There’s nothing worse than those afternoon doldrums — that point around 2pm when your energy level drops and you find yourself reaching for that first afternoon cup of coffee or your favorite energy drink.
Everyone has heard the old adage, “You are what you eat,” but what most of us don’t know is how true it is. Did you know that what you eat during your work day can actually affect your productivity? It’s true!
A Familiar Scenario
We’ve all been there — you wake up late and rush through your morning routine, so you shower and skip breakfast on your way out the door. Likely, you’ll grab a sugary coffee drink for that instant rush of energy and maybe, if you’re feeling a little more mindful about your health, you’ll grab a whole wheat flatbread or an egg-white sandwich.
In an hour or so, that sugary rush will wear off and you’ll drag your feet to the vending machine for a candy bar or another sugar-heavy treat that will give you a quick boost that will carry you through until lunch.
A lunch of fast food from your local greasy spoon and the soda that inevitably goes along with it will fill you up for an hour or two, but like the coffee from this morning, you’ll end up crashing again and dragging your way through the rest of the day until dinner time.
How could you change that scenario? Easy! Just change how you eat during the day!
By switching your sugary coffee drink for a protein-rich smoothie and some whole wheat avocado toast, you get the same type of energy boost in the morning, but instead of crashing out in an hour or two, it provides a steady energy that can easily carry you through until lunch. A healthy lunch, made up of protein, natural sugars and complex carbohydrates, and a couple of nutrient rich snacks can carry you through the entire day.
For those of us who rely heavily on easily accessible fast food during our work days (or who work overnight where the selection of food options is severely limited), it can be hard to eat healthy when the easiest thing to do is head to the vending machine for a Snickers or around the corner to the nearest 24-hour McDonald’s.
Why Such a Difference?
Why is there such a big difference between eating a healthy breakfast and snagging a donut on your way to work?
In terms of the amount of sugars and carbohydrates released by the food, they’re not that different. You can get 25g of glucose from a donut or from a cup of steel-cut oats with fruit. This is the ideal amount of glucose for maximum productivity, according to a recent study. So why does it matter if you get it from the donut or the oatmeal?
It comes down to one thing: How fast the glucose is processed by your body. A glazed donut might provide you with the 25g of glucose you need for productivity, but it’s made up of nothing but simple sugars and carbs, so you burn through it fast and need another quick glucose fix to carry you through the day.
The oatmeal, on the other hand, provides the same level of glucose, but it takes longer for your body to process the sugars, making it a longer-lasting energy without the crash that’s associated with quick sugars.
Making Healthy Choices
How can you incorporate healthy choices into your daily life to help increase your productivity?
- Skip the caffeine. This might seem counterproductive, but like those simple sugars and carbs, it provides a quick pick-me-up and then drops you just as quickly.
- Be mindful of your breakfast. Yes, this does include eating breakfast. Adding a breakfast of nutrient-dense food can carry you through your morning and reduce the need to snack on unhealthy foods during the day.
- Eat smaller more frequent meals. We know this isn’t always an option in a lot of work settings, but if you can, try eating multiple small meals during the day rather than three big ones.
- Add Omega 3s to your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are a great addition to your diet, and can help maintain your overall energy levels. While you can take supplements, it’s best to get your Omega 3s from foods like flax seeds, walnuts and salmon.
- Carry healthy, filling snacks with you. Almonds, carrots and hummus, and other healthy snacks, are a great way to fill that time between meals without throwing your glucose levels out of balance or filling up on simple sugars that will just leave you crashing.
You really are what you eat, and since our brain consumes nearly 20% of our total daily calories, if you eat a bunch of junk food all day, it’s going to negatively affect your overall productivity.
Making a couple of simple changes, like the ones we’ve listed above, can be a great way to improve not only your productivity, but also your overall health and well-being. It’s a great first step toward a healthier lifestyle, as well.
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