Why A Hormone Expert Says You Should Avoid The Midday Coffee (Gasp!)
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Oh, the dreaded 3 p.m. slump. We've all been there, that post-lunch haze when all you want to do is curl into bed and succumb to the energy dip. Tempting, but you still have a mountain of tasks to take care of, so you might brew a second (or third) cup of coffee, matcha, or tea to put back some pep in your step—but according to functional medicine doctor and mbg Functional Nutrition Training faculty member Taz Bhatia, M.D., there may be a better way to recharge midday.
On the mindbodygreen podcast, Bhatia says if you're feeling sluggish in the afternoon, you should actually steer clear of caffeine. No, this doesn't mean you must give up your favorite brew forever (coffee fans, no need to panic). Here's what to do instead:
Why you might want to avoid a midday coffee.
Says Bhatia, that sluggish feeling is likely due to a blood sugar crash, and that second cup of coffee only acts as a bandage. When you sip on the caffeine, "you are artificially elevating your blood sugar and insulin levels, then crashing back down," she explains. "Every time you reach for coffee to stimulate you that way, you're jumping on this merry-go-round of feeling better for an hour to two hours, then you're going to come back down again." And so you may grab a third cup, but the cycle only continues from there.
An important caveat: Bhatia is not against a morning cup of joe. In fact, she even adds a scoop of instant coffee to her daily morning smoothie for a kick of caffeine. The coffee itself isn't the issue here (in fact, the coffee plant provides numerous—thought to be hundreds!—of phytonutrients); it's the fact that the extra coffee is only a short-term fix for a hormonal-based issue.
What to do instead.
"Instead, we want to level off that energy," Bhatia says, by getting your nutrients optimized. Make sure you have a fiber-fueled breakfast and satiating lunch to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and avoid the dreaded dip midday. (See here for some meal inspiration.)
You may also want to find ways to keep your cortisol levels steady. "Many of us who are having that afternoon crash are having a cortisol crisis, so to speak," Bhatia explains. See, elevated levels of cortisol raise blood sugar over time, which can contribute to that midday crash. Plenty of factors can unintentionally escalate your cortisol levels, like lack of sleep, increased stress, poor diet, etc., but you can implement certain habits to keep those levels balanced.
For example: "Maybe [use] adrenal adaptogens that indirectly support cortisol balance," offers Bhatia, like ashwagandha and holy basil. "That might be a better option to keep you off this train of a big spike in insulin with a cup of coffee and then a big drop in blood sugar." She also touts medicinal mushrooms, like reishi and shiitake. "The entire mushroom family is amazing for giving you that afternoon jump many people need." Research even shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of medicinal mushrooms can enhance energy metabolism in mitochondria1—and when your cells are energized, your body feels rejuvenated, too.
It can be all too tempting to reach for the extra cup of coffee, especially if you're feeling sluggish midday, but you might be better off stabilizing your cortisol and blood sugar levels instead. That way, you'll have sustained energy all day rather than a series of inevitable spikes and crashes. Call it an investment.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.