5 Ways What you Eat Can Improve your Productivity, Performance, & Energy at Work

When I presented this topic to a local company, I started by asking, "How many of you tend to feel an afternoon slump? Maybe you start to feel a drop in your energy around say, 2 or 3 o'clock?"

For some reason, I expected just a handful of hands to go up. To my surprise, every single hand in the room went up, many with a chuckle, implying 'ah yeah. of course.'.

Energy seems to come up in many of my counseling sessions. Some know right off the bat that they feel tired throughout the day, they're running on caffeine or don't have energy by the time they get home. Others don't seem to notice a lack of energy until they improve their eating habits and all of a sudden don't know where all their energy came from. A boost in energy is a huge reason people report just 'feeling better'. Feeling energized, feels good, doesn't it? And it often ties back to food. 

There are many reasons you may feel the afternoon slump. It could be stress related, a lack of sleep, limited exercise, boredom, and even your food choices. But wellness is a cycle. Sleep, stress, nutrition, fitness, mental health - they're all connected. When we take care of ourselves in one area, we tend to take better care of ourselves in other areas too. The opposite is true to. When we neglect one area, other areas can fall by the wayside. Have you noticed when you exercise you want to eat healthier food? Or when you're stressed or tired do you tend to eat more or crave greasy, sugary foods? 

Below are 5 ways to boost your energy with nutrition, scroll all the way down for 9 nutrients to boost brain power and prevent fatigue.


1. Get Enough Fuel

A lot of busy people tend to skip meals. Some do this intentionally because they think it will help them lose weight, while others get caught up in meetings and to-do lists all day long. I would recommend you try not to do this.

Your brain needs a constant supply of glucose and fat. Glucose (sugar/carbohydrates) are used for a quick source of energy. Fat provides a a more sustained source of energy because it is not broken down as quickly as carbohydrates. Fat also provides the most energy per gram and therefore goes to the brain and heart first before tackling it's other responsibilities.

Undereating

lunch at work

When your body isn't getting enough fuel (i.e. you skip meals or restrict your intake) your body is working to conserve the energy it has, making you feel tired.

Overeating

On the other hand, overeating also makes the body work harder causing you to feel lethargic. Heavy, dense, or greasy meals may make you feel like this. Have you noticed?

What you can do

Start by eating something for breakfast. It sets the tone for the whole day. Even if it's an energy bar as you run out the door, a banana in the car, or a yogurt at your desk - give your brain a boost of energy right off the bat.

Get something in mid-day for lunch. Again, this does not need to be an elaborate sit down meal (although actually taking a break and clearing your mind can also improve productivity), but whatever you have time (or make time) for will work. Pack peanut butter crackers, an apple and string cheese, a sandwich, or leftovers for something easy to keep you fueled.

 

2. Stay Hydrated

flavored water

Dehydration can make you feel tired or cause headaches. Keep a water bottle with you during the day, especially during warmer weather or if you're an especially sweaty person. Aim for 8 8oz glasses per day. If you don't like water, try sparkling or flavored water or try adding fresh or frozen fruit.

 

 

 

3. Limit Alcohol

alcohol and productivity

Alcohol decreases the effectiveness of neurotransmitters and blocks oxygen from getting into cells. While research is a bit mixed as to how alcohol consumption effects our brain health long term; a 2017 study showed that those who drink, even moderately, have smaller hippocampi than non drinkers. Drinking can also affect sleep quality, which is huge for productivity!

 

4. Use Caffeine Wisely

Current science shows that we can safely consume 3-4 cups of coffee per day. However, caffeine affects everyone differently and research is still mixed on how it can affect our long term health.

Caffeine can temporarily enhance your memory, alertness, and cognitive function, but it also suppresses your appetite. When you're feeling tired and reach for another cup of coffee, your body may actually be asking for fuel. Sometimes a snack or meal is really the boost of energy your body needs. When the caffeine wears off, you often still feel tired and possibly even more hungry.

Caffeinated drinks also often carry other added ingredients, like cream, sugar, artificial sweeteners, or processed ingredients. Many of these ingredients can spike your blood sugar and energy temporarily but cause a crash in energy shortly after.

coffee-cup-working-happy.jpg

 

5. Choose Whole Foods & A Balanced Diet

When we feel that afternoon slump, we often go for 'airy' types of snacks. But, things like chips, cookies, and pretzels can just leave us feeling more hungry.

By combining these snacks you crave with another food group or a good source of fiber, protein, or healthy fat will slow the digestion, stabilize your blood sugar, and boost your energy and brain power. Choose carrots and hummus, whole grain crackers and guacamole, slices of cheese with grapes or an apple, or Greek yogurt with berries. They key is to combine two food groups for a more filling, satisfying, and nutritious snack.

balanced plate

 

9 Nutrients to Boost Brain Power and Prevent Fatigue:

Magnesium
for relaxation and stress relief
almonds, cashews, spinach


Omega-3s
for brain power
fatty fish, ground flaxseed, chia seeds


Antioxidants
for brain power
berries, nuts, fish, beans, darker colored fruits & veggies


Fiber
can stabilize blood sugar and increase satisfaction and satiety
whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans

Unsaturated Fats
can stabilize blood sugar and increase satisfaction and satiety
avocado, olives, olive oil, nut butters, nuts, seeds

Protein
can stabilize blood sugar and increase satisfaction and satiety
nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, meat, dairy, soy

Folate
for nervous system function and messages
found in dark leafy greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, lentils


Choline
for nervous system function and messages
egg yolks, wheat germ, scallops, chicken, broccoli, peanuts


Iron
sends oxygen to the brain and provides energy
beans, lentils, spinach, meat

Are You a Normal Eater?

I shared this post with my newsletter subscribers a few months back for National Eating Disorders Awareness week. For monthly emails with similar content sign up to receive my monthly newsletter here.

 
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In my practice, I try to emphasize that there is no right way to eat or a universal perfect diet. Everyone's bodies and nutrition needs are different. As women in particular (but men too) we can struggle with food and food rules and what 'healthy' and 'normal' 'should' look like. We get wrapped up in foods we label as 'good' or 'bad' or 'clean' or 'healthy' and go through periods of undereating and overeating. It's stressful. And to me, that's not 'healthy' and shouldn't be 'normal'.

Today, I wanted to share with you a definition of 'normal eating' from two of my esteemed colleagues. This happens to be National Eating Disorders Awareness week, so let's use it as a reminder to show a little self-respect, not judge our food choices or our bodies, ditch the food rules, the diet mentality, and the under eating/overeating cycle.

Ellyn Satter is a highly regarded dietitian known for her work with child nutrition and raising healthy eaters. Robyn Kievit Kirkman is a dietitian, certified eating disorder and sports nutrition specialist, nurse practitioner, and my mentor. Through years of experience in the nutrition field, they have both created definitions of Normal Eating. I combined my favorite parts from the two below. Visit their websites (linked above) for more practical tips and information.


NORMAL EATING

  • Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it - not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good.
  • Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
  • It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be under eating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Normal eating is relearning your own way and changing your thoughts, feelings, and actions around food and your body.
  • It is not letting the scale mandate your feelings for the day.
  • Normal eating is baking and eating cookies at 10 PM with a friend, or eating pasta or a leftover cheeseburger and fries for breakfast.
  • Normal eating is trying a food trend but knowing there are no ‘perfect’ foods.
  • Normal eating is maybe trying vegetarianism for a few years but then perhaps deciding animal protein really works well for you, your body, and your movement goals.
  • Normal eating is not what or how much others eat, it’s what YOUR body needs in that moment, that meal, that day.
  • Normal eating is knowing our appetites change meal to meal, day to day, and honoring this process.
  • Normal eating is keeping these words out of thoughts and conversations about food and your body: good, bad, sorry, should, can't, and healthy (or unhealthy, and certainly ‘clean’!).
  • In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

 
What does normal eating mean to you?
 

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Why We Crave Sweets When We're Sleep Deprived

While I prefer not to label foods as 'good' or 'bad' or 'healthy' or 'junk' (all foods can fit :)), there is a definite connection between sleep and the food choices you make.

For me, sleep is key. I need a solid 7-8 hours. With a lack of sleep, I notice changes in both my mood and food preferences. I crave sweets more often and seriously lack motivation to exercise. I take these as signs my body needs to rest and it reinforces the need for a good night's sleep. Wellness is a cycle. Sleep, stress, mood, health. They're all interconnected. 

Below is a guest post by Selina Hall, giving us the facts for why this happens.


Guest Post By Selina Hall

 

Do you find that you just want to eat 'junk' when you’re tired? Sleep is critical for our overall health and wellbeing, and there are actually some good reasons why.

 
sleep and diet
 

More Sleep = More Mindfulness

There’s a definite connection between sleep and mindfulness. The more sleep people get, the better they are able to tune into their bodies' true needs and resist impulse decisions. 

The opposite is true, too. When you don't getting enough sleep, you're more likely to act out of impulse rather than make mindful decisions. Scientists aren’t sure why or how sleep helps with self-control, but they have established over and over that a connection exists.
 

More Sleep = Improved Hormone Regulation

Sleep helps regulate the hormones that tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full. When you're tired, your body produces more ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and less leptin (the satiety/fullness hormone). If you’re getting enough rest, your body signals you to eat the amount of food you need. But when you’re tired, your body may tell you to eat slightly more.

Scientists think that this happens because your body knows it doesn’t have enough energy (because you are sleep-deprived) and so it is trying to make up that deficit by consuming more calories (a measurement of energy). 

Carbohydrates and sugars give our bodies quick, easily digestible sources of energy. Thus, you may feel drawn to those foods when sleep deprived.
 

How to Get More Sleep

Most of us want to sleep more, we just don’t know how. Some of us have tried everything we know and we’re still exhausted. Below are a few ideas to help you improve your sleep.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. This means cleaning up the way you sleep. Shut down all screens at least an hour before bed. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and even naptime.

  • Ensure your space is comfortable. Only use sheets and blankets you love. Pile pillows on your bed and make sure the ones you sleep on properly support your neck. Ensure that your mattress feels good and keeps good posture while you sleep.

  • Tinker with your environment. Dim your lights, lower the temperature in your room, and put up light-blocking curtains if needed.

 

When you’re sleeping better, it will be easier to eat well! 

 

Selina Hall is an expert on sleep health and wellness for BestMattressReviews.com. She believes that sleep is one of the most important pillars of health. Selina lives in Portland, Oregon. She sleeps best under a handmade quilt passed down from her great-grandmother.