Curbing the Crash: what to do when you have a 3pm sugar crash

Sugar control is “the topic hot on everyone's lips”. We dive into why it’s recently become an important aspect of maintaining health.\.

Bella Stevens, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach shares advice she gives her clients.

There’s no hiding from the fact that excess sugar consumption is contributing to rapidly increasing numbers of chronic health conditions: heart disease, diabetes and cancer being the major players. For this reason – now more than ever – it’s critical for people to know what is an appropriate daily amount of sugar.

Individuals with certain health conditions such as insulin resistance, hormonal conditions, pre diabetes and diabetes should be especially conscious of their sugar intake. The amount of insulin produced by the body may not be enough/ or the individual is not as sensitive to the insulin available, meaning blood sugar regulation can be harder to achieve even with a normal healthy diet. When you add extra sugar on top of that (if extra insulin isn’t supplied) blood sugar levels are consistently elevated which long term can contribute to chronic health conditions.

The dreaded 3pm energy crash can be related to a few factors. The most common reason is to do with diet and blood sugars. When we ingest a large portion of simple carbohydrates and sugar (e.g. white rice, bread, pastries, pasta, and lollies) without any other major nutrients, our blood sugars increase dramatically. In turn, this increases our insulin response to draw the sugar out of our blood and transport it into the cells of our body.

This gives us energy for a few hours, but because there is no protein or fibre to slow the release of these carbohydrates into our bloodstream, around that 3pm mark our blood sugars can drop quickly along with our energy. When the body receives more sugar than it’s used to, we rapidly produce insulin in an attempt to keep our blood sugar levels consistent. Our blood sugars then decrease in response to the insulin release, along with a drop in energy. This is the 3pm sugar crash.

However, this crash does also happen with people who eat a healthy and balanced diet. I’ve had clients that experience this almost daily, and often it can be adrenal/hormone related. But that’s probably a topic for another time…

The best way to avoid or limit this 3pm crash is to work on balancing your blood sugars throughout the day. Firstly, assess your breakfast, lunch and snacks and make sure they each have a good source of protein, healthy fats and contain fibre.


A few things that are easy to keep in mind:

Each main meal should have at least a palm size of protein.

Decrease your carbohydrate consumption as the day goes on, and increase your protein intake as the day goes on.

Small amount of healthy fats at each meal.

Have an afternoon snack that has a good amount of protein, fibre and good quality fat. Some ideas - handful of nuts, protein smoothie, fresh fruit and Greek yoghurt, hummus with veggie sticks.


Strategies you can implement to take the thought out of it

Keep it simple – eating less sugar isn’t physically hard to do. Often the battle is more mental and involves changing our emotional attachment to food (which can be much more challenging).

If you have a sweet tooth or are wanting to cut down on your sugar intake here are a few options:

Aim for 3-4 balanced meals spread evenly throughout the day (approx. every 3-4 hours). It’s important to give your body time to rest and digest between meals, it assists in absorption of nutrients and not overloading the body’s systems.

The majority of your carbs should come from whole fruit and vegetables, and then add in some complex carbs (carbs that take longer to digest because they have a good amount of fibre) to fill the rest of the meals i.e. brown rice, sweet potato/pumpkin, beans.

Meal prep some healthy afternoon snacks or a protein smoothie for when the 3pm ‘crash’ hits. At least you have a healthier option for this time rather than stopping off at the service station for a pack of chips, chocolate or coffee!

Savoury breakfasts

Meal prep and take your own food when you can – set a little bit of time aside somewhere in the week (personally I like to do mine on a Sunday or Wednesday), and prep the meal that is hardest to stay on track with. Maybe you always buy lunch out at work, only have time to grab a coffee for brekky, or you have to race in to cook dinner after kids sport all afternoon?

Make sure you’re getting enough protein at each meal – you should be getting 20-25g of protein at each meal (main meals). This will help keep you feeling full as well as slow the absorption of carbohydrates so you don’t experience sugar spikes and crashes.

Focus on whole foods over packaged supermarket foods – Whole, full fat foods will leave you feeling fuller for longer because they fulfil our satiety. They are more nutrient dense meaning our bodies feel more nourished and satisfied after eating them.