This is why you're so unmotivated after lunch

The part of your brain responsible for motivation, reward-processing, and generally being a good friend and employee basically checks out somewhere around 2 p.m., according to a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. While past research has shown that our energy dips after lunch, this study is the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to find a neurological reason why—so you can blame your brain, instead of your meatball sub.

"This is a novel finding and has significant implications for neuroscience research, which normally ignores time of day as a variable," study coauthor Greg Murray of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia tells Fatherly.

Studies dating back as early as 1986 show evidence that the post-lunch dip that we’ve all experienced has little to do with what we’re actually eating and more to do with how both human and animal reward systems are linked to circadian clocks. Most of these studies, however, were self-reported. None bothered looking at the neuroscience.

13 PHOTOS
12 best lunch options for boosting productivity
See Gallery
12 best lunch options for boosting productivity

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

"Believe it or not, a peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread is a great choice," De Fazio says.

She suggests choosing all natural almond or peanut butter and all natural fruit preserves. "Pack some baby carrots and an apple, and you have a healthy vegetarian lunch that reminds you of your childhood," she says. 

Hummus and whole grain pita, string cheese, grapes, and cherry tomatoes

Hummus is a good source of calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats, which prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly.

Burrito bowl

For those who prefer to order lunch, De Fazio says she prefers bowls to burritos because they're less messy, and she likes that restaurants like Chipotle let you personalize your burrito bowls with healthier options. She suggests ordering your bowl with rice, lettuce, chicken or beef, salsa, guacamole, and go easy on the cheese.

"The rice will give you just enough carbs to feed your brain without overdoing it," she says. "The chicken or beef give you protein to keep blood sugars steady, and guacamole is a healthy fat that keeps you fuller longer. If you want to order double protein, go for it."

De Fazio says you should skip the chips and beans. Fried carbs will only slow you down, and you don't want to be bloated and gassy at work, she says. 

Grilled chicken

And a trip to a fast-food chain doesn't have to completely derail things.

Even fried chicken joint KFC offers a healthier take on it's famous offering. A Kentucky grilled chicken breast, house side salad with light Italian dressing, and corn on the cob will provide you with a good helping of protein without all the fat and carbohydrates.

Teriyaki bowl

Another healthier takeout option, chicken or beef teriyaki bowls are offered in many Asian and sushi restaurants. "It's a balanced meal and easy to take out and eat at your desk or sitting on a bench outside," De Fazio says

Turkey or chicken sub

If you're heading to a sub shop for lunch, choose turkey or chicken breast, all the veggies you want, avocado, and go easy on the mayo, De Fazio suggests.

"Avoid high-fat, greasy subs like meatball or Philly cheesesteak," she says. "You'll be tired with indigestion by 3 pm, which is not a good feeling at work!"

Sandwich platter and fruit

And if you're snagging lunch at a conference or work meeting, De Fazio suggests skipping the high-fat croissants and opting for sandwich platters with basic white or wheat bread or wraps.

Again, opt for the leaner meats like turkey breast, or go vegetarian. If there are baked chips available, go for them. But always choose fresh fruit instead of high-fat potato salad, De Fazio says.

Pizza

Whether you're heading to the corner pizza place for a slice or ordering for the whole office, there are, believe it or not, healthier pizza options that won't put you to sleep or give you indigestion later.

De Fazio suggests always asking to go easy on the cheese and opting for thin crust when possible. "This keeps the carbs and fat under control, which will keep you energized without making you sleepy," she says.

And feel free to load up on all the veggies you like, pineapple, and chicken. Just be sure to skip the greasy pepperoni and sausage. "Indigestion is not good for productivity," De Fazio says.

Entree salad

If you're out to lunch with a coworker or client, you can't go wrong with an entree lunch like a Cobb or seafood salad.

Grilled salmon, rice, and vegetables

Or you could opt for a grilled salmon or chicken entree with a side of rice and vegetables.

"These choices are balanced meals, higher in protein and vegetables, and are easy and neat to eat while discussing business," De Fazio says. "The last thing you want at a business lunch is to be eating a messy plate of pasta or a burger that gets sauce all over your face!"

Soup

Soup can be a healthy choice or a productivity disaster — it all depends on what you pick.

In general DeFazio says it's a good idea to avoid anything that is crispy, cheesy, creamy, greasy, or otherwise obviously high fat. Soups that contain lighter meats, lentils, chickpeas, and other pulses will pack more of a protein punch.

Plus, drink lots of water

Regardless of what you choose to eat for lunch, always accompany it with water.

Sometimes when you think you're hungry or crave sugar, you're actually thirsty, De Fazio says. Instead, staying hydrated keeps you energized and focused.

Skip sugary drinks like soda. They spike your blood sugar levels and, once they crash, make you sleepy, she says.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

So Murray and colleagues compared the activation of the brain’s reward system in a small sample of 16 healthy men at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m, while they were performing a battery of "gambling" exercises that involved motor skills and learning. Results of the fMRI scans, which measure blood flow to specific regions in the brain (albeit not always reliably) suggested that activity in the left putamen, part of the reward region of the brain, was lowest at 2 p.m. Not because the putamen turns off when the clock strikes two, the researcher say, but because the putamen appears to be "primed to expect rewards at this time, and so didn’t react as strongly as at other times of day," Murray explains. In other words, our brains are somewhat nonplussed about rewards around 2 p.m.—because they kind of expect it.

The most obvious caveat of the study is the small sample size, but Murray says an even larger issue is that the results raise more questions than they answer. Specifically, if this part of the reward region is relatively deactivated at 2 p.m., then why don’t we all spiral into a slump at 2 p.m. every day—and why do some frustratingly happy people actually report that their moods improve after lunch? He suspects the striatum may be involved, but further study is necessary.

19 PHOTOS
World's healthiest vegetables
See Gallery
World's healthiest vegetables

18. Romaine lettuce

Getty

17. Artichokes

Getty

16. Cauliflower

Getty

15. Green pepper

Getty

14. Tomato

Getty

13. Corn on the cob

Getty

12. Okra

Getty

11. Carrot

Getty

10. Green peas

Getty

9. Cabbage (raw)

Getty

8. Brussel sprouts

Getty

7. Winter squash (baked)

Getty

6. Broccoli

Getty

5. Mixed vegetables

Getty

4. Kale

Getty

3. Spinach

Getty

2. Potato, baked

Getty

1. Sweet potato

Getty

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

In terms of what people can do about the 2 p.m. slump, Murray recommends getting outdoors during lunchtime and moving around as much as possible throughout the day to mitigate these effects. (Sorry, coworkers.) And for parents, the findings reinforce the importance of enforcing a routine for children’s overall emotional and physical well-being.

"Our research shows that this rhythmicity is fundamental to how the brain organizes human motivation across the day," Murray says. "Earth’s entire environment is rhythmic, and we would be wise to get in sync."

This article originally appeared onFatherly, a publication for modern fathers looking to make the best of a good situation.

Read Full Story

Sign up for the Best Bites by AOL newsletter to get the most delicious recipes and hottest food trends delivered straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.