What does a productive day at work look like for you? Is it getting all your tasks done in the morning and having time to spare? Or maybe finding a state of flow where work seems to just get done effortlessly? Now think of your least productive day. A day when it’s hard to focus, short tasks seem to take forever and you feel drowsy and unmotivated. We all have these days, but what if we told you that you can hack your days to be as productive as possible just through your eating habits and choices? We’ve put together a few quick, science-backed tips to help you boost productivity and make the most out of your days .
What does food have to do with productivity?
Our bodies are constantly reacting to what we consume. Think of it this way: When you’re feeling tired and need to wake up and get some work done, you make yourself an espresso and 10 minutes later you’re already feeling the effects. You know the coffee will give you a boost of energy. On the other hand, think of your last five-course thanksgiving dinner, how were you feeling after your feast? Most likely sleepy and ready for a nap right? Probably not the best time to sit and write a novel or pound out all of those emails you still need to send.
Here are 4 tips to help you get through your workdays with max productivity and minor energy crashes:
1. Ditch the sugar!
I know, this is always a tough one to hear. However, reducing your sugar intake is one of the best ways to avoid that dreaded energy crash throughout the day. Consuming simple sugars will quickly spike your blood sugar levels which can give you a temporary boost of energy, but the short-term effect will quickly fade away, and after the sugar high comes the crash.
What exactly are simple sugars?
When we talk about simple sugars we are referring to the foods that consist of mostly added sugars with minimal or no other nutrients. The molecules in simple sugars like sucrose (common table sugar) have simple bonds that are very easily broken down in the body in order to turn it into glucose (blood sugar), which can be used as an immediate source of energy.
A surge in these simple sugars will create that blood sugar spike that we commonly refer to as a sugar high. Once this dramatic spike is over our energy levels nosedive. When foods have other nutrients (like fats, proteins, or fiber-rich carbohydrates) the breakdown process is slowed down. This results in a much slower rise in blood sugar, and energy levels are sustained for longer.
Sources of simple sugars include fruit juices, desserts, soft drinks, candy, and other sugar-filled treats. Simple sugars, especially those that are refined and processed, have a range of negative effects on the body. But we understand that sometimes you just have to treat yourself (it’s all about balance after all right?). So in order to avoid the crash and to keep your blood sugar levels healthy, follow this rule: If you must have a sugary treat, don’t eat it alone. Accompany your treat with a balanced meal or at the very least some healthy fats, a fibre-rich bite, or a source of protein to help control the rise and fall of blood sugar levels and maintain a steady source of energy for longer.
2. Eat lighter, balanced meals
A big reason why we crash after a heavy meal is that digestion takes a lot of energy. Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving meal example: After three servings of turkey casserole and sides, and a few slices of pie you probably feel ready to hibernate for at least a couple of hours right? This is the normal reaction to a heavy meal.
When we are digesting a big meal our bodies are sending most of the blood to our digestive system in order to take in the nutrients we just ate.
This is when our metabolism is working at full capacity to break down and digest the food. As such, many cultures have a post-lunch nap time scheduled in their daily endeavours.
Having lighter meals is a good way to minimize that killer post-lunch crash. Sticking to balanced meals with quality protein, healthy fats, and complex, fibre-rich carbohydrates is the best way to provide the nutrients your body needs to keep moving. As much as possible try to stay away from processed foods, and refined carbohydrates.
What makes a balanced meal?
A balanced meal is one that has a proper amount of proteins, fats, and quality carbohydrates. A properly balanced meal will also be full of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that support your body.
Create a balanced meal in 4 steps
- Choose a good variety of vegetables. The more the merrier! Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, beets… you name it!
- If you want more carbs in your meal add some whole grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes, squash, etc) or some beans or legumes. The key here: Keep the foods real and limit processed products. Feel free to skip this step if you thrive on lower-carb diets.
- Always add protein! Whether you eat meat or not your body needs protein. Choose a high-quality protein source whether it is fresh fish or meat, some tofu or beans. Avoid processed meats such as lunch meats, and overly processed vegan meat replacements (these may be in the health food section of your grocery store, but a lot of them have plenty of additives and are highly processed). For more on healthy vegan protein sources check out this post.
- Don’t forget healthy fats! Drizzle your dish with olive oil, add some avocado, or top it with nuts and seeds for an extra crunch. Whatever floats your boat!
3. Make your lunch break a break
Having a designated lunch break is one of the best things you can do to keep your productivity and your health in check at work. If you often find yourself having lunch while still typing away you may be actually hindering your productivity. Schedule your lunch breaks so that you have the time to sit, disconnect from work and enjoy your meal.
This will allow you to recharge, focus on one thing at a time, and come back to work with much greater productivity. Studies have shown that creating separation from work and lunchtimes can support productivity and improve work satisfaction. By mentally taking a break from work and allowing the space to eat, socialize, and recharge, you can come back refreshed and work more efficiently. This study from the British Psychological Society states that a deliberate lunch break can “reduce afternoon exhaustion and enhance afternoon work engagement” (Bosch, C., Et al).
4. Stay Hydrated
You probably know that proper hydration is key for physical endurance and performance. But you don’t need to be sweating in the heat or running a marathon to keep your water intake up.
Dehydration can impair basic cognitive functions like memory and focus. A 2005 study observed the effects of mild dehydration in a group of adult volunteers. At the end of the study, the participants reported feeling less alert, more tired, and having difficulty concentrating. Carrying a water bottle with you is a good habit to keep your brain sharp and your body healthy.
A quick note for the coffee drinkers out there: Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it quickly flushes water out of your body and therefore contributes to mild dehydration. The general recommendation is to simply drink a cup of water for every cup of coffee you have. This should offset the slight dehydrating effect of caffeine and keep your body hydrated throughout the day.
So bottom line: next time you are feeling a little drowsy or out of sorts at work try having a glass of water or two.