Healthy eating: Don’t be a slave to the afternoon slump
13:51 28 April 2015
Naomi Mead shows us how to avoid afternoon fatigue with nutrition
It is commonly known as the post-lunch slump. It usually strikes around 3pm and can make the remainder of the afternoon feel like an insurmountable task. For many of us it is an unwelcome, but inevitable, daily occurrence. And what do we do? We reach for the coffee and raid the biscuit tin we have so admirably been resisting all day! Sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone. The good news is that the mid-afternoon energy dip that leaves you counting down the seconds until home time can be avoided, just by making some simple changes to your diet. Here are some top tips to avoid the brain fog, and keep you energised and clear-headed until home time:
• Drink water – Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of dehydration, and when you’re rushing around at work it can be very easy to forget to drink. If you’re feeling sluggish and fuzzy headed it may well be that a glass of water is just what you need. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can affect mood, energy levels and mental clarity. You should be aiming to drink eight glasses or two litres of water a day. Decaffeinated herbal teas such as lemon and ginger, peppermint and fennel provide a warmer and more comforting alternative on colder days.
• Don’t overdo the caffeine – One or two coffees can boost energy and mental alertness. However, heavy caffeine consumption puts the body under stress, and can lead to anxiety, irritability and poor mental performance. On top of this, it can affect sleep, which is then likely to have a knock-on effect the next day. Try green tea, which is still caffeinated but is rich in antioxidants and L-theanine – a compound that has been shown to aid concentration and alertness.
• Avoid the sugar rollercoaster – Avoid sugary foods and refined carbohydrates at breakfast and lunchtime (white bread, pasta, biscuits, fizzy drinks and cakes) that cause a sharp spike in blood sugar, followed in quick succession by a rapid fall in blood sugar and subsequent crash in energy levels. Instead opt for ‘complex’ carbs such as whole grains, beans and pulses that provide a slow and steady release of energy.
• The importance of protein – Protein contains tryptophan, which your body needs to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes a calm, relaxed feeling and helps to fight emotional fatigue. Protein rich foods also contain tyrosine, which your brain uses to synthesise the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline that help to keep your mind attentive, motivated and alert. Always make sure your lunch contains a good source of protein such as lean meat or fish, beans, pulses or nuts.
• Savvy snacking – The perfect antidote to the 4pm slump is to step away from your desk to savour a nutritious snack. Breathe, chew slowly and enjoy. You will be less likely to overeat, and will also be giving your overworked mind a break, too! Resist temptation and avoid sugar-rich foods, which may give you a temporary boost, but will always lead to a sugar dip and wanting more. Instead, a snack rich in protein, such as a handful of raw nuts, will provide you with a more sustained source of energy and will keep you fuller for longer.
• Boost your nutrients – Vitamins and minerals are needed for every single process in the body, not least the conversion of food into energy. By eating plenty of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables, you will be ensuring you get the wide spectrum of nutrients your body needs. The B vitamins are particularly vital for energy, and can be found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and pulses.
• Pump up your iron – The body needs iron to produce haemoglobin, which is the carrier of oxygen around the body to the cells where it is used to produce energy. Increase your intake of iron-rich foods such as red meat, spinach, nuts, beans, seeds and dried apricots. Eat in combination with vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables to boost its absorption.
• Get up from your desk – Remember that you are not chained to your desk (not physically anyway!). Stretch your legs and get up from your seat whenever possible. Just because you have internal phones and email doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to them. Pop across the office or up and down the stairs for simple questions or messages to co-workers. Studies have shown that even short bursts of exercise can help to keep your mind brisk and alert.
Incorporate all of these into your daily routine, and your challenge will become what to do with your new-found energy!
Naomi Mead is a Cheltenham-based registered nutritional therapist at Food First, www.food-first.co.uk
This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Cotswold Life magazine.