We have all been there, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and that amazing burger you had for lunch with a side of fries is pulling your eyelids down. You’re sluggish, typing slow and pinching your leg to not fully fall asleep. Hopefully you’re not in a budgeting meeting at this point, going over the same black and white spreadsheets you always go over in a hot, dark room. You might as well be sipping on a Sleepytime tea in your bed and put on a M. Night Shyamalan movie. The afternoon slowdown hits us all, but it doesn’t have to. There are small changes in your life you can make to ensure you not only avoid the afternoon nap, but power through it with high energy.
One of these changes is staying active throughout the day. Saying active, keeping blood flow up and the mind active will help keep you wide awake and productive throughout the day. The PediGlide, which launches its Kickstarter on January 4th, 2016, will be the only product on the market that will be able to provide you with a way to stay active in almost any sitting situation. Another change you can make is to increase the quality and decrease the quantity of your lunch. We’ll discuss the difference between a nap-inducing lunch, a productive lunch, and how to jumpstart a healthy habit. Let’s start by breaking down where your sleepiness is derived from in your lunch and how to beat the heavy eyelids.
The first step in knowing how to fix the problem of afternoon sleepiness caused by your lunch is to know what effects lunch can have on you. With 2/3 of all Americans eating their lunch at their desk, many us are bringing in leftovers, microwaving pre-made meals or ordering delivery to our office. It could be leftover pizza from last night, a chicken fried rice meal that you put in the microwave for 6 minutes or a Jimmy Johns sandwich, also taking 6 minutes to be at your desk. The other third of us who have more than a couple of minutes to eat an entire meal tend to go out for lunch and are getting burgers, Thia food or a massive burrito. All of these foods options lead to the same afternoon head-nods. Why? The answer has two parts.
The first reason why you become tired after a meal is from the amount of insulin and highly refined carbohydrates that are in your meal. To translate into your ordinary diet, that is to say food that has high sugar (pops), food with white bread (Jimmy Johns) and food with high fat (anything fried). That may not have been a major insight for you, but let’s dive into the chemistry to fully understand the root of the problem. Those foods cause both an immediate spike of sugar in your blood stream, causing an increase in insulin production. [Quick recap, insulin is a hormone made naturally in the pancreas that helps move sugar into the cells of your body. Your cells use the sugar as fuel to make energy. Without enough insulin, sugar stays in your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar.] As the quantity of food increases, so too does the amount of insulin released as a normal part of your body's digestion. Insulin also stimulates the muscles to take in large neutral branched-chain amino acids but leave out some amino acids like tryptophan (yes the amino acid you always hear about around Thanksgiving). Tryptophan is an aromatic amino acid and one of 22 essential amino acids that are the building blocks to human life. This results in a far greater ratio of the amount of tryptophan to the number of branch-chained amino acids in the blood, and eventually, in the cerebral spinal fluid, your bodily fluid that bathes and cushions the spinal cord and brain. One of the byproducts of tryptophan in the brain is serotonin, which you may have heard of as one of the chemical reasons that cause happiness and joy. However, serotonin can be broken down into melatonin, a hormone that is highly correlated with helping you fall asleep. To recap, a sub-sandwich and pop meal increases your blood sugar which increases the insulin in your body. The insulin then utilizes some amino acids, but not tryptophan, which your brain uses to create serotonin that breaks down to melatonin causing you to slouch from sleepiness.
The second reason is the reaction your body has from large meals and food that is difficult to digest (think red meat). Your body is an incredibly efficient mechanism, but it has its limits. One of those limits is the amount of energy your body can produce. Much like you do at work, your body creates a to-do list of things that are important to get done. A large meal or a meal that includes food that is hard to digest is the equivalent of your boss coming to you and saying “drop whatever you’re doing, we have an emergency!” Your body recognizes there is a huge pile of food to breakdown, pull nutrients from and utilize throughout your body. So your body makes a decision, it pulls energy from other parts of your body that are not an immediate requirement to focus on getting through this massive increase of the intestines to-do list. This decision drags energy from your brain and overall energy levels, causing you to become tired. This is one of those characteristics that was awesome for our ancestors who only ate what they hunted down, but doesn’t translate well into the office world.
With the lunch option of a large plate of leftover spaghetti being equivalent to a sleeping pill, what should you have? The answer addresses the two causes of sleepiness and are non-starchy vegetables and portion control. A leafy green salad is the best option for a main lunch meal. A couple of notes on the lunch salad are that leafy greens do NOT include iceberg lettuce; everybody has a different level of proportions so find your personal amount that fills you up but doesn’t put you to sleep; nuts are a great source of energy; nutrients and do not add to drossiness; and if you want to add protein go with chicken over red meat. Small portions of whole wheat bread and brown rice can also add nutrients and fullness to your meal.
To summarize what we just covered, that foot-long ham sub-sandwich with a pop and a bag of chips is going to have you sawing logs. However, a mixed greens chicken salad with a light vinaigrette will keep you full, provide more nutrients and, if you keep your portions down, will help you boost your energy well into the night.
Now that we know what to eat in order to stay productive and energetic at work, how do you create a positive habit to ensure you keep up eating well at the office? All habits depend on your dedication, but here is some help to get you started. For a list of amazing lunch options, here is a list of yummy salads. In order to bring those yummy salads to work without them getting soggy and gross, here are a number of portable salad containers you can pack and carry with you.