Are you having trouble concentrating or finding yourself wanting to take a mid-afternoon nap at your desk? Most of us have experienced the overwhelming sensation of exhaustion at less-than-optimal times. The good news is that you may be able to reduce fatigue and boost energy levels by paying attention to a few key habits and food decisions, including what and when you eat.
Here are a few tips to avoid a mid-afternoon crash and instead keep your energy levels more stable throughout the day.
1. Focus on steady energy throughout the day.
One possible reason for that afternoon crash is that we are experiencing a dip in blood sugar, which causes us to feel tired and lethargic. This could be because we’ve been eating larger, spaced-out meals, resulting in a sudden influx of energy, followed by a slump or maybe it’s because we’ve been skipping some meals altogether. Eating smaller, more frequent meals and snacks throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) may help minimize the spikes and dips in blood sugar that stem from less consistent energy intake. In the simplest of terms: pay attention to your hunger levels and don’t deprive your body (and brain!) of the energy needed to stay sharp throughout the day. If you need a few ideas for adequate portion sizes of snacks, check out this resource.
2. Build your meals with the “big three” – carbs, protein and fat.
Another reason many of us experience that afternoon slump is because we aren’t building meals and snacks with a solid mix of the different, important macronutrients. Carbs, protein and fat serve unique purposes in our bodies, and it’s important to include them all throughout the day. This balanced combination of macronutrients also helps our blood sugar and energy levels stay steadier after we’ve finished eating. Additionally, consuming whole and packaged foods that are high in protein, fiber and/or whole grains at an eating occasion can promote satiety – a fancy word for being full and satisfied. And it should go without saying but eating enough throughout the day will help boost our energy and ability to focus too.
3. When deciding which carbohydrates to eat, choose whole grains at least half of the time.
There are two types of grains that we eat—whole and refined. Whole grain foods contain all parts of a grain’s seed—the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Refined grains have a smoother texture and a longer shelf-life. The refining process removes much of the bran and germ which results in the loss of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, trace minerals, protein, unsaturated fat. “Enriched” grains will have many of these key nutrients added back to them after processing. Due to its fiber content, whole grains are digested more slowly than refined grains allowing for a more gradual rise in blood sugar, which leads to stable energy levels hours after eating.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume at least half of our grains as whole grains.
4. Health is more than what we eat – look beyond food.
Sleep is restorative— getting enough sleep can help reduce stress, improve our moods, improve our immune system, and improve mental functioning. Skip out on a few hours and you may notice that your energy levels are lower and more difficult to sustain than usual.
While it may not seem like it, physical activity is a great way to increase your energy level. Regular exercise strengthens muscles and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. That improved delivery system helps you feel stronger and more awake. Physical activity may also promote better sleep.
Stress can use a lot of the body’s energy, especially if it’s over an extended period of time. It can be mentally and physically demanding as well, so find activities that counteract stress for you. Whatever you need to do to relax, whether that’s going for a walk, talking with a friend, or listening to music, take a moment to do it. Your body will thank you.
Stuck inside all day staring at a computer screen? Take a 10-15 minute break at least once per day to disconnect, get outside and bask in the sun. A change of scenery will help you re-energize and refocus when you return.
Part of the problem with our afternoon crash might be related to our hydration status, so don’t forget to drink up throughout the day. A lack of proper hydration can lead to dehydration, which is often accompanied by dizziness, headaches and an inability to focus. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend, on average, that men should consume about 125 ounces of fluids per day, while women need around 91 ounces. These amounts include the fluids that we get from both beverages and foods. Plain water is the ideal choice when it comes to hydration, but all fluids, including caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, or flavored waters and juices, contribute to water intake.
This article includes contributions from Kris Sollid, RD and Aimee Takamura, a past Sodexo Dietetic Intern.