Are you a victim of the 3:00 p.m. slump? So many of us can relate to midday exhaustion, especially if we’re struggling to juggle family, work and social obligations. Unfortunately, in a busy world, keeping track of what we eat can fall off the to-do list, which means that instead of fueling ourselves with good nutrition, we eat on the run and reach for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy fix. The next thing we know, we end up crashing, and then we can’t seem to break free from the energy roller-coaster.
If you’re looking for balance and energy in your everyday routine, consider these eating tips to help fend off fatigue. We’ve also included some tasty, energy-boosting recipes!
Drink enough water throughout the day.
Staying hydrated is super important for maintaining energy and focus throughout the day because even mild dehydration can leave you lethargic. That’s why drinking more water is the best place to start when you’re dealing with chronic energy slumps. Though the exact amount depends on a variety of factors, including age, height, weight and physical activity levels, as a rule of thumb, it is recommended that women consume approximately 2.7 liters (about 11 cups) of total water per day, and that men consume 3.7 liters (about 15 cups) of water — this includes water from both beverages and food. Another way to calculate your personal water needs is to divide your weight in half. The result is the approximate number of ounces you should consume per day. For example, a 150-pound person needs about 75 ounces of drinking water daily, or a little over 9 cups. If you’re not sure if you get enough water throughout the day, try keeping a water journal to check.
Be mindful of caffeinated beverages.
It’s easy to reach for coffee or an energy drink when you feel drowsy or in need of a boost, but caffeinated drinks are a double-edged sword. They may give us a little jolt at first, but they generally lead to a crash shortly thereafter. A moderate amount of coffee does not necessarily lead to dehydration in regular coffee drinkers, so a cup of joe in the morning is fine. But be mindful of energy drinks. In addition to being packed with sugar (25-50 grams per drink), energy drinks can have the caffeine equivalent of 4-5 cups of coffee, which can contribute to inconsistent blood sugar levels, hunger and disrupted sleep patterns. If you are sensitive to caffeine, it can impact your ability to fall asleep, so it’s advisable to avoid caffeinated beverages within six hours of your bedtime.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals and snacks.
A big, heavy lunch can make you feel drowsy because some of your energy is diverted to digesting the meal you just ate. Instead, many nutrition experts recommend eating small and frequent meals to keep your energy levels more consistent throughout the day. To try this strategy, break up your two or three large meals into three nutrient-dense moderate meals and two-to-three healthy snacks, and eat every 2-4 hours. Eating your food as smaller meals helps maintain even blood sugar levels, curbs hunger and cravings and helps you keep a steady stream of energy throughout the day.
Eat a nutrient-dense, balanced diet.
It’s not just about when you eat — what you eat matters just as much, if not more. Of course, there’s no miracle food to magically make you more energetic. It’s all about making it a habit to eat minimally processed, whole-food sources most of the time. Packaged snacks such as candies, cookies and even some granola bars often contain a lot of added sugar, which can send you into a sugar crash. A well-balanced meal or snack should contain a mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
If you’re feeling inspired, here are a few delicious, well-balanced recipes to try:
Focus on key nutrients for energy.
Sometimes, chronic fatigue can be caused by a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral. Only a qualified healthcare provider can truly determine if you have a micronutrient deficiency, and it’s important to consult with your provider if you’re considering supplements.
Here are some of the key vitamins and minerals that help keep us energized, along with some simple, tasty recipes to try:
Iron and Vitamin C
If you experience fatigue, iron is one of the first nutrients you should look for in your diet. Iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all the cells of our body. Even a small deficiency can lead to symptoms of chronic fatigue and decreased performance. To get the most out of your iron-rich foods, pair them with foods rich in vitamin C, like fresh fruits and vegetables, to maximize iron’s absorption.
Iron-rich foods include:
- Red meat (beef, lamb, liver)
- Seafood (shrimp, clams, tuna)
- Beans (pinto, kidney, soybeans)
- Vegetables (dark green leafy vegetables)
Try this simple Korean Beef Stir-Fry for a great source of iron.
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient used in the formation of DNA, and it’s important for the health of our red blood cells and nervous system. Deficiency in B12 can cause severe fatigue. Low B12 is most commonly experienced among older people and people on a strict plant-based diet.
B12-rich foods include:
- Meat, especially organ meat (beef, beef liver, beef kidney)
- Dairy products (milk, buttermilk, cheese, yogurt)
- Seafood (clams, mussels, oysters, herring)
For a hearty, B12-packed dish, try Manhattan Clam Chowder.
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in fresh fruits and vegetables. They play a wide variety of roles in our body, and are associated with the prevention of certain chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Recent research has looked at the link between polyphenol intake and energy metabolism via polyphenols’ role in maintaining mitochondrial health. Mitochondria are important because they play a key role in metabolism.
Good sources of polyphenols include:
- Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Dark chocolate
- Coffee and tea
For a delicious, slurpable, polyphenol-rich treat, try a Good Green Tea Smoothie.