As someone who has some serious issues with punctuality, I'm always shocked by how closely my body adheres to a specific schedule. I'm up between the time of 7:15 and 7:30 a.m., for example, no matter if I set my alarm or it's Sunday and I'd like to sleep in. And when the clock strikes 3 p.m., without fail, my mind feels like it's ramming against a concrete wall. The afternoon slump isn't just real—it makes you do crazy things, like forget the difference between there, they're, and their before raiding the office snack drawer for some remedial brain power.
That said, seeking out a snack as a solution to fatigue is not a bad idea at all—it's just a matter of choosing the right one as well as avoiding those that will only make your energy crash even worse (here's looking at you, green juice). With that in mind, we asked two nutrition experts for their insight. Keep scrolling to learn which snacks to reach for the next time your afternoon slump looms—and which to skip.
Eat: a piece of fresh fruit with almond butter
"I always encourage a portion-controlled snack that has both fiber and protein," says Heather Bauer, a New York–based registered dietitian. This classic combo offers both, in addition to an extra satiating dose of healthy fat (which studies show can also give your brain a boost to boot).
Erika Angle, Ph.D., a biochemist and the CEO and co-founder of internal fitness company Ixcela, reiterates that aiming for a balance of macros (protein, fat, and carbs) is key when choosing a snack. "The carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores in the body, the protein assists with reducing muscle damage, and the fat is good for energy along with providing additional benefits to your heart and brain," she says.
Avoid: dried fruit or trail mix
There are two key issues here: sugar content and portion control. "Dried fruit has half the fiber and double the sugar compared to a fresh piece of fruit," says Bauer. "And the serving size is also tiny, so it's very easy to eat three to four servings."
Nutritional issues notwithstanding, we probably don't need to remind you that anything that's high in sugar will give you a momentary boost before sending you headlong back into that wall of fatigue. A fresh piece of fruit with nut butter will help satiate that sweet tooth without compromising healthy nutrients—or energy. But if that sweet tooth feels truly out of control, Bauer recommends trying Sweet Defeat, a lozenge that helps curb sugar cravings.
Eat: guacamole with a few high-fiber crackers or chips
Are you sensing a pattern here? This snack hits the same balance of macros to keep you feeling satisfied.
Avoid: chips or other low-fiber carbs
Choose your crackers or chips wisely: A whole-grain, high-fiber variety ensures that you'll really stay full and energized, rather than making yourself prone to a carb crash later on. "Learn your labels: If the package shows more sugar than fiber, choose another option," says Bauer.
Eat: well-balanced bars
If you're pretty well-versed in label-reading, then finding a simple, balanced bar shouldn't be too difficult: The trick is to aim for a short and mostly (if not completely) natural ingredient list that boasts a good balance of protein, fat, carbs, and fiber. These fudgy bars from Sakara, for example, contain raw hemp protein, cacao, and vitamin B12—all powerhouse ingredients that are sure to pull you out of your afternoon funk (and tide you over until dinner).
Avoid: phantom bars
On the flip side, there are still a lot of protein or meal-replacement bars on the market that contain a lot of chemicals, a lot of sugar, or both. "Health bars such as protein and granola bars can be misleading 'healthy' snacks and often contain a lot of fillers and sugar," says Angle. "Check the ingredient list on the back for names such as sucrose, glucose, carrageenan, soy, gums, and corn solids."
Drink: water or ginger tea
Bauer notes that often, the sneaky culprit behind fatigue is dehydration—especially if you've been drinking a lot of coffee throughout the day. "Sometimes people get lethargic in the middle of the afternoon because they aren't drinking enough water," she says. "Most people start their mornings with coffee, then get busy and don't have even a sip of water until 3 p.m. Keeping a liter of water at your desk and sipping it throughout the day will keep you going."
Not a fan of plain water? (We feel you.) Herbal tea is another way to go for your hydration fix. Angle recommends a ginger tea with freshly squeezed lemon: "Vitamin C and ginger are stimulating," she says.
Avoid: green juice
Hello, secret sugar bomb. "Some 'green' juices have nearly as much sugar as soda! It's the one thing I tell all of my clients," says Bauer. While it is possible to opt for a low-sugar, veggie-centric green juice, most of the pre-bottled options at the grocery store contain a lot of fruit juice… aka a lot of sugar. (Lesson number one: Sugar, even when sourced from fruit, is still sugar.) You're better off with lemon water or herbal tea for the time being if you'd like to avoid another major crash.
Need more energizing snack ideas? We've got you covered.