If you’ve ever come back from lunch and fought to stay awake a few hours later, then you’ve experienced post-lunch slump. How can I possibly survive the afternoon? you might wonder, as you check the time every 10 minutes. Sound familiar?
This common occurrence appears as tiredness, lack of focus, poor productivity, and low energy. Post-lunch slump lasts about 90 minutes, and most commonly occurs between about 3 and 5 PM. What on earth is happening?
Heavy Lunch = Low Energy
The most common culprit is your body struggling to digest a heavy lunch. We actually talk about this quite a lot in this blog and in the Beauty Detox Solution. Your body struggles to digest heavy foods, diverting your natural energy to the digestive process instead of saving it for beauty, creativity, and productivity. Other factors may also contribute to post-lunch slump including waning enthusiasm, an uncomfortable office environment, too-warm temperatures, and even stress. Many people also consume sugar or caffeine at lunch (or right before or afterwards). While that gives them an initial burst of energy, by about 3:00 it has worn off, dragging you down energetically.
Many people rely on external energy sources, like energy drinks, coffee, and candy to get them through this slump. You don’t have to fall prey to post-lunch slump, however. With the right nutrition, tricks, and tools you can sail through your afternoon filled with energy and enthusiasm. Here are my top five.
1. Set your day up from the start.
I talk a lot about the importance of your morning routine. While you may not feel that what you do in the morning has a bearing on the rest of your day, it absolutely does. Eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, for instance, primes you to have digestive troubles throughout the day, draining your life energy for digestion. These breakfasts often lead to unhealthy lunches that bring about post-lunch slump.
Likewise, consuming caffeine, sugar, or energy drinks first thing in the morning can set you up for a roller coaster of energy throughout the day. Usually, by mid-morning the effects of the morning caffeine and sugar rush have worn off, and you’re at the candy or soda machine seeking a pick me up. This artificial rising and falling of energy from external stimulants occurs throughout the day, sending you off in search of artificial sources.
What should your morning routine look like? In the Beauty Detox Solution, I recommend starting with a cup of hot lemon water and following about 30 minutes later with a Glowing Green Smoothie. If you’re still hungry 30 minutes later, you can have more GGS or some oat groats or steelcut oatmeal. These foods are all easily digested and provide you with amazing energy throughout the day, helping you to avoid the energy roller coaster that ultimately leads to post-lunch slump.
2. Eat Light to Heavy.
This is a tremendously important part of ongoing energy throughout the day. If you eat heavy foods first, your body struggles to digest them and other foods get trapped behind. The result is that your body doesn’t absorb ideal amounts of nutrients needed for energy from the foods you eat, and you have to expel tremendous amounts of energy for digestion.
The fix is simple. Eating foods Light to Heavy, both throughout the day and at each meal primes you for optimal digestion. Your body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the foods you eat, and it is able to maximally absorb nutrients from foods so you have the energy you need.
An example of Light to Heavy for your noon meal might look like this:
- Start with a green salad
- Follow with some quinoa and veggies
3. Skip the animal products at lunch.
Animal proteins (including milk) can rob you of your energy in a few ways:
- It is very difficult to digest, so your energy is diverted to the digestive process.
- Metabolism of animal protein leaves an acidic residue in your body, and your body has to work to return to its slightly alkaline pH.
Instead of animal protein, try some greens and a grain-based dish that provides you with vitamins and energy.
4. Minimize caffeine and sugar.
I understand the desire to consume sugar and caffeine for energy. Coffee addicts often believe they “need” their morning coffee, but I’ve taken (okay pried!) many clients away from their coffee, and after a short adjustment period most all of them report back to me how surprised they are at how little they miss or need the coffee after all.
The sugar/caffeine consumption becomes a vicious (and addictive!) cycle. As the effects of your first dose wears off, you begin to feel tired and sluggish, leading your body to crave more caffeine and/or sugar.
According to Susan Roberts, Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School and Director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, consuming caffeine produces metabolic changes that give us temporary energy, including increased fat metabolism and higher levels of serotonin, dopamine, and acetycholine. As a result, we feel energized, clear, and focused – unless we have too much. Then, we may feel jumpy, anxious, and jittery.
Sugar works differently. Your body digests it quickly, breaking it down into two monosaccharide components (fructose and sucrose), as well as an enzyme called sucrase. Your body then quickly converts both fructose and sucrose into glucose, which flows freely in the bloodstream producing a quick energy spike. High blood glucose levels, however, can be dangerous for long periods, so your pancreas floods the body with insulin to tidy up the blood glucose, moving it into long-term storage. While this allows your blood glucose levels to return quickly to normal, it also creates a dip in the energy you feel, leaving you craving more sugar.
The only way off this roller coaster of highs and lows from sugar and caffeine is to cut it out altogether. It’s easy to replace sugar with complex carbs, which burn more slowly and provide you with sustained energy. To cut off caffeine you can choose two paths: minimize withdrawal, by tapering down gradually, or go cold turkey, like ripping off a band-aid.
5. Eat energizing foods at lunch.
The best way to beat the afternoon slump is to carefully manage your energy by eating high-energy foods. Foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates and contain moderate amounts of healthy fats and protein can help provide the energy you need to make it through the afternoon unscathed.
Here’s a list of great, high-energy foods:
- Leafy greens
- Seeds, such as chia
- Whole grains, like quinoa, millet, and brown rice