What to Eat (and Not Eat) for Lunch to Avoid the 3pm Slump

Your to-do list is piling up and the emails are flowing in at an alarming rate. You feel flat and unmotivated. The brain fog is real and all you can think about is closing your eyes. Yeah, it’s happening – the dreaded post-lunch energy slump.

But before you reach for (another) coffee, or start blaming yourself for being unproductive, it could be because you’ve just eaten the wrong foods at lunch. Here are three of the most common foods that may be contributing to your lack of energy in the afternoons.

The best (and worst) lunch foods to avoid the 3pm slump

Avoid: Refined white bread, pasta and rice

Yes, these foods are totally delicious, but they also have something else in common – they’re a source of fast-acting carbohydrates. What this means is that they are digested and used by the body more rapidly than their wholegrain counterparts. They cause a quick increase in blood sugar levels, but can result in an energy crash shortly after.

On a long workday when endurance is key, opt for wholegrain varieties instead, which contain more fibre for more sustained blood sugar levels and are also a greater source of energy-boosting B vitamins and iron. 

Instead: Build a healthy meal that actually keeps you full

Use the following as a guide to build a lunch that will get the job done:

  • One fistful of carbohydrates
  • One palm sized serve of protein
  • Two handfuls of colourful veg or salad
  • One finger sized serving of healthy fats

Avoid: Sugary snacks

Put the chocolate back in the desk drawer because it’s doing your energy levels more harm than good. Like refined carbohydrates, sugar-laden snacks (and beverages for that matter) might boost your energy short-term, but they are not a viable option for those of us needing to perform well throughout the whole afternoon.

If you find yourself regularly reaching for confectionary foods or the staff room biscuits due to low energy in the afternoons, try keeping some other nutritious options readily available in your desk or in the fridge.

Instead: Eat vitamin-packed, low GI foods

Here are four healthier afternoon snack options:

  • Berries: Berries are a quick, vitamin-packed snack option that contain antioxidants known as flavonoids, and are a great source of energy to help fight fatigue.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a low GI snack option or a tasty addition to salads. Not only do they contain healthy fats for improved cognition, they are also a great source of fibre, meaning they will keep you satisfied across the afternoon.
  • Greek yoghurt: Greek yoghurt is an easy, protein rich option that is perfect for at your desk or on the go and will help keep your blood sugar levels nice and stable.
  • Green tea: Green tea is a great post-lunch option to sip on, and is less likely to impact sleep in the evenings. Be sure to sip it at least 30 to 60 minutes after your meal as the compound tannins, can reduce your absorption of nutrients.

Avoid: Takeaway and fried foods

Although okay in moderation, you may want to reconsider your intake of these foods if your energy levels at work are dwindling post-lunch. The reason is that these foods tend to be very high in fats and lower in other nutrients that contribute to sustained energy levels, such as wholegrain carbohydrates, protein, and micronutrients.

High-fat foods may also slow your rate of digestion and have even been shown to decrease the amount and quality of sleep we get at night.

Instead: Explore healthier takeaway options

If you’re short on time and need a fast food option, sushi, sashimi, a burrito bowl, Vietnamese rice paper rolls or a salad are all great picks.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

You'll also want to eat a satisfying breakfast. Here are the best breakfasts to eat to boost productivity and brain power.

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