Think back to your most productive day in the past week. Can you remember what you ate that day?
When we think about productivity, we rarely consider when, what and how we eat. For those of us with a ‘to-do' list a mile long, eating becomes less of a priority and simply a fuel...like putting petrol in a car.
With petrol, you can expect your car's performance to remain the same, regardless of the brand that you use. Fuelling our bodies is different.
I'm sure you have heard the age-old saying "you are what you eat", but it's also true that we work how we eat. Eating too much, or consuming convenience, discretionary-style foods at lunch can seriously derail an entire afternoon. However, the relationship between your diet and your work output actually goes much deeper.
Refined, processed carbs kill productivity
Almost anything you eat will raise your blood glucose. However, not all things raise blood glucose in the same way. Foods with a higher Glycemic Index (GI) like muffins, biscuits and even jasmine rice will cause your blood glucose levels to spike. This normally proceeds a large insulin spike, and subsequent blood glucose crash.
This blood glucose rollercoaster is a productivity killer, leaving us feeling tired, hungry, emotional, and demotivated.
Most of us know this instinctively, however it's easy to fall into a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating during the workday, especially if we've skipped breakfast, or delayed lunch because of back-to-back meetings.
In these scenarios, when we've been working hard and we're mentally exhausted, we usually find ourselves low in energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. This is when bringing lunch from home can really save the day, as cakes or muffins from various food outlets nearby to work are a much more appetising snack than veggie sticks with hummus.
In addition, when we're busy and trying to save time, it's easy to seek out more accessible and convenient foods, giving a feeling of efficiency. However five minutes saved by eating unhealthy food, usually leads to a less productive outlook for the remainder of the workday.
Tame the blood glucose rollercoaster;
- Make your eating decisions before you get hungry
- Go for 3 healthy meals per day
- Bring foods from home
- Space main meals evenly so you don't load all your kilojoules in the evening
- Balance lunch & dinner proportions to include ½ a plate of vegetables, ¼ of a plate of protein foods, and ¼ of a plate of high fibre carbohydrate foods.
Nutrition for cognition
It's not surprising that the evidence is stacking up in favour of eating a wide variety of veggies, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, lean meat and oily fish to reduce mood swings, and in some cases help manage depression and anxiety.
For instance, a study in the British Journal of Health Psychology looked at how people's diet influenced their well-being. The authors found that the more fruit and veggies people consumed, the happier, more engaged and creative they tended to be.
To optimise brain structure and function:
- Go for a good quality source of protein (e.g. fatty fish, chicken, beef, eggs, beans)
- Choose full fat/add healthy fats (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, 100% nut butter, nuts & seeds, olives, avocado...)
- Add beans/legumes, basmati rice, wholegrains, fruit & starchy veggies
- Fill ½ your plate with non-starchy veggies
- Go for whole, slow-digesting foods that your grandparents would recognise
Hydration for productivity
Staying hydrated can enhance your productivity, reducing the likelihood of headaches, irritability, migraines, and it also helps us avoid non-hungry eating - eating when we're not physiologically hungry.
Stay hydrated - water is your best drink choice.
The bottom line
Taming your blood glucose rollercoaster, eating the right nutrients for cognition and staying hydrated are all great things to try regardless of your 3pm slump status.
Give one or all of them a try to help boost your productivity and energy levels throughout your workday.
This blog was written by Nick Nation, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and was originally published on the Healthier Workplace WA website.
- Download The Healthy Handbook for more ideas on selecting healthy ingredients for preparing your meals and healthy snacks that encourage your productivity.
- Want to know how healthy your workplace is? Take our workplace health check today.
Healthier Workplace WA
Cancer Council WA delivers the Healthier Workplace WA initiative which offers free services to all workplaces across Western Australia to help them implement a successful workplace health and wellbeing program that assists their workers to make positive lifestyle changes that benefit everyone.