6 Best Energy-Dense Foods to Fuel Your Workouts

Eating high-calorie foods isn’t a bad idea.


When it comes to dieting advice we are often told to approach high-calorie foods with a certain degree of caution. If you’ve ever measured out a single serving of peanut butter, then you know that some foods pack in a surprisingly high amount of calories in a small space. Eat these energy-dense foods too liberally and it can have waistline and health repercussions, which is why awareness of calories isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Energy density is a concept referring to the amount of energy or calories per weight of food. At one end of the spectrum is something like celery, which has just 14 calories in 100 grams. At the opposite end would something like a croissant, which has about 406 calories in a 100-gram serving.

Certainly, it’s a wise move to limit your intake of energy-dense foods that hail from ultra-processed sources like fried foods, chips, and even buttery croissants. But that doesn’t mean you should cross them off your menu completely.

Just because a food is highly caloric doesn’t make it problematic. Healthy, whole foods can be both energy-dense and nutrient-dense. “When training volume is high, energy needs are as well,” says Emily Edison M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. “Our stomachs can only handle so much volume of food at one time, so energy-dense foods allow us to meet the energy demands of sport without overfilling our stomachs, which can cause discomfort.” Those extra calories can also support building lean body mass for runners who have trouble doing so when burning a ton of calories.

Scratching your head on which healthy energy-dense foods you should toss into your shopping cart? These items make it clear that not all calories are created equal. Enjoy them, and remember to eat mindfully.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Photo: Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

1 tbsp (14 g) = 119 calories

Liquid fats are the most energy-dense foods around, but this staple of the much-researched Mediterranean diet is proof that some fatty items do the body good.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this year found that adding half a tablespoon or more of olive oil to your diet could lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer by an impressive 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Olive oil was also associated with a 29 percent lower mortality risk from neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Replacing about 10 grams a day (about 3/4 tbsp) of butter, margarine, mayo, or dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil was associated with a lower risk of early death by up to 34 percent.

A separate report concluded that eating a moderate amount of extra virgin olive oil is associated with improvements in several health measures including reduced inflammation, blood pressure and certain cancers.

“Polyphenols in olive oil have been associated with reducing morbidity which is related to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” Edison tells Runner’s World. “These properties can also help enhance healing from sport and minimise the damaging effects of free radicals released during intense training.” She also points out that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil can contribute to a reduction in LDL cholesterol when replacing other fats in the diet.

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