Mid-Afternoon Slump? Why a Sugar Rush May Not Be the Answer

spoon-sugar cubes

We’ve all been guilty of turning to quick pick-me-ups to help us make it through a long day. For many of us this means an extra cup of coffee or energy drink sometime between lunch and five o’clock. While there’s little denying that this approach works, it’s far from perfect. If you’ve ever tried it for more than a few days in a row, then you probably know its limitations firsthand.

Consequences of Sugar and Caffeine

Our bodies quickly build up a high tolerance for substances like caffeine and sugar. Prolonged overuse of these substances usually tends to have undesirable side effects. In the case of afternoon carb overloading, this often means consequences like rapid weight gain, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes in more extreme examples. With over-caffeination, reactions frequently include bowel instability, mood swings, and anxiety. Both are also associated difficulties sleeping through the night.

A number of caffeine and sugar alternatives are available in stores, but many have significant shortcomings of their own. More importantly, recent findings suggest that sweet-tasting energy sources, regardless of their origin, may actually trigger drowsiness.

Protein Instead of Sugar?

Research scientists at the University of Cambridge, in England, undertook a comparative analysis of orexin cells — which produce the natural stimulants our bodies rely on to burn energy and stay awake — and their response to different dietary nutrients, in mice [1].
Their observations suggest that these orexin cells may, in reality, be best activated by the amino acids found in protein-rich foods.

Additionally, their initial testing also indicates that glucose and other simple sugars may actually inhibit orexin cell productivity. This latter fact has also been cited as a probable cause of post-meal sleepiness in previous studies.

Vegan Options

Getting enough dietary protein can be especially difficult for vegetarians, and even more so for full-fledged vegans. Many find that using a plant based protein supplement often makes for the most straightforward solution. These come in a variety of styles and flavors, as well as grades of quality.

– Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM


  1. Mahesh M. Karnani, John Apergis-Schoute, Antoine Adamantidis, Lise T. Jensen, Luis de Lecea, Lars Fugger, Denis Burdakov. Activation of central orexin/hypocretin neurons by dietary amino acids. Neuron. 2011 November 17. volume 72 issue 4, 616-629. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2011.08.027.

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