That 2 o’clock slump — raise your hand if you know what we’re talking about. You’re listless and distracted. Focus? Ha! If there were only a way to power through this feeling…(cue the sound of candy wrappers rustling).
We’ve all been there, and it’s natural to want to reach for a sweet snack or a cup of coffee to get you through the rest of the day. But that may actually be doing more harm than good. Sugary snacks (and drinks) give us a quick energy boost (which may help temporarily) but then lead to an equally fast crash. And while a little caffeine in the morning isn’t a problem (we love our morning cup o’ joe just as much as the next person), drinking caffeinated drinks in the afternoon can disrupt your restful night, leading to a never-ending cycle of poor sleep and reliance on caffeine. Instead, assess your entire day of eating to help you avoid the dreaded crash. Follow these five ways to keep you energized and feeling your best.
- Break the fast. Starting your day on the right note with a filling breakfast gets your metabolism going for the day and stabilizes your blood sugar (a key component to maintaining energy). Aim for a mix of protein (such as eggs, Greek yogurt, scrambled tofu, or some nut butter) and complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain toast, oatmeal, fruit, or vegetables) for the best energy boost. Short on time? For an easy on-the-go breakfast, make our cocoa banana overnight oats, blueberry-mint smoothie, or very zucchini spice bread.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Fatigue is a common side effect of dehydration, so keep the water (or other unsweetened, decaffeinated beverages) flowing, starting from when you wake up in the morning. Tired of water? Sipping on herbal tea, sparkling water, or fruit-infused water are just a few of the ways you can hydrate the healthy way.
- Balance your lunch. A heavy lunch can cause your blood sugar to spike and dip, exacerbating the afternoon slump (afternoon nap, anyone?), but go too light and you won’t have enough energy to get you through the afternoon. The “Goldilocks” plate is what you’re after. Aim for half your plate to be filled with vegetables, about one quarter of your plate lean protein, and the remaining quarter whole grains or a nutrient-rich starch like sweet potato. Don’t forget a little fat (olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds are good sources), which can also slow digestion and stabilize energy. By the way: did you know that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to improved productivity?
- Complex is best. Complex carbohydrates, that is. Whole grains and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or winter squash are digested more slowly than refined options like white pasta or typical baked goods, which means your energy levels stay consistent rather than spiking and then crashing. Whole grains are also a good source of B vitamins, which play a role in how you metabolize food (how your body processes food to keep you energized).
- Snack smartly. Just as eating balanced meals helps you avoid an energy crash, the right snacks can play an important role too. (Yes, snacks can be good for you!) In fact, most people need to eat every 3-4 hours, so if you have a longer period of time between meals, snacks keep you from getting “hangry.” Aim for a mix of protein, fiber, and healthy fat at snack time such as a piece of fruit with nuts or nut butter, a cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit, or vegetables with hummus. For more snack ideas, check out our 50 snacks for success.
While all of these strategies can help you maintain your energy throughout the day, the fact remains that getting enough sleep is still one of the best ways to improve energy. However, most Americans don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours per night. Although there’s little you can do to replace sleep, eating well, managing stress, and moving regularly can boost your energy and keep you from reaching for that sweet snack or caffeinated afternoon pick-me-up.