Cheap foods that will give me lots of energy?
January 2, 2006 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a work schedule that demands I be away from home for 10 to 12 hours per day, thus making it difficult to fit in a healthy diet. To make matters worse, my position requires a lot of repetitive manual labor (moving and rewinding heavy reels of film, etc.), which is taxing on my poor, overworked muscles. I need suggestions on high energy food that's cheap, doesn't need to be refrigerated, and tastes good (if such a thing exists).

Typically I eat one meal per day, and 90% of the time that meal comes from Taco Bell. If I had the time / money for more meals, I'd eat them, but I don't. Luckily my schedule allows me plenty of time to sleep, so I've been offsetting the effects of my unhealthy diet by getting lots and lots of rest. However, recently my muscles have been aching from head to toe. I don't think sleep is going to do the trick for much longer. I have to somehow replace the energy going out with something other than tostadas (Mmmmm) or else I'm going to shrivel into a California raisin and die.

What can I eat? My space, time, and money is limited, so I hope that doesn't make this question entirely impossible to answer.

NOTE: I work one block away from a Butternut Bread factory, so bread is easy to get.

Please help me not die.
posted by bjork24 to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
One meal a day?! Good god, that'd be a pretty large part of the problem right there. If you have that much time to sleep, you should have that much time to eat more regularly, surely?

I'd recommend more food at more regular intervals, even if it's only frequent, snack-style meals of 200-300 calories each. Keep some trail mix on hand (of the dried fruit and unsalted nuts variety, not the chocolate-and-M&Ms variety) for quick-and-dirty energy. A bag of carrots or celery? Apples? Bananas? Can you prepare some modest meals for the next day at home (sandwiches on whole-grain breads, etc.) and just bring them with you?

You could fit a wide range of cheap and healthy sustenance into a small knapsack with some minor forethought. It's certainly better than blowing a whole day's calories in one sitting at Taco Hell, and then just allowing your body to go into "shutdown mode" when it runs out of steam.

Drink lots of water, too. You need to stave off dehydration and flush those active muscles of toxins (both of which may explain at least some of your aches).
posted by mykescipark at 3:27 PM on January 2, 2006

Response by poster: I also make it a point to take my multi-vitamin everyday. Although, with my current eating habits, that may be akin to throwing miracle-gro on a dead tomato plant.

I do need to drink more water. My pee looks like lemonade.
posted by bjork24 at 3:30 PM on January 2, 2006

I needed an unrefrigerated easy-to-eat packable diet during a similarly demanding job, and this worked great for me:

Each night, take a ziploc bag and fill with any three or four of the following: Nature Valley chewy granola bars, apples, bananas, baby carrots, bagels, chunks of cheese, peanut butter crackers, PBJ sandwich, can of V-8 juice or 100% fruit juice. Aim for a balance of protein, carbs and fruit/veggies.

Fill a couple of Nalgenes with water. If your job is strenuous enough that you are unable to stay hydrated with just water, add a quart of Gatorade. Remember to stop for a snack and drink every three hours. You will feel SO much better.
posted by naomi at 3:56 PM on January 2, 2006

I very much like Clif Bars, but I've also found Odwalla bars to be very tasty. They have 200-300 calories each and cost about $1 when you buy a case (15 or maybe 16 bars). These are not weightloss bars, so they're packed with fast and slow release carbs like rice syrup. These can be eaten with dirty hands, if you're careful with the wrapper, if your environment so requires it.

I would also second the fruit idea -- you can plow through a banana in about 30 seconds and wolf an apple in about 1 minute. If you take the above advice, which is to drink a lot more water than you're drinking now (I'd aim for 2 nalgene bottles per shift, which is a lot, but not an insane amount...), then you'll have to pee a lot. Each time you take a break to urinate, afterwords scarf down a piece of fruit or a power bar or a handful of peanuts (high in protein) and raisins (high in sugar). PB + J is also very cheap and very filling and a ton better for you than Taco Bell. This means you'll be eating a lot of smaller meals. This is much healthier than 3 big meals per day, so you'll actually start to feel better.
posted by zpousman at 4:05 PM on January 2, 2006

Also you can freeze yogurt and take it to work-I do this for school. By noon it's thawed but still cold, and ready to eat.
posted by konolia at 4:12 PM on January 2, 2006

I second naomi and zpousman, and I's add raw unsalted almonds to the mix. They're really good for you, and I found that they killed off my greasy-meat cravings effectively when I couldn't go out for lunch or dinner. But for heaven's sake, stay away from the fast food! It's probably making you feel much worse.
If you have a Trader Joe's close by, you can stock up on raw nuts, dried fruit and healthy trail mix, and they sell some pretty good whole wheat breads. I like Luna Bars, too -they're practically candy (but pretty healthy), so they might take some of the edge off if you have a taste for sweets. And water, water, water.
posted by maryh at 4:25 PM on January 2, 2006

Protein Bars, Meal Replacements Drinks/Bars might help you to spread your calories out over the day, which will do wonders. Avoid junk food and soda.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:07 PM on January 2, 2006

peanut butter sammich
posted by neuron at 6:02 PM on January 2, 2006

Dear God, man! Don't eat Taco Hell!

With work and commute I'm out 10-12 hours a day as well. I have no car, and the only things near by or at work is either a Circle K mart or some crappy vending machines. I work high-stress helpdesk with the added responsibilities of being the lowest on the totem pole, so I'm often called on to move desks, computers, clean up stuff, move boxes and boxes of books, etc. I've also done pure manual labor work in warehouses and otherwise, so I'm familiar with the whole body load thing. I'm also a one meal a day kind of guy.

Here's stuff I eat.

Peanut Butter and Honey sandwiches. These can be made the night before if you like, or in a few spare minutes before work. I eat 2-3 of them a day sometimes, and just snack on 'em at breaks or whenever I have a moment. The even taste better after they've been allowed to marinate for a few hours, especially on a crusty sourdough, wheat, or 12 grain. For extra crunch and chew, sprinkle a few pinches of oats between the peanut butter and honey.

GORP = Good ol' Raisins and Peanuts. Lots of protein and other goodness. Chocolate chips and salty peanuts and good raisins make it tasty. I'll also throw in whatever - good cereal, whole oats, almonds, cashews, granola clusters, pretzels, yogurt covered raisins, etc. This stuff may seem like it's expensive to make, at first, but even 10 bucks worth gets you a huge batch you can use for a week or three. Always cheaper in the long run to mix your own, too, plus you can adjust the mix yourself. And those minimart bags of premade trailmix are often loaded with salt, preservatives or additives. Practically a meal.

Snacky things, like low fat cookies or crackers from Trader Joe's or other "Health Food" stores.

Cheese. Those string cheese snacks are awesome. But a nice slab of cheese in a baggie is fine as well. Many cheeses may go a little funky looking in a few hours out of the fridge when it's warm out, but it's perfectly edible. It's cheese, man. As long as it's not green or furry you're fine. (Unless it's supposed to be green, blue, or furry.)

Chunks of good chocolate. Not crappy high-sugar M&M/Mars type stuff, but a hunk of bulk Ghiradelli's or other stuff. You can get huge blocks of this stuff at - again - health food stores or gourmet/speciality groceries. You don't need to bring in the whole slab, just an ounce or three. Nibble on it.

When I'm totally craving meat proteins, I'll eat good jerky, or boiled eggs as required. Nuts are awesome, too.

Yogurt. Doesn't require refrigeration. Hey, it's yogurt. If it's warm, you can just drink it. Otherwise pack a spoon, disposable or otherwise.

Fruit. Apples are good, as are bananas. Baby carrots, too. Or raw broccoli, or cauliflower. Chewy, crunchy, and good for you.

Dried fruit or fruit leather.

Avoid soda. Drink water. If you must have caffiene - as I do - drink coffee or tea, hopefully unsweetened or only lightly sweetened. Me, I drag in a whole pot of black coffee every day. And, again, drink plenty of water. Soda is fucking evil. High fructose corn syrup, CO2, artifcial colors and flavors, ick. Avoid!

And finally, my favorite secret weapon: Emergen-C. With your main meal have a glass of Emergen-C, or whenever. The Vitamin C protects you, the B complexes will give you a boost and keep you going and everything else is good for you too. That stuff is incredibly awesome. You don't have to use it every day, but if you're older or comprimised it'll do wonders. A box of 36 packets is about 10 bucks. Trader Joe's has it for about 9 bucks. (And do the math. A multivitamin with the same technology and vitamin quantities would cost twice to ten times as much for a month's supply.

Good luck. Don't die. And kick that Taco Bell habit, that stuff'll kill you like bullets made outta rat poison.
posted by loquacious at 6:33 PM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you have a kitchen or fridge at work buy some soy milk, frozen fruit (mango, blackberries, strawberrys, blueberrys or a medly), some yogurt, get yourself a cheap hand blender and you have a great liquid meal anytime you feel low energy. The hand blender is key because there is very little cleanup just run it under a sink. I work at home and find that mango smoothies are a great replacement for coffee and give me twice the energy.
posted by any major dude at 6:54 PM on January 2, 2006

Merely an echo of everyone else... I think you'll find that if you stop eating at Taco Bell and the like, that sort of food will become absolutely repugnant to you within a few months. It really is toxic.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 7:38 PM on January 2, 2006

Response by poster: All this talk about Trader Joe's is making me sad. I moved from St. Louis, where we had three of them, to Springfield, MO... where we don't even have a Whole Foods.

Anyone want to open a Trader Joe's here?

Other than that, I'll take this advice to heart and start eating better. I swears it!
posted by bjork24 at 10:06 PM on January 2, 2006

I also have to pack food to last 10-12 hours during the day. I'm reactive hypoglycemic, too, so sugary stuff sends my blood sugar plumeting badly enough that I can't function. That cuts out a lot of the standard on-the-go foods (no granola bars, fruit, Luna Bars, etc.) I've found that whole grain bread, peanut butter, hummus, carrots/celery/other sliced vegetables, etc. are the best foods for getting through work. I'll also take canned soup to work sometimes and just eat it straight out of the can. Finally, if I feel like splurging, I'll bring a small frozen TV dinner and let it thaw until it's time to heat it up and eat it.

Even if you're not hypoglycemic you might want to avoid eating too much sugary food at work. It can cause a rebound blood sugar dip even in people with healthy metabolisms, and that can make you hungry and tired midway through the day.
posted by rhiannon at 11:29 PM on January 2, 2006

Eat something small every two hours. Don't eat bread.

posted by ewkpates at 4:59 AM on January 3, 2006

Lara Bars are sugar-free, made with dates, nuts, and other good stuff. They have them at my local supermarket, or you could buy them in bulk on the internet. They're really surprisingly filling.
posted by miss tea at 5:20 AM on January 3, 2006

Can you make sandwiches and take them along? Make them before bed and put them in the fridge then they will last until you are ready to eat them - no mayo. Do yourself a favor and get decent bread and some decent fillings.

Tuna now comes in foil pouches - portable - and you can just fork them right out of the pack.

Meal replacements, as mentioned above, might also be a good way to pack in some solid calories. Get something good though. Muscle milk is supposed to be yummy and pretty high calorie - no more than one a day!

Second or third the nuts - almonds for sure. Dried fruit as well.

I like Kashi granola bars - the honey flax and trail mix ones are the best.

Beef jerky is also good - I found turkey jerkey at Costco.

Finally - for more ideas spend some time on some fitness websites - they know about portable food that is good for you - evidently Sly Stallone now puts out some sort of protien fortified chocolate pudding that is supposed to rock.

Good luck!
posted by jopreacher at 1:02 AM on January 4, 2006

Another tip- Get one of those oversized thermal lunchbags. You can freeze a couple of water bottles every night, then drop them in your lunchbag to keep the contents cold. As they thaw, you have fresh water to drink. It's like having a little fridge on the go, at least for about 5 or 6 hours.
posted by maryh at 5:52 AM on January 4, 2006

« Older Where can I find a list of the largest companies...   |   Bad Business Partner Driving Me Nuts Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.