Fatigued in the afternoon? Try these midday energy boosters

29 June 2015

The energy slump - it's a common midday occurrence that can leave you drowsy at your desk or yawning during afternoon errands.

At those times, you might turn to coffee or an energy drink for a quick pick-me-up, but that's not what Shaila Pai-Verma, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center, recommends.

Instead, she offers these suggestions to fight the slump and boost your energy.

1. Have a protein-packed snack
"Keeping your diet rich in protein is always important," says Pai-Verma. "Protein helps build muscle, which in turn helps burn fat. It also helps regulate your insulin and blood sugar levels. This way you can avoid energy slumps and spikes throughout the day."

A high-protein snack can help restore energy by elevating your glucose level in a sustained manner. Pai-Verma recommends snacks with at least 5 grams of protein.

Some examples of high-protein snacks: fat-free plain or Greek yogurt, whole grain crackers with cheese, or hummus with vegetables.

2. Curb certain carbs ...
Not all carbohydrates are created equal - especially when it comes to your energy level.

Glycemic index is a measurement of how foods that contain carbohydrates will affect your blood sugar and insulin.

Foods with a high glycemic index (70 or above on a scale of 1 to 100) can cause rapid fluctuations in your blood sugar and insulin. So to prevent that midday slump, steer clear of white bread, white bagels, pretzels and other high glycemic index carbs.

On the flip side, the lower the glycemic index, the less the food will impact your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Some carbs that won't make your energy lag - peanuts, cashews, carrots, and whole grains like oats and barley.

Just watch the portion size if you choose nuts, since they are high in calories. A handful is about right for a snack.

3. ... including sugary sweets.
Although it may seem like a good, quick energy fix, you shouldn't rely on sugar to perk you up. In fact, sugar can end up creating the opposite effect. 

"Sugary sweets and desserts can immediately raise sugar and insulin levels, but they will then cause sudden drops. This leads to a lack of energy or a feeling of fatigue," Pai-Verma says. "Sugar can also affect the levels of serotonin (a chemical that works as a neurotransmitter) in the brain, which can lead to drowsiness."

That's why she suggests snacks with less than 15 grams of sugar - including fresh fruits like berries and apples. Most fruits also have low glycemic indexes (watermelon is a notable exception).

"Fruit does have sugar," Pai Verma says. "But the natural sugar in the fruits is much better than the processed sugar found in other sugary snacks."

4. Skip the coffee and have a glass of water instead
When you're feeling sluggish, reach for the water bottle instead of your coffee mug.

"Drinking plenty of water is very important. It's easy to miss out on some of the water we need when there are so many caffeinated and alcoholic beverages available," says Pai-Verma.

''But too much caffeine and alcohol can make you dehydrated, which can cause a headache and fatigue, among other symptoms."

5. Take a break
"Increased stress and long hours of uninterrupted work can lead to fatigue" says Pai-Verma. "Pausing to get a drink of water, take a short walk, have a snack, or even listen to lively music will help you recharge."

Using your down time to engage your muscles is especially important. Even just getting up and moving around a little can help. For example, try doing push-ups against a wall.

"Afternoon energy falls when the body's circadian rhythm  -  or 24-hour cycle  -  is in a natural resting place," Pai-Verma says. "Getting up and stretching your legs or going out for a brisk 10 minute walk can give you a second wind. You could also use part of your break to take a trek up the stairs."

6. Try a relaxation technique
Meditate for a few minutes, or do some deep breathing exercises at your desk or on your break.

"Just a few minutes of meditation can leave you rejuvenated and ready to face the rest of the day," says Pai-Verma.

When to see your doctor
Still feeling run-down in the afternoons? It may mean that you may have an underlying condition like an underactive thyroid gland, a low blood count, sleep apnoea or a low level of testosterone.

If you find yourself regularly reaching for unhealthy snacks and feeling a chronic lack of energy for more than a few months, talk to your primary doctor.

"It's important that you see a physician to see if there is a medical reason for your fatigue" says Pai-Verma. "If there is, we can often address the problem and help you feel better."

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