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Why Am I So Tired in the Afternoon? (Hint: Look at Your Lunch)

Andrija Phillips works at an animal clinic. One of the vets there clued her into the secret to conquering the afternoon slump.

How to Conquer the Afternoon Slump

Oh, the afternoon slump. We've all felt it, heard about it on the radio and TV, and listened to stories about it from our coworkers, maybe ad nauseam. It's so commonplace most of us assume dealing with it is a given. People just feel tired in the afternoons—and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

I too took it for granted that afternoon slumps were part of the usual routine. Because it was such an ingrained part of my afternoons, I came to expect the need for a nap about an hour after lunch. It never occurred to me there was any other way to do midday. Through a twist of fate, however, I was given a piece of information that changed the quality of my afternoons forever.

My Colleague Suggested the Answer

I work at an animal clinic. On our staff, at least at that time, was a vet from Puerto Rico. High strung and passionate, she used to have a repertoire of favorite subjects she'd go on and on about. One of her favorite subjects was the importance of high protein low carb foods in the afternoon. "Protein!" she'd yell. "Protein, protein, PROTEIN! If you want to keep going in the afternoon, if you don't want the afternoon slumps, eat high protein foods!" Then she'd disappear into the breakroom and eat a cookie.

I Was Ignoring the Solution (And Paying the Price)

At the time, I was grabbing lunch at fast food places. Now I know better, but I couldn't resist. Yes, I knew it wasn't exactly quality stuff, but it was fast, it was filling, and I didn't have to think about putting anything together myself.

What I also knew, though, is that fast food is full of carbs, which cause your blood sugar levels to soar and then plummet. Never one to think I'm the exception, I knew this is exactly what was happening to me. Anywhere from one to two hours after finishing my drive-thru banquet, I found myself sleepy, weak and generally worthless. Trying to walk Marley, Lilly, Diggity, Bella, Chica and Camilla and then turning around to medicate Cheesecake, Rex, Fiona, Excalibur, Howard, Morris and Luigi—all while feeling as slow and logy as a turtle—was an experience that absolutely defies description.

Reconsidering

In the meantime, the vet at my clinic was still at it, expounding on a daily basis on the virtues of protein in the afternoon. At first I ignored her. It was simply more dialog in the background of noise I didn't have time for. As the weeks went on though, and she kept on, something in me began to consider what she was saying. She was after all, a woman of science and knew at least something about how these things work. Maybe there was some fact to her statements! And so, being someone who works in a scientific atmosphere, I began to test her theory.

Waaaaay too cute to eat!

Waaaaay too cute to eat!

My Initial Experiments

The first thing I did was to resolve not to eat at fast food places for lunch for a couple of days. What this meant was packing myself lunches and snacks. This was not an idea that sat particularly well with me, but I did it anyway.

In a Tupperware container, I'd pack half a cup of cottage cheese with a bit of fruit. Or just cottage cheese. Or a six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt. Or about 20 almonds in a Ziploc bag. Or a combination of these. Instead of trips to the drive-thru, I started eating from a lunch bag.

The Morning Shuffle

Before you start revolting against the idea of packing lunches in the morning as I did when I was getting started, let me say that none of what I was putting together was a major production. I just don't have the time or mental faculties at that hour to go on and on about what to put in a lunch bag for the day.

Okay, I may be asking a lot, but I do work full time. Getting out of the house in the mornings is always a panic, and it's all I can usually do to get myself in my car and on the road. The last thing I want to do in all that morning kerfuffle is pack myself elaborate meals for the day.

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Yes, I'm picky about what I eat, and yes, I want the food I'm putting in my mouth to keep my brain and body from zoning out mid-afternoon, but at that hour of the day, I'm just not prepared to do all kinds of thinking in the morning about what to pack. Call me lazy, but all I want in those early dawn hours while I'm still crashing into walls is something I can grab out of the refrigerator, throw in a Tupperware container and put in a plastic bag. My brain's not capable of much more than that at that hour.

Proving to Myself That Protein Was the Key

The first afternoon I ate protein instead of the usual carb fare, there was no afternoon slump. I slid through my afternoon energy-steady, and with no hunger pangs! But maybe that was just a coincidence. Maybe my blood sugar levels just happened to be particularly steady that day.

The next day, I ate high protein/low carb again. Again, no afternoon slump. I tried it again the third day. Nothing. I sailed through my afternoon effortlessly.

Then, on the fourth day, I had fast food for lunch. I wanted to see if I would crash. And yes, about an hour after lunch, all my old problems were back. "Good Lord!", I thought to myself. "There really is something to this protein thing!"

Needless to say, I was impressed, although now I had a new problem. Because my list of healthy high protein low-carb foods was limited, and because I'm not much for making myself elaborate packed lunches in the morning, I knew I needed more in the way of grab and go best high protein snacks than I currently had.

My Snack Rules

I began to do some research online. What I was looking for was a list of simple high protein low carb foods that didn't require much preparation. What I found was a plethora of options, many of which didn't fit the criteria I'd already set for myself. Because I'm just not together in the morning, I was forced to set some rules about what foods I was going to pack:

  • Rule #1: It has to be easy to pack in a Tupperware container (or foilwrap, or whatever).
  • Rule #2: It has to be healthy.
  • Rule #3: It has to be something that won't bring my energy levels down during the course of the day.

I found plenty that did fit these criteria. Here they are:

Protein Snacks for Drowsy-Free Afternoons

  • Greek yogurt (6 oz): Top with fruit or roasted almonds if you like, and drizzle with honey. 6-10 grams protein, 6 grams carbs, 100 calories.
  • Cheese (1 oz): Choose lowfat if you're counting carbs. 7-8 grams protein, 0.36 grams carbs, 114 calories.
  • Cottage cheese and fresh fruit (1/2 cup of each): 15 grams protein,13 grams carbs, 156 calories.
  • Peanut butter (2 tablespoons): Pair it with apple slices, if you like. 8 grams protein, 6 grams carbs, 188 calories.
  • Skim mozzarella stick: 6 grams protein, 1 gram carb, 60 calories.

Farmers' Chop Suey

This is one of my favorite high-protein afternoon snacks. It isn't a recipe you put together in the mornings—it is best made at night or on the weekends when you have some time. The beauty of this recipe is that you can make a big container of it, and just scoop little bits out of it when you're preparing your food for the day. It will last for several days, depending, of course, on how much you take out at a time.

Ingredients

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 large tomato, cubed
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all vegetables.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, cottage cheese, dill, tarragon, salt and pepper.
  3. Pour over vegetables and mix. Yummy!

Now You Know

Try any of these healthy protein snacks midday, and watch the dynamics of your afternoons change dramatically! Not only will you not get tired in the afternoon, you'll find yourself with some energy when you get home at night! The Afternoon Slump is a choice, not a necessity, and for me has become a thing of the past. I hope it becomes the same for you.

Now that you know what causes afternoon slumps and how to avoid them, I wish you the best in incorporating protein into your afternoon fare. I am sure it will change the quality of your afternoons as dramatically as it did mine!

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