Sugar: 4 Easy Ways to Stop Your Afternoon Energy Crash
Why Sugar is to Blame for Your Afternoon Slump + How to Fix It
In this post, learn the best ways to boost your energy - ways that actually last for more than an hour (I’m looking at your energy drinks) - and to beat those afternoon sugar cravings! If you’ve ever experienced that tired, groggy feeling that starts to manifest along with sweet and sugary ‘energy boosting’ cravings in the later hours of the day, you know just how unmotivated it can leave you at work - or even worse - while trying to enjoy your free time. Yep, it turns out that it could be the sugar and/or high-carb foods you eat causing the problem!
If you’ve ever experienced that tired, groggy feeling that starts to manifest along with sweet and sugary ‘energy boosting’ cravings in the later hours of the day, you know just how unmotivated it can leave you at work - or even worse - while trying to enjoy your free time. Yep, it turns out that it could be the sugar and/or high-carb foods you eat causing the problem! In this post, learn the best ways to boost your energy - ways that actually last for more than an hour (I’m looking at your energy drinks) - and to beat those afternoon sugar cravings!
Are you used to having a horrible daily afternoon energy crash, one that leaves you groggy, tired, hungry, unmotivated while at work, and craving energy in the form of candy (candy that only causes your energy to crash again afterwards)?!
If yes, then you’re in the right place!
Here you’ll learn what sugar and carbs have to do with that energy crash you’re experiencing, the best ways to boost your energy, ways that actually last (unlike with sugary energy drinks), also find out ways you can actually beat cravings and avoid eating sugar during the day!
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You eat your lunch - maybe a sandwich with fruit, or a burger with fries - you feel good and happy until around 3p.m., and BOOM! Suddenly you get a groggy, tired feeling and you don’t want to do anything other than lie down under your desk and fall fast asleep - but of course there’s stuff to do, especially if you’re at work!
What do you avoid the temptation to go to sleep? EAT SUGAR!
Your mind craves some sugar for all of that sweet ‘energy’ and harasses you, until you convince yourself that a quick little pick me up won’t break the ‘health bank’.
I mean, it will be worth it for the boost of energy you’ll get, right? So you eat something like a small donut, a bag of old candy from the back of your cabinet drawer, or even better a quick Starbucks run to get your fave frappe and back to work with a boost of energy.
Yippee, the little pick me up works and you have enough energy to run 6-miles if you want to!
But hang on: this only keeps you energized for 15-20 minutes, and then comes another crash and burn - even worse than before. Hello viscous cycle!
You recognize that scenario, don’t you?
Don’t worry - this is a common situation among lots of people around the globe. Some cultures around the world even embrace this slump, adding it to their daily routine like the smart Spanish folks and their ‘siestas’! Brilliant!
But don’t go moving to Spain for work just yet - the sugar crash energy slump doesn't have to happen so there’s no reason you need to learn to live with it.
You can break the cycle.
What’s going on here is a carb and/or sugar crash, and it isn’t healthy at all - or even necessary. Humans were made to feel sharp and motivated from morning to night.
You see, I used to suffer from sugar based energy crashes every single day, all day long, and it just makes life harder. Life is so supposed to be fun, right?! 😃
Guess what? I have the whole low down, and I'm ready to enlighten you about what’s going on with these crashes, why sugar is doing this to you and how you can help yourself stay as sharp as a knife from morning to night!
Why Sugar is Behind Your Afternoon Energy Crash
Sugar, sugar, and sugar…
When you eat a large amount of sugar (a large amount of sugar is not that much - you’re only supposed to eat 6-9 tsp of sugar per day, which is very easy to go over), the sugar spikes the body’s blood glucose level, causing the pancreas to release insulin in an attempt to control blood glucose levels.
This causes your blood sugar levels to dramatically drop, leading to the crash which makes you feel tired, lethargic and gives you lack of focus.
This is why so many people struggle with the sugar cycle: when they feel tired, they go back for another energy drinks or chocolate bar, suffer a crash, and repeat, ending up with a host of health issues!
Mismanaged blood sugar is seriously unhealthy for your body.
For example, your hormonal system sees mismanaged blood sugar (as in you chugging down soda, sugary products, white bread, flour etc.) as a stressor, which then logically puts your body in a stressed state, wreaking health havoc.
If this viscous sugar and energy cycle continues over a period of time, your body can develop insulin resistance, which is not good news considering insulin is the hormone in charge of blood sugar moving across cell membranes for the use as fuel within cells.
When these cells build resistance to this insulin, from excessive glucose aka sugar intake, the glucose will stay within your blood leading to all kinds of future health problems!
And when I’m referring to sugar, I'm talking about ALL SUGARS!
I’m not just referring to your snickers bar; I'm also including that leftover pasta you’re eating for lunch. Yep, it’s a part of the cycle too.
Carb’s role in hidden sugar intake and low energy.
Refined bread, fries, potatoes, pizza, pasta - they all count as sugar (to a lesser extent EVEN FRUIT, but fruits are more complicated, so more on that later).
First let’s look at good ol’ carb! CARBS can be good - even healthy - but they can also be really unhealthy… it all depends of the type of carb.
There are two main groups of carb: complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.
These sources of carb aren’t created equally, and both of them can be corrupted (and usually these days are corrupted). When they’re corrupted, they spike your blood sugar levels just like a candy bar.
Let’s take a close look at these two groups:
Sugar and Simple Carbohydrates...
Simple carbs, are made up of either one (monosaccharides) or two sugar (disaccharides) molecules, making it easy for simple carbs break down in the body and be absorbed (as glucose) into the bloodstream. Because of this, they raise your blood sugar way faster and mostly higher than complex carbs - so they’re worse for your health.
The sugars in simple carb can be categorized as:
Single sugars (monosaccharides):
Fructose (naturally found in fruit, but also added to processed foods)
Galactose (normally found in dairy)
Double sugars (disaccharides):
Sucrose (table sugar)
Lactose (normally found in diary products like milk)
Maltose (normally found in grains and veggies)
Since simple carbohydrates found in processed foods, like sodas, and don’t have nutrients like fiber (which slows digestion), they have poor nutritional benefits, and spike your blood sugar levels.
But don’t count simple carbs as only unhealthy just yet.
Simple carbs can be natural and unprocessed, like milk and fruit, containing vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even protein, which we as HUMANS need!
The thing is, you need to be sure to eat natural simple carbs in moderation, because as I mentioned earlier, fruit can still be a viscous blood sugar spiker.
When? If eaten in EXCESS, leading you to a high and big crash cycle.
Let me break this down for you:
Fruit is very high in fructose, a.k.a. sugar, a lot more than other whole foods.
Some fruits have more than sugar than others, though the fiber in the fruit helps keep your blood sugar levels balanced by slowing digestion. HOWEVER, if you eat too much fruit, the fiber won’t be enough to keep the balance making that natural sugar have almost the same blood-sugar-spiking effect as candy.
How much sugar you should be, and can be eating from fruit, and what makes sugar in fruit different from refined sugar is a big subject.
It has many variables and is dependent on your health ‘status’ and what your health goal(s) are, so I've written a whole blog post about fruit sugars over here - make sure you check it out to get all the details.
Sugar and Complex Carbohydrates...
Complex carbs are starches, created from longer chains of sugar molecules - this is the reason why they take longer to digest. Because they digest more slowly than their friends simple carbohydrates, most sources of complex carbs will not raise blood sugars as quickly.
Foods in the complex carbs category are starches like grains, legumes, peas. Dietary fiber is also usually understood to be a starch.
The only thing is, these healthier complex carbohydrates, just like simple carbohydrates, have some healthier sources than others.
Great and healthy complex carbohydrates are as un-processed and non-refined as possible. For example, whole grains are perfectly healthy while refined grains are terrible for you.
The reason refined carbs are bad for you is because are stripped of their natural fiber, and fiber keeps blood sugar levels from spiking too high.
Some more healthy complex carbs examples are brown rice (not white), quinoa, barley, bulgur, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.
So, in regard to your afternoon energy crash and carbs, when you eat a food containing carbohydrates, your body will release the hormone insulin to take sugar out of the bloodstream and into our cells - this is fine.
What’s wrong is, when the carbs are refined carbs or in the form of simple sugars, our bodies digest them quickly and their sugars enter the blood rapidly, causing a super large release of insulin, and leading to a sugar rush and crash - just like with a candy bar.
The cycle continues, and this generally will be an issue with most high glycemic index foods.
Sugar’s connection with lack of motivation and depression.
When you’re not busy energy crashing from sugar in the form of skittles and fries, your high sugar and simple carb could still be affecting your work-life motivation, focus, happiness and general mood.
Sorry sugar; you’re not sounding like a good friend, at all!
High sugar and simple carb diets feed the types of gut bacteria that cause anxiousness and depression.
And it gets worse.
The metabolization of sugar is inflammatory to the body, and with the accumulation of visceral white fat around the internal organs (often caused by sugar and soda in particular), comes a systemic inflammatory response.
The sugar inflammation overload.
What does the inflammatory system have to do with anything?!
Experts have connected depression closely to body inflammation. Yep, keep your gut healthy for pro-duct-ivity and happiness!
The effects of sugar are some scary stuff, and you need to be wary of how much you eat.
I know this personally. I'm someone who sits behind the desk working a lot of the time - I know how tiresome it can get - and I know how the idea of a little sweet snack can really nag at you during those long hours.
When I started studying for life changing exams while also working in my family’s marketing business, I literally couldn't get through the day without hopping round to Starbucks for a Strawberry Frappe.
I was totally obsessed with believing it was the only thing that would keeping me going during those somewhat tedious work days.
I would literally sit there at my desk staring at the screen of my computer, feeling low energy and thinking I couldn’t do anything properly until I had this drink.
At that time in my life I was going through some serious stress too. I was a fitness junkie, who had really badly injured my ankle - combine that with exams and I was in mental havoc.
This obsessive craving was part of my sugar addiction. I’d suffered with a chronic sugar addiction - yes sugar addiction - but at the time I didn’t call this issue that because, like most of us, I didn’t take it seriously (I just put it down to having a sweet tooth).
My sugar addiction left me in really bad shape, both physically and mentally - sleep issues, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, hormonal imbalance and irritability were all common for me.
Eventually, in attempt to save my health, I came to realize that all my health issues were linked to sugar and my diet.
This is why I know for sure, that even if you take away all the research and studies, the best way you can avoid an afternoon slump, boost productivity and focus, is to avoid sugar and other high glycemic index foods all together. I promise you if you do this you’ll improve your overall health too - ten fold!
Cut sugar cravings and energy slumps during the day with energy boosting foods!
I know that staying away from sugar can be really tough - whether you’re addicted, obsessed with sugar, or just like eating it - especially when those dreaded CRAVINGS hit.
When I'm telling you to avoid sugar, I realise it’s way easier said than actually done.
I used to be in a constant cycle of sugar cravings and binges: cutting it out for a couple of days, and then binging again. After a ton of researching (and making tons of mistakes) I eventually worked out a way to balance my mindset with cravings and ease myself through the sugar withdrawal process, and eventually to find my balance with sugar altogether.
I can now go sugar free, and be totally fine. I’ve learned that willpower doesn’t work forever - you have to deal with your mindset and current diet!
4 Easy Ways to Avoid The Afternoon Sugar Energy Crash
That’s why I've gathered some seriously great, diet focused (I'll save mindset tips for another article) ways, personally tried and tested, quick and easy sugar craving busting tips you can incorporate today, to help with cravings during the day.
Here’s how you can breeze through the afternoon, without an energy nosedive, with power, vitality and energy!
One of the top tips here busting cravings is to keep your blood sugar levels stable all day, so your brain doesn't go looking for a quick source of energy in the form of something sugary.
1. You must eat a PROPER lunch, snack and breakfast, indulging some healthy fats to stay energized and stop cravings.
If you eat (especially at lunch and or as a snack) a mix of high-quality protein, fiber packed vegetables, and some healthy fat (like unsaturated fats and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids), including grass-fed butter, avocados, cacao butter, and eggs, you’ll be able to stay on the top of your energy game, make better decisions, and stop cravings.
This combo will keep your blood sugar levels balanced, and help you stay full for longer!
Although remember this: even if what you’re eating is healthy, if you it in a supersized meal, you’ll end up feeling drowsy and lethargic from eating so much. Yuck!
2. Stay away from artificial sweeteners
Stay away from sweeteners: Splenda, aspartame, Nutrasweet, etc.
Artificial sweeteners are actually far worse than refined sugar itself. WHAT? Yes, because of the way they react and metabolize in your body.
In a study published in 2010 by Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine:
‘[F]indings suggest that the calorie contained in natural sweeteners may trigger a response to keep the overall energy consumption constant ... Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners … [A]rtificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence.’
3. Curb sweet cravings and hunger by staying hydrated
Sugar cravings can occur as a result of being thirsty, so replenishing the water in your body is often a quick little trick to kick yo' cravings.
Whenever you get a craving, sip on a cup of pure water to see if that helps!
4. Keep your food fresh
Processed foods can be packed with hidden sugars and weird additives!
So fresh is BEST.
Whenever possible don’t eat packaged food.
If you eat more whole foods and eat more home prepped meals, it will be way, way easier to lead a healthier lifestyle, while avoiding processed foods and sugar.
Sugar busting energy boosts that actually last!
Some days, we all just can't help but have a lethargic day; whether it’s from stress, lack of sleep, a diet slip up/cheat day, sometimes no matter what we eat, we just still end up lagging during the day. When this happens, you have to do some mood boosting activities.
Lucky for you I have some quick tips to help fire up your motivation when you have an energy crash!
Just get up and move –
Get up from your desk and stroll the office, this moving will help boost circulation and stimulate an unmotivated mind.
Get some sun –
Step out-side, and catch some sun. Exposing yourself to sunlight will increase the brain's release of a hormone called serotonin (a mood boosting hormone).
Take a SHORT nap –
If your work place allows (or during lunch) sometimes you just need to give in. Taking a nap is sometimes the obvious solution to low energy, as long as you keep it short (20 minutes or less).
Why Sugar is to Blame for Your Afternoon Slump + How to Fix It: Summing it all up
You’ve got to keep blood sugars stable to avoid an energy crash, by steering clear of foods and drinks like candy, soda and pasta, which are packed with sugar AND little fiber.
As we now know, your body goes crazy when the amount of sugar in your blood stream is out of its normal range - when you consume foods which have a high glycemic index, or lots of SUGAR, it ends up causing our crash.
It’s no wonder that so many people suffer with afternoon crashes considering what most people eat for ‘the most important meal of the day’ BREAKFAST.
The average breakfast consists of a bagel, toast, or some sort of cereal with added sugar, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) or even honey, making it a morning meal seriously high on the glycemic index.
It spikes your blood sugar level just shortly after you’ve woken up, meaning a sugar crash is one of the first things you experience in your day, setting you up for a day of eating to replenish energy, spiking your blood sugar, crashing, craving more ‘energy boosting’ food, eating, spiking, crashing, craving repeat, repeat, etc.
All of this while just trying to focus on tasks in-between hits.
Hopefully now you know all about sugar, refined carbs and other foods that have a high glycemic index, and the secrets of what they do to the body, and have taken note of my advice for staying balanced!
You’ll hopefully be able to enjoy your afternoons much more, feeling more motivated, sharp and avoiding that horrible energy crash.
At first it may be quite hard to start cutting out sugar - especially with sugary or carb-y pasta cravings - but once you’ve started decreasing sugar for a few weeks, you will notice the decreased cravings, and will be really surprised at just how much better you feel.