The afternoon energy slump is something that most of us are familiar with. It’s a feeling even the most productive have experienced – the inability to concentrate after lunch, the unstoppable urge to nap, and drinking countless cups of coffee to stay awake. If you are struggling to stay focussed for important meetings and regularly procrastinating, these tips are for you. Also keep in mind that this isn’t just going to help you get through your to-do list; actually beating the 4pm energy slump (or just avoiding it in the first place) is much better for your health. We spoke to accredited nutritionist, Alice Mackintosh from Equi London, who shares her tips and tricks for improving afternoon energy levels.
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. Eggs are a great source of protein, as is smoked salmon, nut butters and flaxseed. 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.
Just like tip one – afternoon energy isn’t just about what you do in the afternoon – a good night’s sleep is essential for avoiding the afternoon slump. 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. 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. 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.
We aren’t advocating to give up coffee or tea forever, but 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.
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. 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.
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.
Meanwhile, Iodine plays an important role in regulating the production of thyroid hormones, which in turn supports a healthy metabolism. 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.
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 which contain energy-boosting ingredients such as B vitamins, magnesium, and adaptogens.
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. 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.
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.