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Does your energy sag in the afternoon? Here are some tips to help you avoid the afternoon energy crash.
Afternoon crash. Siesta time. After-lunch slump. The two o’clock droop. Whatever you call it, most of us have experienced it from time to time. It’s that point at which your energy level simply takes a nosedive in the middle of the afternoon.
You may feel more than just a crash in your energy level. That after-lunch slump can make you feel a little irritable, too. Maybe you’ve got a mild headache or feel as if you’re not thinking very clearly. And it’s almost certain that your energy crash is causing some serious sugar cravings, too.
Your body’s natural internal clock is partly to blame for the afternoon energy dip. Everyone’s energy level ebbs and flows during a 24-hour period. For most of us, the strongest drive to sleep comes on a few hours after midnight. Another dip, although not usually quite as powerful, also naturally occurs early or mid-afternoon. By that time of day, most people have been up and alert for about 6-8 hours, and the natural need for sleep is starting to build. And you feel the crash coming on.
Since these internal rhythms can get disrupted or accentuated when you don’t get enough sleep, establishing a healthy sleep schedule is really important in helping you maintain your energy all day long.
What and when you eat are important factors.
If your energy regularly droops in the afternoon, it’s time to take a closer look at your eating habits. That afternoon energy crash could be due, in large part, to you simply not providing your body with the proper fuel at the proper times.
Let’s look first at the carbohydrates that you eat. The sugar in your bloodstream (your blood glucose or blood sugar) is what your body relies on to provide the energy you need to get you through your day. Your blood sugar comes almost entirely from the carbohydrates that you eat in your diet. But different carbohydrates have different effects on your blood sugar.
When you eat sugary foods or highly refined carbohydrates like soda or white bread, they’re digested relatively quickly, releasing a surge of glucose into your bloodstream. While this energy surge might sound like a good thing, it generally doesn’t last very long. That’s because your body prefers it when sugar trickles more slowly and steadily into your system.
So, when you dump a load of sugar and refined carbs into your system and your blood sugar shoots up, your body sort of “over-corrects.” And that sends your blood sugar plummeting. When your blood sugar drops, that’s when you might start craving unhealthy sugary snacks to bring blood levels back up.
Many people get an energy slump in the afternoon because they’re eating the wrong carbohydrates. They’ll start the day with something like a sugary cereal, which causes the blood sugar to shoot up, and almost as quickly back down again. That might trigger a sugar craving, which some might satisfy with a pastry or some candy. And the cycle repeats. Since they’re not providing their body with a slow, steady fuel source, their energy levels might feel like a roller-coaster all day long.
On the other hand, when you get your carbohydrates from foods like vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, these take longer to digest. Instead of causing a big spike in your blood sugar, eating these foods allows glucose to slowly enter the bloodstream and help provide more sustained energy over a longer period of time.
In order to keep your energy levels up and avoid the afternoon energy slump, you need well-balanced meals and snacks—and you need to eat every few hours. People who skip meals just can’t keep going all day long. When you don’t eat at regular intervals, your blood sugar is going to drop and take your energy level along with it.
Just as not eating enough can sap your energy, eating too much at lunch can make you feel sluggish in the afternoon. Unfortunately, some people do both. They skip breakfast then eat an enormous lunch because they’re starving, and then wonder why they’re out of steam most of the day. When you eat a big, heavy meal, a lot of energy is required to digest it. As blood gets diverted towards your digestive tract to help the process along, you’ll start feeling the need to take a nap.
Staying well hydrated is important, too. When you become dehydrated, it can affect your mood and your ability to think clearly. Keep water and herbal teas handy and sip on them throughout the day. Some people rely on caffeinated beverages in order to stay perky. This isn’t necessarily a problem, unless caffeine interferes with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re sensitive to it, best to stick with caffeine-free beverages.
Protein foods help to make meals more filling and satisfying, which is why one of the defenses against the afternoon slump is a good offense. You’ll get that in the form of a balanced lunch that includes some lean protein. Make sure your lunch includes some low-fat protein to help fight hunger, and a supply of good carbs to provide you with a steady energy source. A mixed vegetable salad with some grilled fish, a chicken and veggie stir-fry with brown rice, or a protein shake with fruit can all fill the bill at lunch time.
A mid-afternoon snack that includes protein should also be part of your overall plan. A lot of people try to get by without snacking because they feel it adds extra calories to their day, but they usually just make up for it by eating a really big dinner.
Protein shakes work great as a mid-afternoon snack. Or you can also try a protein bar, a carton of yogurt with some fruit, some raw veggies with hummus, or a can of tuna with a handful of cherry tomatoes. Again, the combination of lean protein and beneficial carbohydrates will help keep the afternoon slump away and help keep you satisfied—and energized—all afternoon long.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.