Lunchtime rolls around, you sit and eat, and within 20 minutes, your energy levels begin to fade and you have to fight to concentrate and keep your eyes open. There are a few reasons you feel tired or sluggish after lunch, but with a few changes, you'll start feeling completely energized and pumped.
Foods that are high on the glycemic index (carbs that raise your blood sugar levels) are big no-nos as the glucose in these foods gets quickly released, causing insulin levels to spike. They may initially make you feel hyped up and energetic, but when the sugar leaves your bloodstream, you'll experience that oh-so-familiar energy crash. Foods that are high in the glycemic index include processed foods and foods made with refined carbs like white bread, pasta, white rice, bagels, low-fiber cereals, crackers and pretzels, baked goods, as well as instant oatmeal, russet and sweet potatoes, juice, soda, and surprisingly, dates, melons, pineapple, raisins, and bananas.
It's best to skip the white bread sandwiches, wraps, and pasta altogether and go for whole-grain bread or actual whole grains like quinoa or barley, or if you do eat them, be sure they're paired with protein (20 to 30 grams) and the good carbs (50 to 65 grams total carbs) and fiber (eight grams or more) found in veggies and fruits. Here are some perfect lunch ideas.
- Hummus and veggie sandwich on sprouted whole-grain bread with a medium apple: 430 calories, 69.2 grams carbs, 16.8 grams fiber, 12.9 grams protein
- Roasted sweet potato, black bean, and quinoa salad: 484 calories, 63.5 grams carbs, 12.6 grams fiber, 15.8 grams protein
- Baby kale sesame chicken salad with half a cup of blueberries: 456 calories, 69.9 grams carbs, 10.8 grams fiber, 30.3 grams protein
- Veggie burrito bowl with nine salted cashews: 466 calories, 62.9 grams carbs, 11.1 grams fiber, 24.1 grams protein
- Maple-cumin tofu with farro: 381 calories, 62.4 grams carbs, 11.4 grams fiber, 18.3 grams protein
- Butternut squash lentil soup with a medium pear: 356 calories, 68.2 grams carbs, 22.5 grams fiber, 18 grams protein
- Lemon-soy edamame barley bowl: 541 calories, 62.4 grams carbs, 14.5 grams fiber, 21.9 grams protein
- Strawberry banana spinach smoothie and 12 raw almonds: 414 calories, 48.1 grams carbs, 10.4 grams fiber, 19.2 grams protein
- Grilled chicken (or tofu), beet, apple, spinach salad: 460 calories, 39.4 grams carbs, 8.3 grams fiber, 34.3 grams protein
- Mexican tempeh quinoa salad with one cup of raspberries: 417 calories, 60 grams carbs, 17.8 grams fiber, 18.9 grams protein
Be Mindful of This
Remember Thanksgiving? It's not just the turkey that makes you feel tired—it's the fact that you've probably eaten two (or more!) meals worth of food at one sitting. Keep lunch to between 400 and 500 calories and your body won't get overtired from working overtime to digest hundreds of extra calories at once. Drink water or seltzer instead of soda to save 100 calories, choose real fruit over fruit juice for added fiber, and don't forget about the extras like that slice of cheese you added to your sammy, that bag of chips, and the post-lunch Starbucks latte or cookie—those count too!
Digesting your meal takes energy, so help things along by taking a short walk 15 minutes after your meal. Studies show that a post-meal stroll not only improves digestion, but also helps clear glucose from the bloodstream, lowering post-meal blood sugar levels. It doesn't take much; 15 to 20 minutes is enough. You can take a brief walk to a park or cafe, enjoy your lunch, and then walk back. Plus the endorphins released from a little burst of exercise can also help clear your head and make you feel more energized.