If you often experience a noticeable drop in energy around 2 PM, also referred to as an afternoon slump, you probably wonder how to improve energy levels naturally. Although this is actually a natural process, the way you eat throughout the day can affect the intensity of the slump you will experience. In this blog post, I’ll walk you through some simple nutrition strategies you can apply when making your meals to help you stay energized to conquer the day!
Keep on reading to learn how to improve energy levels with nutrition throughout the day:
ENERGY-BOOSTING NUTRITION TIP #1: EAT BALANCED MEALS
What you eat can make you feel more energized or tired, depending on the nutritional choices you make. Cleaning up your diet and making sure you are eating well-balanced meals throughout the day can actually help with your overall energy levels.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to remind you that having breakfast is a crucial step of starting off the day right. Even though you might not notice it in the moment, skipping breakfast deprives you of the nutrients your body needs to recharge and stay energized all day.
If you’re the type of person to start off your day with a cup of coffee and a muffin on the go to avoid starting the day on an empty stomach, your breakfast could actually play a role in draining your energy later in the day. While making a point of eating a little something in the morning regardless of time constraints is great, convenient “breakfast” items such as store-bought muffins, doughnuts, cookies and toast with jam have virtually no nutritional value and are full of refined carbohydrates. These will give you a quick burst of energy, but make you crash later on.
Thankfully, there are several well-balanced, quick breakfast options available that will help avoid this situation without interfering with your busy lifestyle. The important thing to remember when planning your breakfast is to include a portion each of fruit or vegetable, protein and whole grains. For example, you could either opt for some oatmeal (or overnight oats for a quicker option) topped with some fresh berries and a spoonful of nut butter or for a simple breakfast parfait by layering some Greek yogurt with some homemade granola and some fresh fruit.
LUNCH AND DINNER
Just like with breakfast, a well-balanced meal at lunch and dinner will help raise and maintain your energy levels. Think of the food you eat as kindling to build a fire. Having an unbalanced meal high in refined carbohydrates is like using only paper and small pieces of wood: you’ll get a large flame that will go out quickly. On the other hand, eating a balanced meal is like building a fire with twigs and paper for quick sources of energy, but also including some larger logs that will burn for an extended period of time.
With that in mind, make sure you save half of your plate of vegetables, a quarter of your plate for protein and a quarter of your plate for whole grains. This translates to about 100 grams of cooked meat, fish or chicken as a source of protein. You could also have some eggs, some tofu or some cooked pulses. Add yogurt and fruit for dessert and you have a meal that will give you enough energy to power through the day.
If you are suffering from arthritis or chronic pain and would like some more food inspiration, here are some delicious anti-inflammatory recipes that are sure to keep you energized all day long!
ENERGY-BOOSTING NUTRITION TIP #2: DRINK MORE WATER
If you are eating well-balanced meals and still feel a noticeable drop in your energy levels during the afternoon slump, make sure you’ve had enough water during the day. Being dehydrated can lead to fatigue because it causes your body to decrease blood circulation to conserve energy. Try to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily and to hydrate at a consistent pace throughout the day as even mild dehydration can impact how tired you feel.
ENERGY-BOOSTING NUTRITION TIP #3: MUNCH ON A BALANCED SNACK
If you’re feeling hungry in the mid-afternoon, having a light snack is a great way to give you an extra boost of energy. As a rule of thumb, a balanced snack should contain some foods high in protein as well as foods high in unrefined carbohydrates.
For example, you could choose to have some dried fruit and nuts or some Greek yogurt paired with a piece of fruit. Nut butter paired with apple or pear slices is also a nutritious option – plus, it’s delicious!
BONUS: LIFESTYLE HABITS FOR INCREASED ENERGY LEVELS
Of course, staying energized throughout the day involves many other factors other than nutrition. Here are some simple lifestyle habits you can start implementing in your routine to help you improve energy levels naturally.
TAKE A BREAK
Most of us often forget to take some small breaks during the day, which can become quite draining over time and impact our productivity. Try moving around or going outside for a little while. Being in the sunlight can decrease the production of melatonin, which will, in turn, leave you feeling more energized. You would be amazed at the positive impact of the combination of moving around and being in the sun for a few minutes can have on your energy levels and overall productivity.
TRY TAKING A (COFFEE) NAP!
Believe it or not, the afternoon slump is actually a natural process. Apparently, our core body temperature drops slightly in the mid-afternoon, which is our body’s signal for us to become drowsy. Many cultures have adopted a “go with the flow” attitude about this and adopted the afternoon siesta. If you have the opportunity, why not give it a try?
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even try taking a coffee nap. Simply drink your cup of tea or coffee and then take a 15 to 20-minute nap. The idea behind this strategy is that the stimulants in the coffee usually kick in about 15 minutes after being consumed, so by the time you wake up, you will feel refreshed and ready to go.
If you choose to attempt the coffee nap, make sure to do it at least 6 hours before going to bed to avoid disrupting your sleep cycle. Just beware of the trap: coffee or tea with sugar or a cookie will restart the energy-sapping cycle again and leave you feeling tired and lethargic. And send you straight back to the cookie jar for some sugar!
Working out can do wonders to raise your energy levels because exercise contributes to getting a better night’s rest which will leave you feeling refreshed the next day. Ideally, you would want to do about 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise four days a week. To avoid feeling overly alert at bedtime, try to work out in the morning or at least three hours before going to sleep.