Beat the Afternoon Slump

August 14, 2013

Most of us have experienced the afternoon slump - why do carbohydrates seem to be the only cure? Find ways to bypass your afternoon low altogether, here!

Most of us have experienced the afternoon slump, some of us more often than we would like to admit. Furthermore the only antidote seems to be carbohydrate rich foods – like sweet or starchy snacks. So why does this happen and how can we banish carbohydrate cravings and feel more energetic throughout the day.

Diminishing levels of serotonin may have something to do with it. Serotonin, helps balance mood and seems to become less active late in the afternoon; the combination of a mood and appetite change is a signal that serotonin activity may be dropping.

So what is serotonin again? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical involved in the communication between nerve cells, that's formed in the brain and can be found in the digestive tract, and in blood platelets. Serotonin's most well know effects include boosting mood and the feeling of satiety from food - as well as helping to promote sleep and relaxation.

The alteration in serotonin activity has never been directly measured because doing so would involve invasive procedures; instead, most research involving serotonin is observational and measures behavior change. So what are the signs of decreased serotonin levels? Grumpiness, irritability, impatience, fatigue, inability to focus, depression and anger - which are often accompanied by a craving for carbohydrates.

Are carbs really the “cure”? Well, MIT researchers compared consuming carbohydrates and protein on mood. Protein was used because it actually prevents serotonin from being made and not surprisingly, no improvement in mood was found after subjects consumed protein. But on the contrary, and as expected, the carbohydrate drink left those that were feeling irritable feeling great.

Serotonin is most easily made after consuming carbohydrates but everybody is different and some may experience a lift in mood after a carbohydrate-rich meal, while others may become sleepy. Simple carbohydrates, like candy and sweets (generally the foods everyone craves) have the greatest impact, but the effect will only last at maximum a couple of hours. Not to mention simple carbs are not the healthiest options. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains may increase serotonin levels, but the protein content of these foods might actually inhibit serotonin production.

Try to beat the four o’clock slump by keeping blood sugar balanced – you can achieve this by including protein at every meal, with complex carbs and healthy fats - this will keep you feeling fuller and provide slow burning energy that will last longer than sugary snacks. Some examples include a whole wheat bagel or English muffin with peanut butter or hard cheese, or a portion of yogurt or cottage cheese. Nuts area also a great choice.

And remember, staying hydrated, taking a walk, avoiding suger and only drinking caffeine in moderation are other ways to help avoid the afternoon slump Eating and adopting good habits such as these, you may never run into the serotonin frenzy!