Feeling sluggish or fatigued often comes down to an imbalance between energy supply and demand. To feel energized, we need to make sure our cells are supplied with enough fuel and the right machinery to meet the demands we put upon them. However, the old cliché of eating a big pasta dinner to carb-load the night before you need extra energy is totally outdated. While it is true carbohydrates do provide your body with glucose for energy, your cells need a lot more than just glucose to get your body moving. Plus, pasta made with white, refined flour is mostly simple carbohydrates, which are digested quickly and raise your blood sugar immediately, not tomorrow. A carbohydrate-rich meal may be appropriate in the few hours before your game, race, or performance, but you’ll want something more balanced the night before.
What should you eat for dinner that supports sustained energy in the future?
Complex carbohydrates that are slow to digest, proteins that provide all of the essential amino acids, and foods rich in the necessary vitamins and minerals to support and sustain cellular energy production.
Amino acids are not just for building new muscle, they are also needed to make hormones, enzymes, and other cell parts and signals within the body, so a plentiful supply of all the essentials will support all of your body systems running efficiently. Branched-chain amino acids, in particular, have been shown to best fend off exercise fatigue .
In terms of the most important vitamins and minerals for energy production, the B-complex vitamins and magnesium top the list [2,3]. The mitochondria in each of your cells rely on cofactors to turn glucose into usable energy. B-vitamins and magnesium are some of the most important cofactors in the citric acid cycle. When intake is low, your cells cannot produce energy efficiently, which can result in feeling fatigued and low.
Chicken Tikka Masala; a delicious dish for energy!
This recipe for a delicious, healthy version of tikka masala contains both chicken breast and greek yogurt, two excellent, low-fat sources of protein. Not only are they high protein, they contain all of the essential amino acids and are especially rich sources of branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Of all chicken parts and cooking methods, roasted chicken breast has been shown to retain the highest amount of amino acids and overall protein, so this is the cut we have selected and the method by which we will cook the chicken in this dish . If you serve this creamy curry over brown rice and spinach you are also providing your body with fiber to keep your digestive system running smoothly, complex carbohydrates for extended release, and a green superfood that is high in magnesium, folate (vitamin B-9), and iron, which is yet another cofactor for energy production.
One, four-ounce serving of chicken breast delivers about 26 grams of protein in only about 110 calories, which is approximately half of the daily recommended amount of protein and approximately 5.5% of the daily recommended calories. Chicken does not contain particularly high levels of magnesium, but foods that are high in protein support an increased absorption of magnesium, so as long as it is served alongside high-magnesium foods (such as brown rice and spinach), these foods will complement each other for maximum energy support . Chicken is, however, a great source of B vitamins. It is particularly high in niacin (B-3), pyridoxine (B-6), and pantothenic acid (B-5), but also contains a significant amount of riboflavin (B-2) and cobalamin (B-12).
Yogurt is also a great source of B vitamins and is richer (per serving) in B-2 and B-12 than chicken. It also provides thiamine (B-1) as well as B-5. The B-12 in dairy products is actually more bioavailable than the B-12 found in meat, so yogurt is a great way to get your vitamin B-12 naturally . In this recipe we are using Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is slightly different from standard yogurt in that it is thicker, lower in sugar, and higher in acid (lower pH; which may aid in digestion). Many people who are lactose intolerant find that yogurt is easier to digest than other dairy products, as the natural probiotic bacteria breaks down much of the lactose before it is consumed. The average serving of Greek yogurt also contains between 12 and 17 grams of protein, depending on the brand.
Chicken Tikka Masala is not a traditional Indian dish, although it contains some Indian curry spices. It first became popular in the UK in the 1960’s, and was developed by combining traditional Indian “chicken tikka” with a creamy tomato sauce. Garam masala is available at most grocery stores, but if you have trouble finding Kashmiri chilli, a standard ground chilli powder or cayenne (if you love spicy food) should substitute just fine. Most chicken tikka masala recipes use yogurt just as a marinade and then heavy cream and butter in the curry. We are using Greek yogurt for both marinade and curry to reduce the fat and calories and increase the protein content. Be aware, this will give the final dish more tang than the classic recipe, but you can feel good about helping yourself to seconds. Lastly, the yogurt added to the curry sauce should be at room temperature or warmer when added to avoid separation. When cold yogurt is heated too quickly, curds and whey will separate. It is safe to eat, but is less visually appealing.
We recommend you start this recipe a day ahead to get the best flavor in the chicken by marinating overnight. The recipe starts by making a spice mixture. Half will be used in the marinade and half will be further added to, to become the sauce for the curry.
INGREDIENTS (serves up to 4)
- 16 ounces (or approximate/1lb/2 breast halves) boneless and skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 4 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup whole grain brown rice (or 4 cups cooked)
Spice paste for the chicken marinade/curry base:
- 6 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 cubic inches ginger root, grated
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili (or 1 teaspoon ground red chili powder)
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Curry sauce additions:
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 1 (14 oz.) can tomato sauce
- extra chilli powder/cayenne to taste
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar (or other sweetener)
- 1/4 cup water if needed
Make your spice paste by mixing grated garlic, ginger, dry spices, and olive oil with a fork in a small bowl until well mixed. Save half, and mix the other half with 1 cup of yogurt. Toss the small pieces of raw chicken in the spicy yogurt marinade and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a few hours before preparing the meal.
To finish preparation, preheat the oven to 420°F. While the oven heats, use a slotted spoon to move coated chicken cubes from marinade to the bottom of a pyrex baking dish, making one layer. Dispose of remaining marinade. Bake chicken for 10 minutes, use a slotted spoon to stir and turn the pieces, and then bake for another 8 minutes before removing the dish from the oven. Chicken will finish cooking in the curry sauce.
While the chicken bakes, make the curry sauce. Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. Fry the onions until soft (about 3 minutes) before adding the remaining spice paste. Stir to coat onions evenly and fry for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Pour in the tomato sauce and let simmer, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes, until sauce thickens and becomes a slightly deeper brown. Stir in the room temperature or warmed yogurt, coconut aminos, and added cayenne or chilli powder, if desired. Add the chicken and its juices into the pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling. Use water, a tablespoon at a time to thin out the sauce, if needed.
Serve ¼ of the chicken and curry sauce over 1 cup steamed brown rice topped with 1 cup baby spinach. Spinach will wilt under the heat of the curry.
- Blomstrand, Eva. “A role for branched-chain amino acids in reducing central fatigue.” The Journal of nutrition 136.2 (2006): 544S-547S.
- Outhoff, Kim. “Magnesium: effects on physical and mental performance:: OTC products.” Professional Nursing Today 20.2 (2016): 7-9.
- Schellack, Gustav, Pamela Harirari, and Natalie Schellack. “Vitamin B-complex deficiency, supplementation and management.” SA Pharmaceutical Journal 86.3 (2019): 23-29.
- Kim, Honggyun, Hyun Wook Do, and Heajung Chung. “A Comparison of the Essential Amino Acid Content and the Retention Rate by Chicken Part according to Different Cooking Methods.” Korean journal for food science of animal resources 37.5 (2017): 626.
- McCance, R. A., E. M. Widdowson, and H. Lehmann. “The effect of protein intake on the absorption of calcium and magnesium.” Biochemical journal 36.7-9 (1942): 686.
- Gille, Doreen, and Alexandra Schmid. “Vitamin B12 in meat and dairy products.” Nutrition reviews 73.2 (2015): 106-115.