Preventing The Afternoon Energy Crash n’ Crave
Many of the new clients coming to see me struggle with energy levels and cravings, particularly in the afternoon. Between the hours of 3-5pm, many people feel lethargic, irritable, and ready for a nap. Unfortunately, the modern day North American office environment does not permit napping on desks - thus, we must consider alternate strategies!
Please realize one important aspect of the symptom “low energy” - chronic illness of all kinds (gut dysfunction and autoimmune conditions, for example) have low energy associated with them. Therefore, if you suffer from chronically low energy levels, please seek out a qualified health care practitioner to rule out major disease.
In my experience, the afternoon energy crash (often combined with food cravings) is caused by the following:
1 . Poor sleep habits
2 . Poor food choices leading to chronic nutrient deficiencies and blood sugar dysregulation
3 . Complete lack of strength training exercise
POOR SLEEP HABITS
Research consistently shows that sleeping a s long as possible (between 7-9 hours/night) provides stress relief, improved cognitive function, memory, and even weight loss. Millions of people suffer from sleep disorders, which, over the long term, can contribute to cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, memory problems, and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. In thinking back over the hundreds of clients I've worked with over the years, I can recall only one couple who reported long, sound sleep on a regular basis. In my initial client interviews, I discover that most are chronically sleep deprived.
Thus, one of the initial strategies to eliminate the afternoon crash n' crave is to improve sleep habits. Turn the TV off a little earlier, go to bed a little earlier, keep your room cold and dark. When followed, these strategies go a long way in improving sleep and 'buying back some energy'.
POOR FOOD CHOICES LEADING TO CHRONIC NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES
Let's be clear - a ton of people eat really poorly. Food journals I review are full of 'junk' carbohydrates, highly processed foods such as fast foods, chips, dips, tricks, bagels, low fat snack products, and high speed sugar drinks. Over time, a diet devoid of proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats leads to chronic nutrient deficiencies. See, our bodies are designed to extract all kinds of vitamins and minerals from food in order to run cycles inside cells that ultimately produce energy. In other words, all the food we are 'supposed' to eat serves a huge purpose: to provide the raw ingredients for energy production inside our cells.
The problem with highly processed foods is that these vitamins and minerals (the raw ingredients) aren't present, or, are present in extremely low amounts. Therefore, over time, if you live on processed food, your body can't use much of it to generate energy. So, you will be left feeling lethargic, irritable, and ready for big long naps. Not only that, you will find your youthful muscle rapidly being replaced by fat.
To take it a step further, check out the basic biochemistry of energy production. The food we eat (hopefully a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) has to be turned into molecules that enter energy production pathways in the cell. The main molecule is called “Acetyl CoA”, which starts the energy production cycle. However, for food to be turned into Acetyl CoA, guess what's necessary? The B-vitamins (B5, B6, B 2, B3, Lipoic Acid), Amino Acids (L-carnitine in particular), Coenzyme Q10, and minerals such as magnesium, and manganese. Thus, if you have chronic deficiency of any of these, you will have a very difficult time producing energy. You will crash n' crave!
Part of the solution is to change your eating habits, leaning towards a nutrient dense, Paleo/Primal plan. Lots of good animal products, veggies, and fats, with a little bit of fruit and minimal sugar. This style of eating will provide the aforementioned nutrients that are critical for energy production.
COMPLETE LACK OF STRENGTH TRAINING EXERCISE
I've found most new clients tend to try stair master or treadmill their way out of poor nutrition. As they already know, it doesn't work, and it's incredibly exhausting. High volume aerobic training has been shown to be fairly catabolic when compared to strength training. People usually a void strength training due to lack of knowledge, or fear of injury. Rather than try stair master your way out of yesterday's pretzels, hire a good coach to show you the strength training ropes. What I've consistently found is that when clients pull back on the aerobic work and replace it with strength training, they gain muscle, lose fat, and notice significant improvements in energy levels.
Once you blend together improved sleep, better food choices, and muscle-promoting strength training, you'll find energy levels returning. Remember, the millions of cells racing around our bodies need all the fundamental nutrients from good food in order to provide energy!
1 . Lord and Bralley: Laboratory Evaluations For Integrative and Functional Medicine.
2 . Chris Kresser: Real Health Radio
3 . Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements: International Society of Sports Nutrition