Many of us experience a dip in energy and concentration in the afternoon which is commonly referred to as the "3 o'clock slump" – you feel tired, perhaps even a bit sleepy and you may find yourself wondering how you’ll get through the rest of your to-do list.
This afternoon slump can stem from a dip in your core body temperature that naturally happens between 2:00pm and 4:00pm. It's a dip that triggers the release of a hormone called melatonin which makes us feel sleepy. It’s a normal part of our circadian rhythm, also known as our internal body clock.
A drop in blood sugar levels can also affect our energy and concentration. Consuming too much caffeine, sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar highs and lows which in turn affect our energy levels, concentration, and mood.
Many of us reach for sugary foods and/or caffeine to perk ourselves when we’re tired but the energy boost we receive is very short-lived and will likely lead to another energy dip and further cravings later on. It’s a vicious cycle.
However, there are a few simple things we can do to ward off energy slumps and sugar cravings. Below are my top tips:
Start as you mean to go on
What you choose to eat for breakfast can set the stage for controlling blood sugar for the rest of the day so make sure to eat a balanced breakfast. Porridge oats topped with berries and a sprinkle of nuts/seeds or eggs with wholegrain toast will keep blood sugars stable whereas concentrated fruit juices, highly processed cereals or white flour foods will have the opposite effect.
Include protein with every meal
As well as being filling, protein helps to stabilise blood-sugar levels, which keeps sweet cravings at bay. Protein also provides the building blocks for brain chemicals which influence mood and appetite. At mealtimes, aim to fill one-quarter of your plate with protein-rich food such as eggs, fish, poultry, nuts/seeds, beans or lentils.
Choose slow-release carbs
Carbohydrates can be classed as fast or slow-releasing. Fast release carbs (e.g. white bread, white pasta, corn flakes, pizza) break down into glucose very rapidly, which can lead to blood sugar highs and lows. Essentially, eating too many of them throws our blood sugar levels off balance, leading to energy dips and further cravings for sweet or starchy foods, it’s a vicious cycle. Conversely, slow-release carbs (brown rice, oats, quinoa) break down into glucose at a slower rate which helps to maintain stable blood sugar and energy levels.
Fuel up regularly
If you allow long gaps in-between meals, your blood sugar levels can drop too low, leaving you weak and unable to concentrate. You are much more likely to overeat and/or choose the wrong type of foods when you are over-hungry and have low blood sugar levels. Not everyone needs a snack in-between meals but I find most people do well with three medium-sized meals per day plus a small but nutrient-dense snack mid-morning and afternoon. Some healthy snack options include a handful of nuts with a piece of fruit, natural Greek yogurt with berries, nut butter spread on sliced apple or an oat cake topped with hummus.
Your brain is hugely dependant on fluids to function properly. Even a 2% drop in hydration can affect levels of alertness and concentration so keep a bottle of water with you at all times and take a few sips at regular intervals throughout the day, not just at mealtimes. Herbal teas are good for hydration too if you prefer a hot drink.
Move that body
If you feel a little sleepy in the afternoon, getting up and moving around increases blood flow to the brain. Even a short walk (ideally outdoors) is really beneficial too for re-oxygenating your brain and alleviating stress.
Elsa Jones is a Nutritional Therapist & author of No. 1 Bestseller ‘Goodbye Sugar’. She offers 1:1 consultations, group courses and online nutrition & weight management programs. www.elsajonesnutriton.ie