Lunch is one of my favorite parts of the day. I love taking a little break from whatever I'm working on to sit down and refuel my body. But sometimes I find myself drooping soon after I've devoured my plate of flavorful pasta or my bowl of steaming miso soup instead of perking up as I expected. According to nutrition experts, choosing certain combinations of foods for your midday meal can help you avoid that pesky afternoon slump. These lunch foods that don't make you sleepy aren't full of quick energy fixes like caffeine or sugar, but they are rich in nutrients that will help your body stay awake and moving throughout the work day.
First of all, your body naturally drops in energy a little after lunchtime, so a bit of afternoon brain fog might not be totally due to what you're eating. "It’s normal to be a little sleepy after lunch, whether you have a bacon cheeseburger or a kale salad," says Kim Yawitz, LD, a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. "This is because of our bodies’ circadian rhythms. Twice a day, our bodies release more of a chemical called melatonin that makes us more sleepy," she tells Elite Daily in an email. "One of these circadian dips occurs in most people right after lunch — between 1 and 3 p.m."
A good general rule for keeping your energy up is to stick to balanced meals that incorporate more minimally processed complex carb choices, suggests Rachel Fine MS, RD, CSSD, CDN, a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition. But that certainly doesn't mean you have to abandon the yummy lunch dishes you love most. For example, if baked mac and cheese is one of your favorite comfort foods, then enjoy it. Just realize that the extra sources of fat and carbs in the cheesy dish might leave you feeling a little sleepy after you're done with the meal.
Some notoriously sleep-inducing foods include chicken and turkey, as they're high in a specific amino acid called tryptophan, Fine tells Elite Daily in a email. "Tryptophan is an amino acid that you can only get from what you eat or drink," she explains. "It helps your body make serotonin (a relaxing mood hormone), which then helps your body make melatonin (a hormone that controls sleep cycles)."
But chicken and turkey aren't the only culprits here. If you're trying to choose lunches that prevent a midday slump, you might also want to avoid foods with a high glycemic index, such as white rice. According to Fine, "[these] will result in a natural increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn leads to a quick onset energy crash." This doesn't mean skipping out on white rice forever, though. Fine says that if you incorporate the tasty ingredient into a balanced meal, you'll be less likely to find yourself drooping as a result.
If you need more pointers on which foods won't make you pass out after lunch, here are a few to consider.
While nuts alone certainly don't make for a balanced meal, Fine says that incorporating them into a larger dish is a great way to make sure you don't have a sudden slump right after lunch. "Add a handful of nuts, which increase your satiety and help to maintain your energy levels," she suggests, "as they contain a healthy balance of fat and protein to keep blood sugar levels steady."
Add some chopped pecans to a salad, extra peanuts to some homemade pad Thai, or even walnuts to your pasta sauce for some added crunch.
You might think of bagels as a breakfast-only kind of food, but with the right toppings, a bagel sandwich can be a great way to refuel in the middle of the day without sending your body into nap mode. "Bagels are a source of carbohydrates, which is our brain and body's preferred source of fuel," says Kim Greene Murachver, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian/nutritionist, certified diabetes educator, and certified intuitive eating counselor. "Carbohydrates give us energy, stabilize our blood sugar, and increase serotonin levels, contributing to positive mood." You'll be benefitting your body most if you opt for a whole grain bagel, which helps you stay full and gives you the fiber that will keep your stomach happy, she tells Elite Daily in an email.
To make the baked good into a truly balanced meal, try topping your bagel with natural peanut or almond butter, eggs and cheese, or lox, suggests Murachver. "All of these contain protein and healthy fats, helping the bagel keep you full and satisfied for more hours after you eat," she explains.
A perfectly flaky salmon filet is rich in B vitamins, says Yawitz, making the protein source a great option for ensuring your energy levels stay high throughout the afternoon. "B vitamins help convert the foods that we eat into energy and help transport oxygen throughout the body," she tells Elite Daily. For an extra source of B vitamins, add some sweet potatoes to the side. The tasty carb is also a good source of manganese, which, Yawitz explains, helps your body to break down and use proteins and carbs for energy, as well as regulate blood sugar levels.
But don't expect an instant kick, unless you already eat this nutritious meal pretty often. "Keep in mind that you’ll get the greatest benefits from these foods if you eat them in adequate amounts on a regular basis," Yawitz explains. "Your energy levels probably won’t skyrocket after one meal of salmon, rice, and greens."
I'm definitely no stranger to a post-lunch sugar craving, and more often than not, the treat that sounds the best to me is something full of carbs and sugar, like a gooey cookie or a fluffy donut. But if keeping your energy levels high after lunch is your goal, you might be better off saving your favorite dessert for the evening, when it's OK to start feeling sleepy. "Carbs are quick sources of energy, but eating a lot of sugary carbs at once can actually make you sleepy," explains Yawitz. "This is because your body releases more insulin after high-carb meals, which can cause dips in blood sugar."