How to Set Up a Snack Schedule to Hack Your Blood Sugar and Energy Levels

Follow these four tips to feel your best from breakfast to dinner.

woman eating and looking at watch while sitting at desk
Photo: mapodile / Getty Images

The dreaded midday energy slump can throw off your productivity, whether at work, at school, or in your social life. And if you have a medical condition that affects your blood sugar — like hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, and diabetes — shifts in your blood sugar levels make those energy dips more serious and longer-lasting.

The good news is, you can adopt eating patterns that keep you alert, satiated, and invigorated all day.

Here's how to set up a daily eating schedule to maximize your energy levels and keep your blood sugar consistent. Follow these four nutritionist-backed tips to get on track and stay there.

1. Eat regularly

Eating steadily throughout the day will replenish your energy stores (AKA glycogen stores) and prevent the blood sugar drops that can leave you feeling shaky, lightheaded, and anxious, among other symptoms.

"For many of my clients, I recommend eating three meals and two to three snacks about three to four hours apart," says Amanda Claxton, MS, RDN, registered dietician and nutritionist. "Eating at about the same time each day and eating about the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal or each snack helps the body keep blood sugar levels stable."

As schedules sometimes change and last-minute conflicts arise, eating your meals and snacks at the same time day after day isn't always possible. Still, that's the goal. If you can, outline a meal and snack schedule to follow as often as possible. But if your plans go awry every now and then, be sure to give yourself grace.

2. Aim for balanced meals

Planning an effective snack schedule becomes far easier when you're eating well-balanced meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

"This means that most meals would have a source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats," says Paula Doebrich, MPH, RDN, registered dietician, nutritionist, and founder of Happea Nutrition. "Fiber is especially important, as it helps slow the absorption of sugar and helps keep blood sugar levels more stable over a longer period of time. Protein and fat have little effect on blood sugar levels, but they help us feel more satiated, which reduces cravings for sugary foods."

In terms of energy, fiber and protein also play important roles. Unlike complex carbs that are slow to break down, simple carbohydrates will spike energy levels (and blood sugar) in the short term, but as anyone who's ever chugged a full-sugar soda before a school exam can attest, those "benefits" are short-lived.

3. Snack on fiber and protein

If you're looking for snacks that will quell your hunger without driving your blood sugar up, fiber and protein are your new best friends. "Fiber slows down blood glucose dumping, which helps provide long-lasting energy without spiking blood sugar," says Heather Hanks, MS, nutritionist and medical advisor at Medical Solutions BCN. Hanks recommends that people with diabetes and blood sugar problems pair high-fiber foods (like fresh vegetables or whole grains) with lean protein and healthy fats, like those found in nuts, avocado, and olive oil.

4. Resist refined sugar

Whether you deal with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, prediabetes, hypoglycemia, or hyperglycemia, or even if you have no conditions related to blood sugar, eating carbohydrates in moderation (especially complex carbs) can benefit your overall health, from providing energy to reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The small intestine breaks down carbohydrates into sugar, which gets released into the bloodstream. Simple carbs raise blood sugar levels almost immediately, says Joseph Kennedy, PharmD, of Consumer's Health Report. And refined sugar falls into the simple carbs camp.

In addition to a faster rise in blood sugar, simple carbs can trigger the pancreas to release insulin, i.e. the hormone your body relies on to absorb sugar from food for energy.

For those who have trouble producing insulin, including people with diabetes, consuming too much refined sugar can contribute to higher blood pressure, inflammation, and the buildup of fat in the liver.

But refined sugar can have an adverse effect on people without insulin issues, too, as it leads to an energy surge followed by an energy slump. So really, cutting back on refined sugar benefits everyone.

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