“You are what you eat” – you’ve surely heard this old adage multiple times, especially when you’re not eating your best. Our diet impacts our lives and wellbeing at every level, from the way our skin looks, to the healthy functioning of internal organs, to the way we feel and ultimately, to the way we behave as well. And when it comes to workplace productivity, so much of it depends on your diet, we could say “You work how you eat.”
Carbs will slow you down
As all macronutrients, carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet, but you certainly don’t have to put in extra effort to get enough of them. You’ll have a much more difficult time avoiding carb overload, especially if you tend to reach for pastries and sugary snacks to get through the workday – as most people do. They haven’t been getting such a bad rap in modern nutrition advice for no reason, but weight-loss advice aside, the biggest issue they pose to workplace productivity lies in their stimulation of insulin production.
In fact, studies have shown that overloading on carbs can be really detrimental to productivity. The body responds to carbohydrate-rich foods by producing larger amounts of insulin, which in turn induces the production of sleep hormones such as serotonin and tryptophan. In other words, that candy bar that you reach for in order to help you get through the afternoon slump might produce a short kick, but the eventual crash is inevitable.
Furthermore, research has shown that approximately 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract. With the link between sleep hormones and gut microbes further explained, that post-lunch energy slump and unstoppable desire to nap after a good meal makes a lot more sense.
Timing is key
If you want to nourish your brain and body to perform at their best, it’s not only what you eat that matters, but when you eat as well. For one, diet has a profound impact on your circadian rhythm, dictating your body’s internal clock, from your natural sleeping rhythm to the times in the day when you feel most alert. In other words, eating the right kind of food at just the right time can help you tune your body for maximum productivity and avoid being tired, drowsy, or unfocused at the times when you need to do the most important tasks.
The better you align your diet with your body’s internal clock, the closer you will be to reaching your full productivity potential during the day. Experts recommend a couple of key nutritional timing tips to maximize performance:
- Don’t go to bed hungry, but make sure to leave plenty of space between your last meal of the day and your bedtime. Fuelling your body with food naturally signals it that it’s time to get to work soon, so be careful with evening meals or you’ll end up pushing your bedtime and feeling tired the next day.
- Eat your largest meal in the morning. A filling, wholesome breakfast will provide you with slow-burning energy which you need to get plenty of quality work done before noon – and not go into a starvation mode that renders you dysfunctional as you wait for lunchtime. Great memory-boosting breakfast foods include eggs, bananas, yogurt, and blueberries.
- Avoid fatty foods and heavy, high-calorie foods such as hamburgers and fries during lunchtime. These will slow you down and make you sleepy.
Glucose levels are directly related to willpower
That’s right – studies have proven that your blood sugar levels directly affect your brain’s ability to resist temptation and stay on task. We often don’t realize that productivity largely relies on willful resistance to distractions and as it turns out, your body’s glucose levels actually have a profound effect on what we’d call “willpower”. When your blood sugar hits a low, you won’t only be faced with an energy slump and possibly crankiness, but you’ll have little self-control and not enough willpower to stay on task.
Once again, this is where timing is important. You don’t want to be taking your body on a glucose rollercoaster, hitting lows and highs throughout the day, as that will give you no control whatsoever over your performance levels. Experts suggest that our brains work best when we have about 25g of glucose circulating through the bloodstream, which is about the amount found in a banana. That’s why smaller but more frequent meals and banana snacks are the best options for sustaining brainpower.
All in all, a healthy diet requires mindfulness. If you want to start eating for maximum productivity levels, you’ll need to devote attention and care in order to turn it into a habit. Once you get rid of productivity-killing dietary habits and replace them with the food that boosts brainpower, you’ll be surprised by how much more you’re able to get done each day.
Last modified: March 13, 2019