When the afternoon doldrums set-in, we go in search of that time-honored combo: sugar and caffeine. And for about 15 minutes, it works wonders: We're productive, energetic, and chatty (maybe a little too chatty). Of course, that's followed by the inevitable crash. In search of a better way, we asked nutritionist Lauren Slayton, founder of Foodtrainers, a nutrition counseling service in New York City, for advice on how to eat for more energy throughout the day.
Think small. "All I want after a big meal is a siesta," says Slayton. "Instead of eating a 500-calorie lunch, try small meals of 200 or 300 calories instead. This will stoke your metabolism and keep your blood sugar levels from dipping." She tells clients to heat half their lunch at 12:30 and the other half at 4. "People brag that they don't snack, but snacking is the best way to eat," she adds.
Pump iron. "Whenever someone says she is low in energy, I immediately assume that her diet is also low in iron and protein," says Slayton. Iron deficiencies can leave you fatigued and the amino acids in protein help you feel alert. She recommends noshing on peanut butter and apples, oatmeal with walnuts, eggs, and edamame. Seeds (such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower) are also a favorite snack. They are all high in vitamin B and protein, "so they act like little pellets of energy."
Stay hydrated. People rarely get enough water early in the day, and staying hydrated goes a long way toward sustaining energy level, "because even mild dehydration causes your blood to thicken, forcing the heart to work harder, which results in fatigue." Slayton recommends drinking a liter of water by noon, and at least a liter, if not two, after lunch. She adds that seltzer and herbal tea can take the place of boring H2O, but steer clear of juice, which has all the sugar of a piece of fruit without the fiber.
Give in. If you decide you must have some caffeine or sugar, be smart about how you consume it. Green tea has about a third of the caffeine of coffee-so you won't crash as hard-and it's rich in antioxidants. When you crave something sweet, reach for a whole grain cookie rather than candy. "Fiber has a time-release effect on sugar and carbohydrates, so they enter your bloodstream at a slow and steady pace," says Slayton.
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