Food plays a big role in how energized or dead tired we feel during our day, especially as our day drags on. Here’s how to avoid the dreaded 2 PM slump with the help of a good lunch.
The Rush and the Crash
You know that feeling of an energy boost you get after eating something sweet? That’s the rush you get from its high carbohydrate content, shooting energy straight into your bloodstream.
See, the problem with having this kind of a meal when you’re not planning to use that energy right after is that the simple carbohydrate molecules keep roaming around your bloodstream, waiting to be used, and increase the production of insulin to keep the sugar levels balanced and consistent.
This leads to feelings of fatigue and low energy, also known as “the crash.” Once it hits, your concentration and productivity seem to drop, you’re finding it hard to focus on the task at hand, and you might even get a headache and start feeling irritable. It’s that feeling you get an hour or two after lunch where you wish you weren’t at the office and just want to sleep right at your desk. To further compound the problem, stress (which most jobs supply in spades) also triggers its own set of hormonal responses that mess with digestion, blood sugar, and mood.
Obviously, that’s not ideal conditions for a work environment, especially if you still have hours to go until you leave the office. This is why paying more attention to your food choices can make all the difference.
What Should My Lunch Include?
In order to avoid the 2 PM slump, it’s important to keep your meals (and snacks) rich in protein and healthy fats, and to avoid simple carbohydrates (or sugar) as much as possible. Complex carbohydrates are okay, but keep them to a minimum as they still drive blood sugar swings, albeit slower than their simple counterparts.
Healthy fats create almost zero insulin response and actually improve insulin resistance, making them the perfect food to be snacking on during a busy day. Dietary fats are also critical for brain function and ensuring adequate consumption is good for improving concentration and focus.
Protein creates a very minimal insulin response and it takes a while to digest, helping you avoid energy rush that will make you feel like you’re ready to sprint up the stairs—but leave you wanting to take a nap at your desk after.
Six Great Work Lunch Ideas
Here are some great ideas you can implement to give yourself a much needest boost at work. Feel free to use these as a starting point in your meal planning and, going forward, remember to focus on keeping the fat and protein content of your lunches and workplace snacks high.
Salads are refreshing, voluminous (and therefore filling), and packed with vitamins and minerals to replenish your depleted storage. Adding healthy fats, such as toasted nuts and seeds, sliced-up avocado, and olive oil in the dressing, ensures you get the brain-protecting omega fatty acids, and topping it off with a source of protein keeps you going through your day.
Your best bet would be to meal-prep your salad at home, so you can control all the ingredients you put inside. But if you’re not in a position to do so, always check the label for hidden sugars and try to avoid them as much as possible, as your “healthy salad” might not be so healthy after all.
Omega-filled and nutritionally dense nuts and seeds are always a good snack or lunch addition, so make sure to include them into your day. They are also pretty filling and take a while to digest, so they’ll leave you feeling full for hours to come, without feeling peckish an hour later. The best part about trail mix is, if you’re not a big-meal-at-once sort of person, you can eat a handful here or there as you feel hungry throughout the day.
If you’re buying your trail mix in the store, check the ingredient list and watch out for hydrogenated oils and sugars, as they’re more common than you’d think.
Yogurt and Granola
Yogurt has a high protein content and it’s also full of healthy fats, making it a great meal in itself as well as a great addition to your other meals. Pairing it up with a healthy granola turns it into a veritable nutrient bomb filled with vitamins, minerals, and healthy omega fats. You can also add a dollop of nut butter and sprinkle some cacao nibs on top and just keep adding amazing superfoods into your meal.
If you find you’re really digging the more tart taste of Greek yogurt and buying tons of for your lunches, you might want to check out how to easily make batches of it at home with your Instant Pot to save money.
If you’re really craving that carbohydrate taste, substitute your regular pasta for one made from chickpeas, legumes, or even zucchini, adding in a bunch of fiber along the way. Make your sauce rich with healthy fats and top it with a nice portion of protein, and voila, you got yourself the perfect combination of all major food groups.
Eggs are one of the best protein sources you could ask for, as they’re so easy to digest while still keeping you fuller for longer—there’s a very good reason we gave eggs a shoutout in our guide to adding protein to your diet. Sauteing some onions, bell peppers, spinach, and any other vegetable your heart desires, and then pouring whipped eggs on top, makes a perfect lunch “pancake” you can dive into guilt-free and avoid getting fatigued an hour later.
The most instagrammable meal of the last few years earned its reputation for a reason. And it’s not just because it looks pretty (or tastes delicious with a pinch of salt)!
Avocado is a real nutritious superfood, full of a variety of micronutrients and healthy fats, and it goes well with pretty much any other ingredient you pair it with. Depending on the choice of toast, go for the one with complex carbohydrates and whole grains, or even opt for a paleo version, ensuring your meal is pretty low-carb. And hey, feel free to ditch the bread and slice up the avocado toast to top a salad—the real star of the show is the avocado, not the toast you’re using to get it in your mouth.
While carbs certainly aren’t the dietary devil fad diets and recommendations over the years have made them out to be, eating a lunch filled with simple carbs will inevitably lead to midafternoon exhaustion. Try these meal suggestions instead, and pay attention to how you feel afterward.