When the vending machine beckons or the office floor looks surprisingly inviting, it’s a definite sign you need a quick pick-me-up. Sure, you could have a jolt of espresso, but caffeine’s effects are good for only about 30 minutes, according to experts. The better solution is to reach for real food. The following are five go-to options for whatever has you in a slump.
1) You forgot to eat lunch.
“People who skip lunch — and there are many — are busy and need grab-and-go options,” says Leslie J. Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and nutrition consultant to the NCAA and several pro teams. If your office is just a few steps from a convenience store, she suggests popping down for a preportioned hummus cup and a single-serve bag of pretzels or apple slices. Cottage cheese with fruit and Wheat Thins, or Greek yogurt with a banana and a small bag of almonds also fit the bill. If working through lunch is a regular thing for you, plan ahead by stocking a desk drawer or your work bag with individual packs of tuna, some roasted soy nuts, even almond butter and pre-cut vegetables.
2) You’re just plain hungry but also on a diet.
There’s nothing like the sudden onset of hunger to destroy a diet, according to Matthew Kadey, a registered dietitian and author of "The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook" (Ulysses 2013). If you haven’t yet hit the point of desperation, a handful of dried figs should suffice. “They provide a burst of carbohydrate energy but also deliver fiber, which keeps you feeling full so you are less likely to overeat later on,” says Kadey, who’s also a 2013 James Beard Award winner for food journalism. But if desperation’s knocking, you’re going to need a combo of foods — protein, produce and a grain — to quiet the storm. In this case, Bonci suggests taking a single-serving container of plain Greek yogurt and adding in your favorite savory seasonings. Turn this into a dip for vegetable sticks and a whole grain cracker. Or, plan ahead by saving some of your lunch for a mid-afternoon perk.
3) You really want a nap.
Oh, if only every workplace embraced a midday siesta. Alas, many of us live in America, where napping is strictly for babies and old people. So buck up and start chomping and drinking (water, not the good stuff). “When people complain that they’re often tired in the middle of the afternoon, I tell them to grab some foods that take some effort (aka chewing),” says Bonci. So think crispy and crunchy, like apples and celery (not a Kit-Kat bar). Crave something savory? Sprinkle popcorn with some wasabi or chili powder. And don’t forget water. Staying well-hydrated throughout the day will help keep your energy levels up. If your body slips into dehydration mode, you lose between 6 and 8 percent of your stamina.
4. You hate breakfast but know you need some fuel.
If you rarely take the time for breakfast, you’re in good company. Nearly 31 million Americans (that’s one out of ten) start their day sans food, according to the NPD Group. There’s no rule, however, that says breakfast has to be big, complicated, or even chewed. “Several of the athletes I work with like to just wake up and start working out — lots of busy office and skilled workers are the same way,” says Bonci. “But your body needs to refuel first thing for focus and energy.” Her solution is quick, homemade watermelon slushies. Toss cut-up watermelon with frozen strawberries into a blender, add a splash of white grape juice or even a sports drink and blend until slushy. The fruit gives you the nutrients you need to replenish your body after it’s worked all night recovering from the previous day, and you’ll be well hydrated to cut through your morning fog.
5. You’re dragging but still hope to exercise after work.
Active individuals often walk a tightrope between pacifying hunger and overeating (working muscles love food!), says Kadey, who is also an avid cyclist. His go-to snack is yogurt with berries and nuts. “Yogurt contains a good mix of carbohydrates and protein for some sustained energy,” he says, “and is fairly easy to digest before working out.” A good old apple or banana, or half of a bagel thin with nut butter are good, too. Timing is also key. It’s best to have your snack one to two hours before your workout — that way your body has time to process the food.