A few snacks can get you through a slump
You know the feeling. Around 2 p.m., or about 30–60 minutes, after lunch, you feel the fatigue slam you hard, especially if you were up at o’dark thirty for swim practice. It can be frustrating, especially since everyone seems to plan meetings in warm conference rooms around that time. Guess what? It’s “normal” to feel that drowsiness.
Circadian rhythms dictate that most people experience a midday slowdown, so it’s completely expected and natural. It’s why some cultures (Spanish, Mediterranean, South China, the Philippines) plan around this lull and close down businesses in the middle of the afternoon every day so people can nap.
So, if you can’t sneak off to your car for quick power nap during work, here’s what you can do using food and nutrition to combat that sluggish feeling.
Include Some Protein and Whole Grains at Lunch
Carbohydrates are an athlete’s best friend, but they also make higher levels of tryptophan available in the brain, which increases serotonin, which can lead to feeling calmer and sleepier. The answer is not to cut carbs out of your noontime meal. Instead, include more fiber-rich carbs to slow down absorption of food energy and include a serving of protein (20 to 30 grams), which is helpful for muscle repair, as well as preventing blood sugar spikes. The protein can be plant-based, which means it can help lower inflammatory markers as well. Some examples:
- Tuna fish sandwich with spinach and tomato on whole wheat bread
- Quinoa or brown rice with roasted vegetables and seared tofu or salmon
- Peanut butter on whole grain crackers and an apple
- Hummus on a whole wheat pita, bagel, or tortilla wrap with vegetable soup
Watch Your Midday Portions
Portion sizes are important for more than just weight management. A large meal requires lots of digestive energy and demands additional blood flow to the digestive tract and away from the rest of your body. It’s important to eat enough calories at lunch, especially if you have an evening workout planned, but it is also important not to overeat or eat more than you really require. Some tips on how to do this:
- Eat lunch on a plate, not from a bag or the container you bought it in.
- The “clean-plate club” was disbanded a while ago. Stop eating when you feel fullness begin, regardless of whether you’ve finished the food in front of you. It’s just as wasteful to eat food you don’t really want or need as it is to throw it away. Instead, pack it away for a snack later in the day.
- Embrace mindful eating. In the process of eating, pause every third bite or so and simply ask, “Am I still hungry?”
Stash Stimulating Snacks
Yes, snacking is very important, especially since most swimmers need to eat every two to four hours, depending on their training level. And some snacks can enhance alertness, boost productivity, support the microbiome, and decrease inflammation in a variety of ways. They even taste good. Here are some with 200–300 calories to try:
- Dark chocolate covered almonds or walnuts (10–15)
- Roasted nuts and dried fruit (1/4 cup)
- Roasted, salted chickpeas (1/4-1/2 cup)
- Fresh blueberries, vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon granola (1/2-1 cup)
- Kale chips (small bag)
- Whole grain blue corn chips (20) with salsa (1/4 cup)
- Hummus and baby carrots, celery, or apple slices
- Oatmeal raisin cookies and skim milk
- Energy bar made with whole grain (fiber at least 2 grams) and low-fat yogurt
- Small cup of coffee or tea with any of the above
Caffeine and the polyphenols in tea and coffee are not only invigorating but really good for brain health in a variety of ways. For example, decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have been linked to coffee consumption.
If you are extremely sensitive to caffeine, or find that it keeps you awake and alert far beyond your normal bedtime, make sure you dilute a very small amount of regular coffee or tea with decaf or extra milk or water and have it earlier in the afternoon (before 2–3 p.m.), so it won’t interfere with your sleep.
- Health and Nutrition