My fantasy world is actually just Earth millions of years in the future, and as such I'm trying to superficially justify existence of some magic (mostly elemental based).

Idea is, civilization as we know it has destroyed itself, millions of years later a new race of humanoids develop and instead of technology, they research their mind and mental possibilities, and with that learn how to control and alter limited amounts of energy. Now, as energy cannot just be created from nothing, those primitive future mages would need a source of energy which they would drain to create for example an electric discharge close to them.

If it's possible, I would like that source to be in a form of dusty substance that can be ingested or even inhaled (that gives way more energy than food), which (from the writers perspective) opens up a possibility of "mana junkies" and overdose.

What is the best substance to generate enough energy in a body of a humanoid being which is roughly equal to the energy needed for creating a thunderbolt or a similar manifestation of "magic"?

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    $\begingroup$ So you want a superfood? Try goji berries. More seriously I don't think there are many digestible foods (for humans) that give much more short term energy than pure glucose or fructose (sugar) so your creature will have to have a different respiratory system to humans. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2017 at 15:46
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    Mar 11, 2017 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ I have some trouble with the wording: magic is not possible in the sence you are asking. You're looking for a plausible idea in the context of your story. Maybe the title can state that you are looking for high-energy foods rather than asking if magic is real. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Mar 11, 2017 at 23:03

5 Answers 5


As I mentioned in my response to this post, the bounds on chemically-powered magic are limited by the energy density of the chemicals that power it. I think it's acceptable in your story to assume that life will evolve (probably at the microscopic level) to eat any high-energy compound you provide. If your magicians are decent geneticists and sufficiently unethical, they might even inject those genes into their own offspring. At this point, you have your power source.

According to the Wikipedia article on Energy Density, sugar provides 16 MJ/kg of usable energy. Coal, by comparison, provides about 30 MJ/kg, and Methane is at the high end of the energy scale, providing 55MJ/kg. Fats, butane, and most automotive fuels fall in the middle of this scale. Note that the most energetic compounds are actually gaseous, so a high density per unit volume is hard to achieve.

My favorite standard of chemical energy, the Big Mac sandwich, provides 2MJ of energy.

If your "magic" (or SF) is based on electrical manipulation, these energy levels can get you surprisingly far. One kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3.6MJ, or less than two Big Macs. If you want to zap someone like an electric eel, that's a big pulse.

Unfortunately, the kind of things you may often want to do with magic require correspondingly massive amounts of energy. The current RDA for an adult male is ~10.5MJ (5 Big Macs). Think of how much work that same human can do in a day; that gives you some idea of the order of magnitude of work that your magic can do with that same amount of energy.

At the same time, it's significant that explosives like TNT or gunpowder actually have a much lower energy density than the items I mentioned above. They work not because of the amount of energy they provide, but the speed at which that energy is delivered. If you can convert those same 5 Big Macs into a single explosion, that's equivalent to 11 sticks of dynamite.

Now, since we're working with magic, it's also possible that this same energy is being used to open a transdimensional portal somewhere. In that case, we're no longer limited by the amount of energy provided by this superfood, but how much energy is available through the portal. You are no longer limited by chemical energy densities, and the sky's the limit.

Having slept on this, I realize that the ideal solution to the chemical question was staring me in the face all along: metallic aluminum. Aluminum is a reasonably common metal, and at 31 MJ/kg, has a moderately high energy density. You can transport it as a relatively stable solid, but with the right (presumably organic) catalyst, your hypothetical mages could extract that energy as needed.

In nature, one wouldn't expect to find anything that eats aluminum, because you don't find free aluminum in nature -- it's all tied up as an oxide, in bauxite ore. But mankind has changed that, and in a million years, perhaps nature would have responded to that change in environment.

The fun part, of course, happens when your mages want to consume aluminum. As you've already noted, being able to snort aluminum powder, while bad for the lungs, would give a quickly-absorbed energy burst. But if that same powder is left lying out in the open, a breeze might pick it up, and suddenly you have a fuel-air explosive.

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    $\begingroup$ This is very interesting. Thanks :) However, I did want to distance my "mana substance" from food, and give it more flavor. If we take into consideration that the story is happening so far into the future, and after the demise of a high tech civilization, would it be possible that there exists a substance that has the ability to give body energy but not nutritional values? And how much of this energy could human body even take (just as an example; I am not dealing with humans per se)? $\endgroup$
    – Raven
    Mar 11, 2017 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ My wife tells me that eating a Big Mac will provide energy, but no actual nutritional value. $\endgroup$
    – papidave
    Mar 11, 2017 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ sensible chuckle $\endgroup$
    – Raven
    Mar 11, 2017 at 23:42

If it's possible, I would like that source to be in a form of dusty substance that can be ingested or even inhaled (that gives way more energy than food), which (from the writers perspective) opens up a possibility of "mana junkies" and overdose. Is it possible for such a substance to exist?

Why yes. Your magicians could be endowed with special mithochondria in their lung alveoles or nasal tissues, capable of oxidating aluminum. This would give you approximately four times the energy of glucose, and a whole gamut of interesting side effects. For example, anyone breathing aluminum would need some downtime while his organism proceeds to excreting corundum, possibly in the form of nodules in phlegm - what would probably be known as Warlock's Catarrh - or to accumulate it somewhere disposable, such as a dermal sac or a horn. Various possible disfigurements are available to long-time junkies.

Even better, boron. Same problems for excreting the metabolites - I think phlegm is the only viable method for diboron trioxide - but way more energy. This would require some carefully tailored enzymes though, for oxidating boron in a biological system isn't that easy.

A much more difficult-to-find substance, and less energetic (less than glucose actually), but spectacular in its own kind, might be octanitrocubane. It stores some energy as strain in molecular bonds, and has the advantage of having gaseous byproducts, so its metabolism would only make the blood slightly more acidic and possibly give the user a mild case of the bends. Long-term, though, that might translate to cerebral damage.

In both aluminum and boron cases, there's no great advantage from high-calorie food: it's true that aluminum has four times the energy of glucose, but you can hog up way more than four times your maximum powdered aluminum intake, thus more than making up for the difference.

Also, you could concoct an even higher energy food by mixing glucose, fatty acids and maybe some metabolic accelerant. You'd not end up with a powder, but rather with the equivalent of a magic chocobar (yummy, though).


You can eat radioactive minerals. If you eat enough, the old analoguos photo papers will be unusable if you near them.

It doesn't surely need to be a lethal quantity, but it is better not doing it.

  • $\begingroup$ Humans are biochemical. The energy radiating off these minerals is electromagnetic or in some cases nuclear (ie alpha particles). The human body cannot make use of it the same way it makes use of food. Now you can handwave that away, but then if you're willing to handwave, there really isn't a need for the superfood in the first place: you could just jump straight to magic ("all ages have a mystical connection to The Nexus, from which they draw power"). $\endgroup$
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 11, 2017 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DanBrown Alpha particles remain in the body, they can't pass through even the skin. But the gamma rays, yes. These would kill the analog photo papers. The post didn't say anything directly, that the human body or mind should transform this energy, only you interpreted it on this way, thus I disagree your critic. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Mar 11, 2017 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ The original post literally says [the mages] research their mind & mental energies and learn how to control limited amounts of energy and need a source of energy they would drain to create ... an electric discharge and that source [of energy] to be in a form which can be ingested ... that gives way more energy than food. In other words, the whole point of the question is to find something that the mages could eat which would make available to them a lot more energy than food could. If it helps though, I did not downvote you. I can't. I don't have enough rep to downvote anyone. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 11, 2017 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DanBron Ok, thanks. The question asks for a scientific, or a semi-scientific solution, but it doesn't exist. Although I can construct a pseudo-scientific one. I write a new answer for that. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Mar 12, 2017 at 12:22

One option is left over technology. For example, The Practice Effect or Gardner's Trapped, the world is rife with wild nanotechnology allowing feats indistinguishable from magic. It is perfectly reasonable to assume munching down on Unabtainium would be helpful in powering or activating the nanotechnology to run new magical effects.


Ok, then here is a different answer, from a different view.

Rigorous scientific solution doesn't exist for your question. The reason:

Food containing energy can be

  1. chemical
  2. nuclear

Chemical energy would also poison. Furthermore, it would produce its energy in the body in the wizard, what would produce everything, except some reusable form.

Nuclear energy is more bad, it is even less controllable as the chemical one.

What you could do, can work in a sci-fi (fantasy) novel, but not in the reality. It is about these:

  1. Chaos theory, using the Butterfly effect.
  2. Quantum correlations.
  3. Quantum mind.

The idea is that the wizard produces quantum correlations between his nerve system (his brain) and the molecules of his environment.

With them, he gets a "fine control" over the molecules of the matter around him, and his brain. With them, he can manipulate a part of the molecules in a very small size, on a chaotic way.

Using chaos theory, he does this control to get the expected results (for example, to produce a wind, or telekinesis, or similar effects).

Some matter could be needed to get the quantum correlations. It is also possible, that the same matter should be put into the matter in his environment, what he wants to manipulate. It would be analogous to the material components of the RPG magic.


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