We've all been there. 2 p.m. rolls around, and what was a super productive, goal-crushing day suddenly devolves into a struggle to keep from nodding off while staring at your computer screen. Despite our best efforts, the dreaded afternoon energy slump has a way of rearing its ugly head and hurting our work efforts. Why exactly does the afternoon become such an endeavor during that sweet (or not-so-sweet) spot sometime between lunch and when you leave the office? It comes down to what you're putting in your stomach.
"You have to start thinking of your body as a machine, just like a car," says Meryl Pritchard, founder of Kore Kitchen. "When you give it the right fuel and change the oil regularly it will operate efficiently." But the foods causing that afternoon slump? They're working against you—giving you a quick pick-me-up before leaving you in an energy rut. "If you start giving [your body] low-quality fuel, it's going to start breaking down and malfunctioning." We tapped Pritchard and two other nutrition experts to spill the top foods causing the midday slump.
Keep scrolling to see which foods to avoid to keep your energy strong throughout the day.
Though we rely heavily on coffee to carry us through the day, it's fairly easy to overdo it. A little caffeine—about two cups a day—"is actually healthy for you and does stimulate your central nervous system," says Maria Bella, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Top Balance Nutrition. "However, if you are drinking more than two cups of coffee a day, it may wear out your adrenal system and cause you to feel even more fatigued." Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN, BANT, AADP, founder of Food Coach NYC and L.A. even suggests steering clear of non-organic coffee to avoid the afternoon slump. "All the pesticide residue ends up in your coffee, and that makes you feel tired," she says. Instead, she recommends having one cup of organic coffee per day. "If you need something at 3 p.m., have green tea instead. Green tea has caffeine but also I-theanine, which mutes the excess stimulating effect of caffeine. That means sustained energy levels, not bursts of energy that then cause you to plummet later on." If tea's not your thing, try opting for a natural supplement.
Though they may be branded as a quick way to satiate your hunger and fuel your body, energy bars, which can be surprisingly packed with sugar, are a nutritional no-no, especially when it comes to getting through the workday. "These are only acceptable if you're about to run a half marathon," James says. "Otherwise, you'll find yourself wanting to sleep under your desk an hour later."
Just like coffee, juice might seem like a quick fix for some added energy. But after the sugar high wears off, you'll be left with nothing. "The problem with energy drinks and soda is that they are very high in added sugars and caffeine," Bella says. "Fruit juices also tend to be high in sugar and devoid of the beneficial fiber. The sugar in these drinks will spike your blood glucose levels and give you an immediate energy kick, however, it won't be sustained once you feel a 'crash' from your insulin kicking in to digest that sugar."
All nutrition experts agree that processed foods are severely detrimental to your health and your energy level throughout the day. "The most common reason for a slump in energy is fluctuating blood sugar levels," James says. "The more carb-heavy your meals, the more the energy will plummet later on in the day." Other things to be avoided include foods with "starch, white grains, added oils, and added sugars," lists Bella. Avoiding these "will improve your energy levels drastically."
Just as processed foods will guarantee an energy slump midday, packaged snacks, which often boast a lot of the same detrimental ingredients, are best to be left in the office kitchen. "Stay away from the cookies and instant sugar hit carbs—and that includes 100-calorie pretzels," James says.
So what meals and snacks should you be turning to instead? Head below for a few things to help get you on the right track, and follow the link below for a full list of energy-boosting foods.
Now check out the foods you should be eating for that sustained boost of energy.