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How to Prevent the 3 PM Sugar Crash at Work

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Tell me if this sounds familiar: You had a healthy lunch, maybe a sandwich or a salad, at noon and you felt satisfied. Then around 2 p.m. you find yourself craving something else. It’s too early in the afternoon for a coffee break, but that bowl of Snickers and bag of Skittles you stuck in your drawer yesterday start calling your name.

[Related: Healthy Office Snacks That Increase Your Productivity]

You just need a little pick me up. You convince yourself you will be able to work better if you have a little sugar. A little sugar never hurt anybody right (well, except those kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)? So you break down, have a little snack, and it works! For 20 minutes you feel like you have the energy to run the company and do a SoulCycle session at the same time. Then comes the crash. Registered Dietician Annie Herzog broke down why we feel like Superman around cryptonite after we have a little sugar:

“When we eat carbohydrate-containing foods, our bodies release the hormone insulin to pull sugar out of the bloodstream and onto our cells. This is a good thing. However, when the carbs we eat are in the form of simple sugars and highly processed, we digest them very quickly and they enter the blood rapidly. This causes a huge insulin release, because glucose (sugar) in the blood at very high levels is toxic and the body is trying to lower the levels as quickly as possible. Hence the sugar ‘rush’ and then subsequent ‘crash.’ After insulin takes all that glucose out of the blood, we are left with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and feel hungry and tired. And so the cycle continues.”

So should I just eat carrots as a snack? Herzog says it isn’t so much about eating the right snacks, but by eating right throughout the day.

“This keeps blood sugar stable because carbs are absorbed slowly and insulin is released more gradually. The foods that slow digestion and absorption are fats, protein, and high-fiber complex carbs. Someone eating a combination of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs from unprocessed foods for meals and snacks should not have that afternoon slump.”

Herzog suggests the following diet tips for having a crash-free day.


Try mixing up your breakfast routine with eggs and whole wheat toast, oatmeal and fruit with greek yogurt, or a banana and peanut butter.


Put down the Chipotle burrito and enjoy a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread with an apple or a spinach salad with walnuts, chicken breast, veggies and balsamic vinaigrette instead.


Greek yogurt with almond slivers, apple and peanut butter, cheese and whole grain crackers, veggie sticks with hummus, whole grain cereal with blueberries and milk, or a handful of mixed nuts are all healthy, and delicious, alternatives to a pack of Skittles.

Herzog also gave us her list of foods to stay away from.

The No-No List

Processed foods are a no-no because they give you a lot of unnecessary chemicals. This includes, protein bars, shakes and energy drinks. To my surprise, this also includes candy even if it is in the shape of fruit! “You can trick your body for a while into thinking it’s getting what it needs to stay alert, but eventually the crash comes and it sucks. Nothing can replace real nutrition from REAL food,” said Herzog.

Related: How to Beat a Sugar Crash around the Candy-Laden Holidays

Photo: Thinkstock


Stress & Burnout #Diet Wellness Lifestyle
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The 3 PM crash is the worst. It traps you in a bad cycle because you keep wanting to feed your body sugar and trigger a bigger crash later. I think what works best for me is eating small portions throughout the day instead of a big breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

The no-no list is pretty surprising but such good advice.

I have been eating protein bars lately because they are easy in the morning but I know they are bad because they are processed!

Meghan Maloney
Meghan Maloney

I also find that a handful of trail mix is really helpful to keep you focused (and full) when you feel like you need a pick me up!

Its always so hard to avoid sneaking unhealthy snacks in the middle of the afternoon! Lately, I've been trying to bring something healthy to work in order to stop the temptation of snacking on whatever delicious food might be in the office, or buying something just to satisfy a sugar craving.

I just blogged about this a few days ago! I find that eating smaller meals, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating two snacks a day helps sustain energy and focus. This is especially important if you sit at a desk for the majority of the day, and have fewer opportunities to get up and walk around.

Read my post here:

Words can't describe how much I needed this article... I am always lacking energy a couple hours after lunch, and I am glad this article reminds me that healthy snacks are the way to go when in need of an afternoon pick-me-up!

So having a third doughnut isn't how you're supposed to combat the sugar crash? Interesting.

Great piece! I used to have this problem and found that cutting out grains and most sugary foods helped tremendously. It's tricky though- high carb foods lurk everywhere!


The 3pm crash is bad. But a meeting at 3pm is the worst! I totally get how sugar (refined carbs, I'm looking at you too) affects our body. I'm trying to wean off unnecessary sugar and so far tiding through 3pm becomes easier.

Elana Gross
Elana Gross

This is fantastic! Now that I've been working out in the morning I am ravenous all day! These are great tips (I also LOVE the graphic)!!

Oatmeal, whole wheat toast & bread and whole grain crackers are all processed foods too, Even though you think you're healthy with "whole" in the label, they aren't naturally occurring foods. Also, chances are most whole grain crackers you'd buy have more added "stuff" than most people realize.

But overall this list is great - I've avoided those extra sugars and totally see the difference!

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