Most of us have experienced that time of day when our energy level dips, our concentration wanes and we’re ready to take a nap – triggers that cause some people to reach for a sugary snack.
But given a choice between a chocolate bar and handful of almonds, you’re better off choosing the nuts to feel more energetic.
Research suggests that protein – not sugar – stimulates certain brain cells into keeping us alert. What’s more, protein-rich foods can also activate these brain cells to tell the body to use up energy stores, a consequence that can help us stay slim. These findings help explain what other studies have found: after eating a high protein versus a high carbohydrate meal, people feel more alert.
While ensuring your meals and snacks offer protein may fend off that afternoon energy slump, other dietary adjustments can help too. Blunders such as skipping meals, running low on water and drinking too much coffee can leave you feeling drained by mid afternoon.
Divide your protein intake among three meals and snacks. At meals choose lean versions of protein such as lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, tofu, beans and lentils.
Protein-rich snack choices include nuts, soy nuts, edamame, hard boiled eggs, part skim cheese, yogurt (Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt), and unflavoured soy beverages.
Choose low GI carbs
Your body requires carbohydrates for energy. They’re metabolized into blood glucose, the only form of energy that the body can use immediately. Carbohydrate stored (glycogen) in your liver is used to replenish blood glucose, while that in your muscle fuels exercise.
Low glycemic carbohydrates are digested and converted to blood glucose slowly. As a result, the body gets a balanced release of energy rather that a quick burst.
Slow burning carbs include dense, grainy breads, 100% bran cereals, steel-cut and large flake oatmeal, milk, yogurt, soy beverages, apples, pears, oranges, dried apricots, berries, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
Studies show that eating the morning meal improves mood, memory and feelings of energy in adults and kids.
Breakfasts that deliver protein and low glycemic carbohydrate include 100% bran cereal with milk, fruit and nuts; steel cut oatmeal topped with ½ cup Greek yogurt; a smoothie made with milk (or soy milk), berries and ground flax; and 100% whole grain toast with egg whites and fruit salad.
Plan mid day snacks
To prevent your energy level from fading, go no longer than three hours without eating.
Snacks should boost your blood sugar and keep it relatively stable until meal time – think carbohydrate (low glycemic) and protein. Try fruit and nuts, a decaf latte (or yogurt) and a piece of fruit, bean soup, whole grain crackers (Wasa, Ryvita and FinnCrisp are low glycemic) and part skim cheese.
Energy bars can also be used for snacks. Choose bars that contains 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrate and 10 to 18 grams of protein. Look for products made from whole food ingredients that limit or avoid refined sugars (e.g. Elevate Me Bar, Vega Energy Bars, Simply Bar, Larabar).
If you’re concerned about weight gain, keep snacks to 150 to 200 calories (women) and 200 to 250 calories (men).
Water in your bloodstream circulates oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and removes wastes and it’s used to produce energy molecules.
Men need to drink 12 cups (3 litres) of water each day; women need 9 cups (2.2 litres). With the exception of alcoholic beverages, all fluids counts towards meeting water requirements. That includes water, milk, unsweetened juices, even tea and coffee.
Caffeine might perk you up during the day but it can also keep you awake at night, particularly if it’s consumed late in the afternoon. Caffeine can disrupt sleep by blocking the body’s production of adenosine, a brain chemical that causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity.
Women of childbearing age should limit caffeine intake to 300 milligrams per day; other healthy adults should consume no more than 400 milligrams daily. (One 8 ounce cup of regular coffee has roughly 180 milligrams of caffeine.)
If you feel you consume too much caffeine, gradually cut back caffeine over three weeks to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as headache and muscle soreness.
Meet iron requirements
An iron deficiency, even without anemia, can cause fatigue, lethargy and difficulty concentrating.
Iron rich foods include beef, oysters, clams, turkey, chicken, tuna, pork loin and halibut, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, soybeans, lentils, baked beans, black beans, firm tofu, cooked spinach, raisins and prune juice.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.