Sugar Crash: How do your daily food choices affect your productivity? 


By Debbie O’Neill, Atrium Specialist Nutritionist

How awful is that sluggish feeling when you’re at the office, light-headed with little to no energy to continue working because you’ve lost all focus.  

Aptly named “sugar crash” many of us have experienced this rollercoaster ride of ups and downs in energy levels – usually in the afternoon. What you’re experiencing is technically called reactive or postprandial hypoglycaemia.

While it is a normal body response for your blood glucose level to rise and return to normal after a meal, reactive or postprandial hypoglycaemia occurs when your levels spike sharply after eating simple carbohydrates (such as white bread, rice, cookies etc) and then drop below the desired level needed to maintain energy and focus. As these types of carbs are easily broken down and rapidly absorbed by the body, it causes a sudden increase in your blood glucose level. The sudden surge alerts the pancreas to release more than enough insulin to uptake the glucose from circulation to maintain balance. Insulin, a hormone, does this by assisting glucose into the cells of our brain and muscles to be used as an energy source.

While it isn’t so clear as to why we experience these symptoms without having diabetes, insulin medication or post gastrointestinal surgery, it could be a response to the imbalance of insulin and glucose. So, it could be that the more-than-enough insulin surge or the drop-below-desired glucose level causes such symptoms. This can happen up to 4 hours after eating.

To reduce the discomfort of a sugar crash and lower than wanted energy levels midway through your day, amend eating habits to encourage slower glucose conversion, thus preventing the spike.

  • Variety on your plate. Eat a combination of protein, fats and fibre with your carbs. At the very least, pair carbohydrates with a protein. Avoid eating simple carbohydrates in isolation and on an empty stomach. So think: apples and nut butter, hummus and carrots. 
  • Swap to complex carbohydrates. Choose brown rice, wholegrain bread, rolled oats, lentils, beans or root vegetables with skin on instead. The fibre will help glucose release slowly into your bloodstream. 
  • Eat less more often. Aim for smaller meals every 3–4 hours instead of 3 main meals which have longer intervals between.
  • Exercise and movement. Maintain a regular exercise routine and engage in more conscious movements such as using the stairs, walk the longer route instead of taking the shortcut, or walking to another floor to fill up your water bottle.
  • Enjoy fruit juices with the pulp, or avoid them all together. One 8 oz bottle of apple juice has almost the same amount of glucose as a can of soda!
  • Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.

Simple changes like these will help get you over that 3:00 slump and help you feel focused the rest of the workday. And always – remember to drink that water!