Does this sound familiar? You wake up feeling energized and eager to embark on your day, but by the afternoon you begin to feel sluggish and sapped of your energy. Your enthusiasm is hampered, and you are feeling less energetic and unmotivated to do anything. 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. So 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. To stay energetic, productive, and engaged in your day without crashing and burning out, we recommend the following tips:
How to increase energy and avoid the afternoon crash
Tip #1: Eat for Energy
Food is energy. Just as we use optimal grades of fuel to get the most out of high-performance vehicles, we need to use a premium diet to fuel our bodies. Eating the wrong kinds of food affects your ability to sustain energy, which can lead to low productivity.
During lunch time, many people reach for high-glycemic foods and beverages, such as baked goods, French fries, rice dishes, pasta, bottled juices, and soft drinks. These foods are highly processed and loaded with sugar. Although they may increase energy in the short term, the resulting crash leaves us feeling tired and still hungry again.
When we eat a well-balanced meal that is rich in protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates, however, we stabilize and sustain our blood glucose – increasing our energy supply for longer periods of time. When we have more energy, we can be more productive, have more focus, and better manage stress. Here are some suggestions for food choices that won’t leave you feeling zapped of energy:
- Protein: To avoid the afternoon lull, increase your protein. Consider mixed nuts, pumpkin seeds, nut butter with an apple, protein shakes from brown rice or pea protein, raw/organic protein bars. These snacks will fuel you up and keep you going through the day!
- Complex carbohydrates, which 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, and whole oats, as well as non-starchy vegetables. Hummus with bell peppers and cucumber slices is a great source of both protein and complex carbohydrates.
- Healthy fats. Healthy fats provide a more sustainable source of energy than refined carbohydrates and won’t lead to an energy crash. Add nuts, olives, and salmon to your lunch to keep you feeling full and energized for the rest of the day.
Also try reducing your portions, and don’t eat until you’re stuffed. 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.
Tip #2: Try Superfood Snacks
Good mid-afternoon snacks are those that will not deplete your energy, but will boost it. There are foods known as “superfoods,” which are particularly high in nutrients. Incorporating these foods into your diet can deliver powerful health benefits. These “must-have snacks” include:
- Raw almonds
- Raw cashews
- Cacao nibs
- Goji berries
Tip #3: Keep moving
One of the best ways to reduce stress, increase energy, and condition yourself to handle stress better, is to stay in good physical shape. If you’re going to take time out of your busy day to participate in any activity, few will have a more positive, lasting effect than exercise.
After eating, it’s 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, especially if you work all day, there are easy ways to integrate fitness into even the busiest day. After eating lunch, go for a brisk walk, stretch, walk up and down the stairs, or do jumping jacks (even if you need to close your office door or do them in a stairwell!). Keep small weights under your desk and do a few exercises to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles.
Exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re fatigued, but more than likely you’ll come away from your workout feeling much more energized and focused.
Tip #4: Take a Mental Health Break
When you’re busy and feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s tempting to work through lunch and avoid taking breaks, but this type of non-stop work only leads to increased stress and exhaustion.
Studies show that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and concentration. Taking a break for even two minutes can increase your productivity by 11%. Even a “micro-break” of 30 seconds can improve your mental acuity.
To keep from feeling burned out and exhausted during your workday, make a point of taking short, regular breaks. Breaks are most effective when taken before they’re needed, so don’t wait until you feel like you can’t concentrate on your work another moment before stepping away from the computer. Work some of the following habits into your daily routine to increase energy and productivity:
- Look away from your computer screen for a couple of minutes 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.