Tend to feel sleepy as the workday rounds its final stretch? Yes, you could grab coffee to combat that. But being smart about what you eat earlier in the day – and when you feel sleepy – is a better tactic.
First, know that natural body rhythms tend to make you more lethargic mid-afternoon than in the morning. And, if you’re operating on a sleep deficit, you’re generally going to be tired until you make up for it. Still, you can be more alert by following two basic rules.
Rule 1: Eat.
Eat breakfast. And lunch. You can even snack in between and after lunch. Space everything a few hours apart. If you go much longer than that without eating, your blood-sugar level drops – and that means your energy drops too.
“Don’t skip meals,” says Laurie Mitchell, a registered dietician and nutritionist who handles Unum’s corporate wellness program. “Eating high-quality meals and snacks regularly is what sustains energy and promotes health.”
Rule 2: Pick the right foods to eat.
Avoid simple sugars. Instead, go for healthy carbohydrates found in whole grains, protein, fruit and vegetables. Foods high in refined sugar leave us drowsy. That’s because they make our blood-sugar levels spike and then rapidly plunge. Fruit has sugar, but it also has fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar.
Fat-laden meals won’t perk you up either. Lots of fat requires lots of energy to digest.
Don’t worry. Good grub apart from white-flour cookies and greasy pork chops is out there. “Consuming easy-to-digest, nutrient-rich foods leads to sustained energy levels,” Mitchell says. “Try to avoid highly processed, nutrient-poor snack foods that add calories and little else.”
A few tasty and simple chow-down meal and snack options:
- Whole grain bread, oatmeal or quinoa – but don’t douse the bread with jam. Try nut butters instead. They have protein and some are a little sweet. Hummus and avocado are also great spreads. Put some fresh fruit, nuts or raisins on the oatmeal.
- Whole wheat pasta or lentils with olive oil, leafy greens and tomatoes. You can sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on it too.
- Plain yogurt with chia seeds. Yogurt has protein. Chia seeds are easily absorbed and have omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your brain. Plus, they’re fun to chew – which a recent Japanese study shows is good for alertness too!
Journalist Mitra Malek writes about wellness, fitness and innovation. She has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor for Yoga Journal magazine. Learn more at mitramalek.com.