Avoid the Afternoon Crash! Eat This. Not That.
Got a lot to do this afternoon?
Getting a good night’s sleep (eating these snacks) is only part of the perfect plan. Help yourself out by taking a mindful approach to your mid-day meal and avoid the afternoon crash. What you eat for lunch makes a big impact on your afternoon energy levels.
What to Avoid
“Many of the foods that cause us to be hungry or tired right after we’ve eaten them are overly processed, refined, and stripped of the benefits of fiber,” says Rebecca Lewis, MS, RD, head dietitian of HelloFresh. “Fiber is important because it slows the absorption of the foods we eat from the stomach into the bloodstream. When foods are low in fiber or are fiber-less, they travel quickly through the stomach and into our blood, causing a crazy insulin spike.”
The pancreas releases insulin to help transform the food we eat into energy the body can use. When insulin production spikes, it can plummet quickly if there’s no protein or fat eaten at the same time or soon after. That afternoon crash makes people tired and moody. “Eating foods that speed up the insulin response are the ones that end up making us hungrier and more tired in the long-term,” Lewis says.
The worst offenders are bread, particularly white bread, juice and fast foods.
White bread flour is highly processed and refined, so the outer shell of wheat bran has been removed. “This not only strips out the beneficial nutrients, but also removes a good chunk of the fiber, which is what makes bread filling in the first place,” Lewis says. White pasta and white sugar can also cause a similar insulin rise-and-fall.
Juicing removes the natural fiber found in the intact fruits and vegetables, so drinking a glass causes an immediate insulin spike.
And processed fast foods “are filled with preservatives and trans fats, which interrupt our stomachs’ ability to communicate with the brain,” says Lewis. “Satiety-related hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain aren’t produced, so the brain loses its ability to recognize we are full, so we just keep eating more.” Other ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, cause an insulin increase, while salt can cause dehydration and bloating. “Often when we think we are hungry, it is really just our bodies reminding us to rehydrate,” Lewis says.
Better Meal Choices for More Energy
To avoid the afternoon crash, increase your whole vegetable intake and eat some lean protein and fat, says Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of Essence Nutrition. “The key is to make at least half your plate vegetables, ideally raw since they are lighter in density. Add about four ounces of lean protein such as grilled chicken, grilled fish, egg or organic tofu, and a fat like avocado or olive oil,” she says. “This is a low-glycemic meal, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar up and then slam it down, which leads to fatigue.”
Look for foods high in B vitamins, magnesium and those that keep your insulin levels steadier, says Lewis. “Insufficient B vitamins can lead to severe fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration,” she notes. Great vitamin B sources include proteins such as pork, beef, cheese, chicken and fish like trout and tuna, as well as nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts and pistachios. Magnesium-rich foods, which help the body convert sugar into energy, include dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans, whole grains and avocados.
Our bodies are hardwired to feel a bit fatigued in the afternoon. “Biochemically, we experience a dip in alertness hormones around 3 to 4pm, so it’s completely natural to feel that slump,” says Auslander.
Mixing carbohydrates with lean protein and fat will help slow the insulin spike that occurs with carb-only intake. “Complement carbohydrates with a little protein and fat,” says Lewis. Eat a fruit or vegetable with a whole grain, lean protein and plant-based fat, such as an apple with organic almond butter and cinnamon, suggests Auslander.
Skip the fancy sweet coffee drinks and pastries for an afternoon pick-me-up. “The worst thing you can do is grab an espresso and sugar and a croissant,” Auslander says. “You’ll be snoring an hour later. Instead, drink a glass of water, have a plain coffee, and a snack like the apple and almond butter combo.”
Also, sitting all day makes you more tired. “Set an alarm on your phone to get up for ten minutes every two hours,” Auslander adds. “Jog in place for two minutes, and you’ll feel brand new.”
Keep a steady sleep cycle
Sleep is essential for avoiding the afternoon crash, so be sure to get plenty of shuteye. Experts recommend going to bed and waking up at relatively the same time each day to establish and maintain great sleep patterns. Ignoring this and keeping an inconsistent schedule could leave you snoozing at your desk, regardless of what you eat.
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Written by Cheryl Alkon