How to avoid that afternoon energy slump, according to a nutritionist
We’ve all been there. You’ve just come back from your lunch break and have the unstoppable urge to nap.
All that food you’ve just eaten has made you sleepy and tackling that to-do list seems like a mountain you’d rather not climb.
The 4pm energy slump is a real thing and can be very counterproductive, however there are simple ways you can not only beat it but avoid it all together.
We spoke to nutritionist Alice Mackintosh from Equi London, who has given us all the expert knowledge to fight the afternoon snooze-fest.
So, how do you kick that 4pm slump to the curb for good?
Eat energising breakfast foods
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason but it’s not just about getting some food in you, it’s about eating the right stuff.
Alice tells Metro.co.uk: ‘If you want to stay energised all day, you’ve got to start by getting it right first thing.
‘Carb-based breakfasts like cereal or toast may give you an initial boost of energy, but they don’t last long.
‘A better choice is protein at breakfast—something that will give you a steady supply of fuel throughout the day.’
But what foods provide that protein?
‘Eggs are a great source of protein, as is smoked salmon, nut butters and flaxseed,’ Alice advises.
‘If you don’t have time to cook, try an overnight chia pudding with coconut yoghurt, nut butter and berries for a filling and sustaining breakfast.
‘Smoothies are often high in sugar, but it’s easy to make them healthier by adding more protein and vegetables.
‘Use vegetables like kale, cauliflower, courgette, spinach and avocado instead of fruit as your base, add plain yogurt, and sprinkle in some hemp seeds or a scoop of nut butter and protein powder.’
Get good quality sleep
Getting those Z’s in is key. But it’s important to make sure it’s good sleep, not broken sleep.
Alice says: ‘To get a good night’s sleep, you should establish a regular bedtime routine and aim to get into bed, and wake, at the same time each day.
‘Get day light into your eyes (no sunglasses) in the morning – even if that means sitting near a window, as it helps to set your circadian rhythm.
But what if you struggle falling asleep in the first place?
‘Avoid watching TV or using your phone or laptop right before bed because blue light emitted from these devices disrupts the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone,’ says Alice.
‘A relaxing epsom salt bath or reading a book can also help prepare you for sleep.
‘Magnesium is great for relaxing muscles and tension and it can really help you switch off and calm down because it helps to induce the release of GABA (a calming neurotransmitter).
‘If your muscles feel sore from exercise or work, or if you are just a bit wound up, eat more green leafy veggies, whole grains, and raw cacao.
‘When it comes to magnesium supplements, it is a big and bulky nutrient, so most multivitamins fall short of what you need.
‘Look for a supplement that contains 200-300mg magnesium glycinate or chelate for the right dosage.’
Say goodbye to your caffeine fix
You don’t have to go cold turkey with your caffeine intake but you have to be cautious with it.
Alice says: ‘It is a good idea to limit your intake to 1 cup in the morning. This is because caffeine releases cortisol (our stress hormone) into the bloodstream, which gives us energy and increases our alertness.
‘It’s important to note that it has a half-life (the time is takes our body to break down half the quantity consumed) of 12 hours, meaning half the caffeine in a cup of coffee drunk at midday can be in your blood stream at midnight.’
Some of us may feel we can sleep easily despite consuming a lot of caffeine but Alice says that just because we fall asleep doesn’t mean it’s good sleep.
‘Many say that caffeine doesn’t impact their sleep, but they may find they naturally wake up early and can’t get back to sleep,’ says Alice.
‘They may also not be aware of the fact that though they are asleep, the body’s natural cycles of deep sleep and REM sleep can be disrupted by caffeine, meaning they don’t wake up feeling fully rested and restored.
‘As well as disrupting our natural sleep/wake cycle, leading to poor-quality sleep, caffeine is known to suppress the appetite too which can mean you run on empty all day – not good for afternoon energy.
‘Replace caffeine with a nutrient and protein-dense snack if you’re feeling low in energy. Otherwise, try de-caff options such as decaff tea, rooibos tea or sparkling water.’
Consider your B vitamins, iron and iodine
Lacking these three crucial components can leave you feeling run down and sluggish, which is bound to cause that afternoon slump.
Alice says: ‘Iron is a mineral that plays an important role in the cardiovascular system and helps transport oxygen throughout your body so you can perform at your best.
‘Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, so if you’re feeling run-down, it’s worth getting tested for low iron levels and also checking ferritin (which tells us how well your body is storing iron) at the same time.’
Most of us know it’s important to keep our iron levels up but what about iodine?
‘Iodine plays an important role in regulating the production of thyroid hormones, which in turn supports a healthy metabolism,’ says Alice.
‘Research has shown that up to 80% of people with low thyroid hormone levels feel tired and sluggish. If energy is an issue, consider supplementing iron and iodine in their ideal forms and the right dose.’
It’s also important to eat to get your daily dose of Vitamin B, especially if you’re vegan.
Alice explains: ‘B vitamins are absolutely critical for good energy because they also help us produce the right brain chemicals, cope better with stress and they also help with thyroid and female hormone balance which can also impact our energy.
‘B vitamins are found in meat, fish, seafood, lentils, beans, whole grains and vegetables like avocado, beetroot and sweet potatoes.
‘If you’re vegan, it’s a good idea to get your B12 levels checked yearly because this is only found in animal sources of food like meat, eggs and dairy.
‘Also look for an “all-in-one” formula that contain energy-boosting ingredients such as B vitamins, magnesium, and adaptogens.’
Switch up your afternoon snacks
It can be so tempting to reach for that packet of crisps or that chocolate bar that’s just waiting to be unwrapped, but try not to.
Alice says: ‘As a general rule, snacks should follow these principles: they should have a source of protein, they shouldn’t contain refined white carbs or added sugars, and they should be balanced in terms of nutrients.
‘White or refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sweeteners with a higher Glycaemic load can leave us feeling tired, craving more sugar, and struggling with brain fog. This may be why we feel tired at around 4pm.
So what should we be eating?
‘Substitute snack bars, rice cakes and dried fruit with apple and some nut butter, oatcakes with hummus or a protein shake. This will help you to avoid that ‘carb-coma’ and energy slump at 4pm,’ says Alice.
‘If you often feel a lull in energy after meals, try to get up and walk around for 15 minutes after each meal and take some deep breaths to oxygenate the body.
‘By adopting this one simple habit, people can avoid blood sugar spikes and high insulin levels which can cause feelings of fatigue and stress throughout the day.’
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