Super-Charge Your Lunch

By Emmy Bawden

Research shows you’re more likely to have low energy and concentration levels without a nutritionally-complete lunch. This not only translates into lower productivity and performance at work, but it can also lead to less effective workouts and overwhelming hunger at the end of the day! Here are some tips for eating to energize your day.

HOW CAN I MAINTAIN ENERGY THROUGHOUT THE DAY?

Our blood sugar levels can plunge when we don’t eat enough, which researchers believe affects your attention span and impulsivity, and lowers your ability to handle stress and emotions. To combat this, plan for a meal or snack every three to five hours. This is about the amount of energy our liver stores for us that we can use to maintain blood sugar levels, so waiting longer to eat increases the likelihood of intense hunger, mood swings, cravings, brain fog and that dreaded midday slump.

Hydration is also important, as increased water intake is associated with less daytime sleepiness, fewer naps and less non-restorative sleep. A good rule of thumb is drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water daily.

HOW DO I BUILD AN ENERGY-SUSTAINING MEAL?

Combining these four elements in your meals and snacks is key because together they slow digestion, leading to feeling fuller longer and a more even blood sugar response. This translates to more energy and focus, a better mood and less cravings.

  1. Lean protein: Eating protein stimulates our fullness hormones and decreases our hunger hormone. Choose things like chicken, fatty fish like salmon, hard boiled eggs, beans, tofu and yogurt.
  2. Complex carbohydrates: These provide more fiber, which is key for slow digestion and more energy. Carbs are also required for serotonin production — and we all know a good mood helps with energy! Choose whole grains like farro, beans, fruit and starchy veggies.
  3. Fats: By slowing digestion, it helps to keep you from eating past your point of comfortable fullness. It also helps your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin D. Add avocado, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil for great fat sources.
  4. Satisfaction factor: Our satiety (and therefore energy) is determined in part by how much we actually enjoy our food. Try different spices, textures, colors and flavors to make your food more enjoyable.

WHAT TYPES OF FOOD WILL ZAP MY ENERGY?

Looking only at calories? This is a sure-fire way to possibly feel a midday crash and make you more likely to skip working out or cook a healthy meal at home. Calories equal energy, so if you’re constantly tired during the day, you might not actually be eating enough food to meet your body’s needs. It’s helpful to think about what you can add to your meal or snack instead of limit.

On that note, we love carbs for energy, but you can get even more out of carbs by pairing them with a source of protein, fiber and/or fat. An apple is going to be much more satisfying when paired with peanut butter versus eaten alone, and crackers with hummus will have a much lower blood sugar spike than crackers alone. If you have a sweet tooth, try pairing that sweet snack with your lunch or as part of your afternoon snack. This will lead to a better blood sugar response and less post- dinner snacking because you honored your cravings in an intentional way.

MIDDAY SLUMP-BUSTING LUNCHES

Tuna Salad Snack Box: Load your tuna salad with extra diced celery, onions and bell pepper, and pair with fresh greens, sliced cucumber, grainy crackers and seasonal fruit.

Greek Chicken Power Bowls: Pair lemon herb grilled chicken with cucumbers, red onions, olives, cherry tomatoes, marinated artichokes and a hearty grain like wheat berries. Top with a lemony vinaigrette, fresh herbs and a big dollop of hummus or tzatziki.

Bean-Based Pasta Salad: The pasta has your protein covered, so just add your favorite roasted veggies (I love asparagus, tomatoes and zucchini), slivered almonds, pesto, cheese (if desired) and fresh arugula, herbs and lemon. This tastes wonderful served cold and is a perfect take-to-work lunch.

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