You can blame a lot of things for your midafternoon slump: not enough caffeine at breakfast, an endless list of to-do’s, your late-night Friends binge… The causes are many, but the symptoms are specific—that unpleasant sensation of grogginess, mild headache, and nausea that usually hits around 3 p.m., tanking your productivity for the rest of the day.
But you can overcome it (even without a double espresso), says health coach Jessica Cording, RD. “One of the major contributors to that slump is low blood sugar, which tends to make us hungry, fatigued, shaky, and cranky,” she says. “What we eat earlier in the day has a lot to do with it.” (Quick nutrition refresher here: Simple carbohydrates like white-flour foods, as well as fruits and starchy vegetables that break down into starch in the digestive process, raise our blood sugar—but our bodies burn through them fast, leading to a crash.)
It’s not just what you eat; it’s also when you eat, says Cording. If you ate lunch around noon, for example, it’s been about three hours since your last meal, and, depending on what you had, your body has likely metabolized everything you ate.
We asked Cording and WeWork members for their best beat-the-slump tips—to practice ahead of time as well as in the moment.
Play up the protein
For a snack that “actually keeps you full for a while,” Cording recommends a protein-fiber combo (at least five grams of protein and three grams of fiber). The fiber slows digestion, while the protein satiates. DIY combos include an apple and peanut butter or hummus and whole wheat pita.
Too busy to be slicing and scooping? Try a protein bar—but check the label for added sugar. Not all protein bars are created equal, cautions Cording. “Five grams or less of added sugar is ideal,” she says.
Aloha bars (which pass the added-sugar test) cater to the health-conscious consumer who is mindful of their nutrients but is not necessarily performance-focused (at least not at 3:30 on a Tuesday). Alexandra Stankiewicz, head of sales for the brand and a member at WeWork 154 W 14th St in New York, usually reaches for a protein-rich bar (made with tapioca fiber and plant-based proteins) on weekday afternoons. “Midafternoon grogginess happens to the best of us,” says Stankiewicz.
Feed your brain and your gut
Stable blood-sugar levels are not the only thing that helps us stay clearheaded, says Cording. Probiotics can help too. “One of my favorite snacks I recommend to clients is plain Greek yogurt,” she says. “Your gut and brain talk to each other, and supporting gut health supports brain health and cognitive function.” Translation: The creamy, high-protein stuff may lead to sharper thinking during the p.m. slump.
Maintain your electrolytes
This is not a PSA for heavy drinkers nor an endorsement for picklebacks. When Lauren Picasso, who works at New York’s WeWork 79 Madison Ave, was training for a triathlon, she realized that the children’s electrolyte solution Pedialyte worked better than plain water at beating that feeling of depletion after training sessions. Rather than keep raiding the kids’ aisle, she decided to create Cure, an electrolyte drink that gets its 250 mg of sodium (11 percent of the recommended daily value) and 450 mg of potassium (9 percent of the recommended daily value) from coconut water, pink Himalayan salt, and lemon juice. The salt helps balance the body’s electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate), and the citrus has flavonoids that are linked to improvements in cognitive functions, the European Journal of Nutrition reports.
Picasso swears by it for her own midday office slumps. “Sometimes I’m not as groggy as I think I am, sometimes I am just dehydrated,” she explains.
A home-prepped lunch could make the difference
No health-focused or fast-casual restaurant knows what your body needs better than you do, so preparing your own lunch is a smart strategy—plus, it saves you a considerable amount of money.
Food publicist Elizabeth Lehmann of RVD Communications, based at Brooklyn’s WeWork 134 N 4th St, has developed a lunchtime craving for the thick chicken soup she makes from a Bon Appetit recipe. “It’s warm and not too heavy,” she says. “And if it’s something I’m looking forward to, I usually eat much healthier, and it fuels me for the rest of my day.”
Aim for a balanced meal of half vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter complex carbohydrates. Tired of fiber-rich go-to’s like bulgur and quinoa? Matt Aita, the executive chef of health-focused restaurant The Little Beet Table in New York and Chicago, suggests sweet potatoes for a flavorful alternative.
Walk it out
There are times when your diet isn’t to blame for your crash: Working under artificial lights and sitting for too long at a time can impact your energy. Get oxygen flowing to spur your metabolism, mood, and focus. “When we’re not moving around, that impacts the rate through which oxygen is carried throughout our body, so we may not feel as alert,” Cording says. Take a walk around the block, escape to the nearest park, or just take the stairs a few flights to your next meeting. Sometimes all it takes is some fresh air and a quick stretch to jolt your brain and body back into action.