It’s 3 p.m. on a weekday afternoon… what are you doing?
A) Looking for the nearest coffee shop to get that extra boost of caffeine to help you make it through the rest of the work day.
B) Grabbing a handful of sweet treats out of the office candy jar because your sweet tooth is screaming at you.
C) Switching back and forth between Facebook, CNN, and your current work task because you just cannot focus.
D) Struggling to keep your eyes open, telling yourself that you’ll let your “eyes rest” for 5 minutes before getting back to work.
E) All of the above.
F) None of the above.
We’ve all encountered the dreaded afternoon energy crash at one point or another in our lives. However, there is a way to overcome the afternoon slump! By choosing balanced meals that contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats (yes, I said fats!), you can balance your blood sugars, manage your cravings, and make it through the afternoon slump without needing an extra dose of caffeine or sugar!
Blood sugars & energy levels
One of the reasons as to why we experience fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sugar cravings, and mood swings is that our blood sugars are out of whack. When we consume a diet that is low in fat, high in refined carbohydrates, and variable in protein (i.e. the “Standard American Diet”), our blood sugars spike, then rapidly drop, causing the aforementioned symptoms. How exactly does this happen?
When we ingest and metabolize carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose. Glucose is then released into our blood stream to provide fuel for our cells, muscles, brain, and tissues. When we eat a meal or snack that contains a lot of refined carbohydrates with little to no fat and/or protein, the carbohydrates are rapidly digested in our system, causing a surge in blood sugar. Since chronically elevated blood sugars can be detrimental to our body, it tries to lower our blood glucose and return it to the normal range (a state called “homeostasis”) as quickly as possible. This rapid shift in blood sugar levels (from very high to very low), can leave you feeling fatigued. Thus, you end up reaching for the nearest sugar-laden treat in an attempt to reenergize yourself and bring your blood sugars back up to normal levels.
Tips for managing your blood sugars
Never fear – there are ways to prevent our blood sugars from taking a ride on a not-so-fun roller coaster ride! Consuming fat and protein along with carbohydrates can help you balance out your blood sugars.
When fat and protein are consumed in conjunction with carbohydrates, they slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and the release of glucose into your blood. As a result, your blood sugars gradually increase – rather than spiking – immediately after consuming a meal. Think of it this way: a meal consisting of carbohydrates without protein or fat is like having a car with no brakes – it’s wild, irresponsible, and can ultimately cause damage. However, a balanced meal that contains carbohydrates, protein, and fat is much safer; protein and fat act as a “brake,” slowing down the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Here are some additional tips to ensure that your blood sugars are well balanced and that you keep the afternoon sugar & caffeine monster at bay!
- Always consume balanced meals and snacks that contain a mix of carbohydrate, protein, and/or fat. Never consume a meal or snack that solely consists of carbohydrate! Not only will fat and protein help control your blood sugars, but fat and protein will also make the meal or snack more satiating. Below are some common “no brake” meals and snacks, with options as to how to make them well balanced.
- Don’t skip meals (including breakfast). Start off the day on the right foot by having a balanced breakfast that contains a healthy dose of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Studies have shown a positive association between eating breakfast and increased productivity at work. Furthermore, eating breakfast has been shown to help people successfully lose weight and achieve a healthy weight. Between meals, listen to your body and snack if you are hungry! Skipping meals and foregoing snacks can lead to bingeing and overeating the next time you eat.
- Make sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. As little as one night of sleep deprivation can cause unfavorable alterations in some of the hormones (i.e., leptin, insulin, and ghrelin) that are associated with regulating our appetite. Furthermore, when we’re tired from a lack of sleep, we’re more likely to choose the not-so-healthy sugar-laden snacks – rather than the well-balanced snacks listed above – in an attempt to quickly boost our energy levels.
- Limit highly processed and sugar-laden foods. Highly processed foods are not only high in refined carbohydrates, but they also typically high in added sugar as well. Thus, they will cause your blood sugar to spike pretty rapidly. Therefore, they are not the best choice when trying to manage your blood sugars.
Let’s hear it! What are your favorite balanced meal and snack ideas? What tips do you have for staving off the afternoon energy slump?