscopic factories that grasp important nutrients, pass them through an assembly line, and transform them into energy for everyday activities.

In short, the mitochondria help to process energy from the nutrients we eat. To do this, we must properly fuel them. 

7 Nutrients to Increase Energy

Here are 7 key nutrients to fuel your mitochondria and where to find them.

1. Antioxidants

Vitamins C, E, selenium, glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) are all antioxidant nutrients that support mitochondrial health.* One way they do this is by preventing damage from toxins in the environment. These nutrients are found in citrus fruits, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, and organ meat.3

2. Healthy Fats

Omega-3 fats help protect and power the mitochondria. Foods high in these fats include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, avocados, olive oil, chia, and flax seeds.4

3. NAD+ 

Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is a nutrient needed for energy metabolism in the mitochondria. Research shows our NAD+ levels tend to decline with age, and upping our levels may support optimal energy and mitochondrial health.5 Foods highest in NAD+ include whole grains, milk, and fish.

4. L-carnitine

An amino acid (protein-building block) that directly transports fats in the mitochondria, enabling your body to use them as energy.* Meat, fish, and dairy are the richest sources of L-carnitine.6 

5. B-vitamins 

B-vitamins provide oxygen and needed energy to your cells, supporting your mitochondria.* B-vitamins are highest in salmon, leafy greens, milk, eggs, and fortified cereals. There are 8 types of B-vitamins. Taking a B-complex supplement can also help you to meet your own unique needs.

6. Probiotics and Prebiotics

If your gut health is off-kilter, chances are your energy levels are subpar as well. Two key nutrients play an important role in keeping your mitochondria in tip-top shape - probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics - These are the beneficial bacteria that when consumed, provide health benefits by improving or restoring the bacteria residing in the gut. If your gut bacteria are off-balance, this can affect the function of the mitochondria. And on the other end, if your mitochondrial function is declining, it can affect your gut health.

To remedy this, eating more probiotics and taking a probiotic supplement can help

Probiotic-containing foods include Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Additionally, a recent study showed that taking a probiotic supplement for 8 weeks improved mitochondria function and energy metabolism*.8

Prebiotics - Prebiotics are healthy fibers that feed the probiotic bacteria, and therefore promote a happy gut. The prebiotics keep the probiotics around, allowing for an even bigger energy boost in the body.*

Prebiotics are found in various fruits, veggies, and grains such as artichokes, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, and apples. When they stick around, more beneficial bacteria can thrive.

7. Targeted Supplements 

Achieving optimal energy requires a targeted and individualized approach to nutrition. Since there are several key nutrients at play, knowing which ones you need the most is paramount to gaining the most benefit from a supplement regimen.

Taking a personalized microbiome health test can reveal which nutrients your body needs to bolster your energy levels and a guide on how to obtain them in the right amounts. 


  1. Osellame LD, Blacker TS, Duchen MR. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2012;26(6):711-723. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2012.05.003

  2. Javadov S, Kozlov AV, Camara AKS. Cells. 2020;9(5):1177. Published 2020 May 9. doi:10.3390/cells9051177 

  3. Pagano G, Pallardó FV, Lyakhovich A, et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(19):7060. Published 2020 Sep 25. doi:10.3390/ijms21197060

  4. Herbst EA, Paglialunga S, Gerling C, et al. J Physiol. 2014;592(6):1341-1352. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2013.267336

  5. Cantó C, Menzies KJ, Auwerx J.Cell Metab. 2015;22(1):31-53. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.05.023

  6. Geier DA, Geier MR. Neurochem Res. 2013;38(11):2336-2341. doi:10.1007/s11064-013-1144-7

  7. Clark A, Mach N. Front Physiol. 2017;8:319. Published 2017 May 19. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00319

  8. Nurrahma, B. A., Tsao, S.-P., Wu, C.-H., Yeh, T.-H., Hsieh, P.-S., Panunggal, B., & Huang, H.-Y. (1AD, January 1). Frontiers. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from