It’s 2pm, and you are about to do a face-plant into the pile of papers on your desk. At 2:30pm, you can barely keep your eyes open during a conference call. You got plenty of sleep last night, so why are you sapped of energy? Could it be what you are eating — or not eating — that is to blame? Are some foods better than others to boost your energy so you can make it through your day awake?
If you feel drained of energy during your waking hours, blame your breakfast – or your lunch. Experts at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) say that foods you consume can have an impact on your daytime alertness and energy. Specific foods can trigger tiredness (and we are not just talking turkey!).
Here is a list of foods and drinks that may drain your energy as well as pick-me-up foods you can really sink your teeth into. So before you get caught sleeping on the job, eat your way to an energized day.
Carbohydrates are often thought to increase your energy. But experts say that foods high in simple carbohydrates — like pastas and breads — can actually make you drowsy. That is because carbs release tryptophan (an amino acid associated with sleepiness) into the brain, causing that dreaded heavy-eye feeling.
An even worse energy drainer is combining carbs and proteins – the building blocks of tryptophan. So while combos like peanut butter on toast, cereal with milk, or cheese and crackers are indeed healthy and tasty, save them for a bedtime snack instead.
Pick-me-up food: While it is hard to resist a nice slice of toast in the morning or a plateful of pasta at lunch, substitute white bread or plain noodles with whole grains, which provide energy and calories with little fat – and make you feel fuller longer because of their higher fiber content.
For an extra energy boost, try topping wheat bread with a few peach slices or add grilled veggies to your low-carb penne.
If you still feel consistently drained after such meals, make sure you are getting enough calories and do try adding a little more protein and fat to your meals – finding the right foods and food combinations for you takes trial and error — everybody is different.
CURB THE CAFFEINE
According to the NSF, four out of five adults in America consume at least one serving of coffee, tea, soda or other caffeinated beverage each day. But, despite the caffeinated lift from these beverages, many adults still suffer from the midday slump. Though a strong cup (or two) of coffee can jolt your mind for a short time, the effects are not always long lasting – typically, the caffeine high wears off within two hours.
First and foremost, make sure you are well-hydrated. Be sure to drink enough water and uncaffeinated beverages throughout the day. One of the common culprits in fatigue is dehydration.
If you are a caffeine junkie, there is probably no shaking your three-cups-a-morning habit. But to avoid an afternoon crash, try to take your caffeine in frequent, smaller doses throughout the day.
So instead of guzzling that 16-ounce grande drip each morning, sip on smaller cups of caffeine-rich green tea, then grab an iced tea for lunch. Avoid the sugary drinks, like soda, which increase your chances of crashing with their sugar caffeine combo — and aim for the moderate range of 200 to 300 mg of caffeine a day – that is about three cups of strong coffee.
LOSE THE LARGE, HEAVY MEALS
Is the boss taking you out for a celebratory lunch? Enjoy the meal out – you deserve it! But if your upcoming schedule is crammed with late-afternoon meetings, skip foods sure to induce sleep such as fried foods, entrees laden in gravy or sauce or dishes chockfull of carbs. Your best bet is to opt for a small plate instead of a huge meal that will just weigh you down – and make your eyes feel like lead weights when you return to the office.
Instead of that tempting plate of pizza (which just so happens to be as big enough to feed your entire family), go for lighter fare, like grilled veggies and chicken, or a hearty salad with a broth-based, vegetable-filled soup.
For dessert, choose for a fruit cup over a small piece of chocolate cake. And if the smaller meal makes you hungry later on in the day, pack your desk with plenty of snacks — like granola bars, nuts and more fruit — to keep you awake and focused all day long.
Above all, a good night’s rest is the key to staying energized throughout the day. And don’t underestimate fresh air – take every opportunity to open a window (if your office allows) or take your coffee and lunch breaks outside, when possible.
In addition, fit exercise into your schedule — a modest blood pumping workout is sure to keep you feeling alive and wide-eyed.
For more information on feeling alive and energized, see these SheKnows articles!