The first major influence on both mental and physical fatigue is sleep. Most of us simply don’t sleep enough. Sleep is an utterly necessary part of human life. It serves numerous purposes from memory formation and stress relief to physical reconstruction and immune system enhancement. However, despite the fact that many people understand the benefits of sleep, it tends to take a low priority in our modern world of LCD screens and 24 hour entertainment. If you are chronically tired as the afternoon rolls around, take a look at your sleep schedule. Even an hour of extra sleep can make a gigantic difference in how you feel during the day. If you have trouble falling asleep, one way to help the cause is to remove yourself from bright light sources like TVs and high wattage bulbs for an hour or so before going to bed. In addition, once in bed it may be helpful to practice some deep breathing exercises and focus on “emptying your mind” in order to let go of the day’s stress. Think of it like a short meditation session that will end with you becoming fully relaxed and ready for sleep.
The second factor in daily fatigue is nutrition. The afternoon drag that many people experience around two or three o’clock is, in many cases, due to detrimental blood sugar fluctuations brought upon by poor lunch choices. Generally, faulty lunches fall into two categories: too small or badly constructed. The first group is unfortunately common. With busy work schedules and little time to plan a decent lunch, many people often rely on a simple salad or a lone a nutrition bar to keep them going through until dinner. Even worse, some people simply skip lunch altogether! Given the fact that most people still eat “three square meals” per day, your lunch is about all you have to take you from breakfast all the way to dinner. A salad or a nutrition bar just won’t cut it. 100-200 calories is not enough to keep most people satisfied, focused, and nutritionally stable for four, six, or even more hours.
Among those who do make time for lunch, many rely on meals that let them down shortly after they finish eating. Unbalanced lunches high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, fat, and protein often produce blood sugar inconsistencies that leave the subject feeling groggy and unfocused after less than an hour. The large amount of insulin released in response to such a high glycemic meal will inevitably draw down blood sugar reserves below an optimal level. The way to avoid such violent blood sugar fluctuations is to properly construct your lunch using proper fundamental concepts of performance nutrition. As always, the primary building block of lunch, as with every meal and snack, is a significant portion of protein. It can come from meat, poultry, dairy products, or tofu. They will all work. Aim to get 40% of your lunch calories by way of protein. Add some fibrous vegetables or high fiber grain products and a serving of fruit to complete the plate. I guarantee that a meal designed by that blueprint will carry you through the afternoon. You will have enough calories to keep you going and your blood sugar level will be stable.
Finally, don’t forget about snacks. I always suggest at least one snack between breakfast and lunch and another between lunch and dinner. They don’t have to be anything complicated or huge. Small, well constructed snacks will provide a consistent flow of nutrients to your body and will provide further assistance keeping your blood sugar level consistent. They should be constructed with protein and fiber, just like a meal. If time is a limiting factor for you in getting proper nutrition, snacks are the perfect place to make use of convenience products like protein bars and shakes. No matter how crunched your schedule, make time for excellent nutrition. You will be able to power through morning to evening and make the best use of your time. There’s no need for “that 2:30 feeling” anymore. Energy drinks and shots are not the answer. Construct your meals and snacks properly to be at your best all day long.