Poor eating patterns during the day can leave you low in energy, leading to poor performance at work and play. Energy slumps can also be a trigger for poor snacking habits that exacerbate blood sugar crises.
Grabbing a chocolate bar, a caffeine fix or a sweet pastry mid-afternoon might give instant gratification, but it will do nothing to help long-term energy levels. When you eat refined carbohydrates (white bread, crackers, biscuits, cakes, pasta) that raise your blood sugar levels quickly, your body responds by secreting insulin. This helps transfer glucose into our cells, thus pulling blood sugar levels back down to a normal level.
By filling up on sugary carbs you are flooding your body with excess glucose that not only leads to an energy crash, but is also stored by your body as fat: bad news for your waistline.
So what should you eat when you feel an energy dip? To optimise energy through the day, you need to maintain an even blood sugar level. That means a lunch that is protein-rich, combining slow-releasing carbohydrates such as oats that are rich in soluble fibre.
As an indigestible carbohydrate, fibre travels slowly through your gut and helps slow down the release of sugars in the food you eat. That’s why a breakfast of porridge (made of oats, a rich source of soluble fibre) will keep you feeling satisfied throughout the morning. In the same way, eating oats at lunchtime sustains energy levels through the afternoon, preventing energy dips and food cravings mid-afternoon.
For an energising lunch, it’s important to get the balance right and keep it light. Aim for protein foods like chicken, fish and eggs that trigger only a small release of insulin and therefore help maintain more even blood sugar levels.
They are also rich in energising nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc as well as the amino acids tyrosine and phenylaline which can also help improve energy levels and enable us to cope better with stress. Fish, turkey, chicken, beans, eggs and oats are also good sources of tryptophan – an amino acid that our body converts into ‘feel-good’ serotonin. Throw in a couple of oatcakes, a protein bar or a muffin made with oats to boost your mood through the afternoon and keep your blood sugar levels stable.