Does this sound familiar? You wake up feeling energized and eager to embark on your day – you start off strong, crossing things off your to-do list and buzzing with accomplishment – but by mid-day, you begin to feel sluggish and drained of your energy. Your enthusiasm is hampered, and you are feeling less energetic and unmotivated to do anything. The dreaded afternoon slump.
If you have ever found yourself in this situation, welcome to the club! It is no secret that America is in the midst of a serious energy crisis, which is directly related to our high levels of stress, lack of physical activity, and poor nutrition. Many of us are sleepwalking through our days, feeling exhausted not realizing that we may be inadvertently contributing to our daily fatigue through unhealthy habits.
Luckily, there are ways to stay energetic, productive and engaged throughout your day without facing a midday crash.
Tip #1: Eat a healthy lunch
Nutrition plays a significant role in your energy production and mood, so it’s important to understand how certain foods can affect the body. I like to tell my clients to always remember that food is fuel for the body and mind. Eating the wrong kinds of food and not drinking enough water affects your ability to sustain energy, which can lead to low productivity.
During lunch break, many people reach for highly processed foods and beverages, which tend to be loaded with sugar and fat. These high-glycemic foods are often “quick grab” items that require little to no preparation like muffins, croissants, bagels, donuts, french fries, milk shakes, bottled juices and soft drinks. Although these quick delights may provide a short burst of energy, the chemical reaction that occurs post-meal results in a crash that leaves us feeling tired and hungry.
However, when we eat a well-balanced meal that is rich in complex carbohydrates and lean protein, we are able to stabilize and sustain our blood glucose – increasing our energy supply for longer periods of time. When you are thinking about your lunch options, here are some things to consider.
- Opt for complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbs take longer to digest and don’t lead to an energy crash. Good choices for complex carbs include whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta, buckwheat, and millet. Legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans are also excellent choices. Some vegetables options include sprouts, green beans, cabbage, mushrooms, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, artichokes, and carrots.
- Go green and lean.
For lunch, pair your leafy green salad with a lean protein such as chicken, fish, or turkey. Swap out the heavy, creamy dressings for a lighter option such as olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Eat consciously.
A large meal takes more effort to digest, which results in less oxygen for energy, leading to brain fog, lack of focus, and diminished creativity. Instead of sitting down and eating a day’s worth of calories in one meal, consume a smaller meal at lunch time and pack a handful of healthy snacks such as raw nuts, vegetables, or granola to enjoy if you get hungry. (More on this later!)
- Choose healthy fats.
Don’t buy into the low-fat craze. Fat is your body’s preferred source of energy. When products are labeled “low fat” or “fat-free,” it usually means that sugar or chemicals have been added to make them taste better. Choose healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, fish, and nuts.
- Munch on an apple.
Some reports indicate that apples are more effective than coffee at keeping people awake. If you always find yourself refilling your coffee mug in the middle of the afternoon, try reaching for an apple instead. For an extra boost of satiety, pair it with a tablespoon of unsalted nut butter
Tip #2: Get Moving
One of the best ways to reduce and manage stress is to stay in good physical shape. After eating, it is a good idea to get out and do some light exercise, especially if your work life is sedentary. The standard rule is to engage in at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day. While this may sound difficult, there are easy ways to integrate fitness into even the busiest day.
After eating lunch, go for a brisk walk around the block, stretch, walk up and down the stairs, or do jumping jacks. Keep small weights handy and do a few exercises to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles.
Several yoga poses have energy-boosting benefits and can be done right at your desk or in a small area. Camel pose, child’s pose, cat-cow, and high crescent lunge are shown to increase energy levels and help the productivity juices flow. New to the practice? There are numerous videos online that can help guide you through different sequences.
Tip #3: Enjoy a mid-afternoon superfood snack
There are so many delicious snacking options to reach for when mid-day hunger strikes. In addition to the healthy eating guidelines outlined above, there are foods known as “superfoods” that are particularly high in nutrients.
Microgreens are young seedlings of vegetables harvested anywhere from a week to two weeks after germination. They contain up to 40 times more nutrients than their adult versions. Added to salads or juices, microgreens can add a tremendous number of vitamins to your daily diet. Good options in microgreens include young cilantro, red cabbage, celery, basil, and arugula, among others.
Some other superfood options include,
- Beans – High in fiber and protein
- Blueberries – High in antioxidants and a great source of vitamins
- Broccoli – High in fiber and nutrients
- Oats – Contain fiber that helps to cleanse the digestive tract while also managing blood sugar levels
- Oranges – Packed with vitamins and fiber
- Pumpkin – An antioxidant and vitamin-dense food source
- Spinach – A nutrient-dense super green
- Walnuts – High in Omega-3 fatty acids
Tip #4: Take a mental health break
Only one in three American report taking an actual lunch break during the work day; the rest either eat at their desks or don’t eat at all. Studies show that taking regular breaks improves productivity and concentration. Taking even two minutes to step away can increase your work performance by 11%.
Work some of following habits into your daily routine to boost your energy and increase your productivity:
- Look away from your computer screen for at least 30 seconds every hour to reduce eyestrain.
- Take a two-minute break to stand up and stretch. Just reaching your arms above your head sends oxygen to your brain and can help wake you up.
- Step outside and go for a walk around the block.
- Practice some deep-breathing exercises. Breathing deeply can release tension and help bring clarity to the mind.
- Take your lunch break in another room and read a book that is not related to your job.
If you have tried all of the above suggestions and continue to be habitually tired, you may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor. In some cases, chronic fatigue can be a result of an underlying medical problem. Keep a journal of how you feel throughout the day, when your energy is low, and how different foods affect your energy level.
Dr. Thulani offers executive wellness coaching and employee wellness programs designed to help individuals cope with stress, increase performance, and be more productive.