About the author: Dr Tom Little. PhD, MSc, BSc, rSEN, ASCS, Dip
Dr Tom Little is a wellness & performance specialist with over 20 years experience, mainly working in elite sport. He speaks at several national and international conferences and has been published extensively. Tom is the Founder of Colour-Fit & Head of Performance & Nutrition for Hero Wellbeing.
Your diet has a more direct impact on your work output and productivity levels than most people realise. Unhealthy lunch options tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them seem like a better option in the middle of a busy workday, which is where our lunchtime decisions lead us astray. Faster food options feel efficient, but that 10 minutes of time saved at lunch can backfire with weaker performance the rest of the day. We’ve all experienced that post-lunch lull in energy, therefore it’s important to pay close attention to what you eat in a working day so you can stay on top form.
Poor dietary habits can lead to:
- Decreased mental effectiveness
- Negative mood & increased stress
- Decreased productivity
- Reduced immunity
Is skipping lunch a good idea?
It’s true that digesting food involves the parasympathetic nervous system, which generally makes us feel more relaxed. Furthermore, carbohydrates can cause increases in sleep hormones like serotonin. Therefore, some may suggest it’s better to skip lunch to avoid that lull in energy. However, a thought-out lunch can definitely be beneficial to overall productivity and health. A well-balanced meal with carbs, proteins and healthy fats will reduce the resultant increases in insulin from carbs, meaning energy is released steadily throughout the day. Carbs are definitely not the enemy. They are critical for efficiently fuelling our muscles for activity, and our brain relies on glucose, the breakdown product of carbs, for energy. Evidence also suggests it is better to eat a higher proportion of calories during the day when we are active. We are more likely to burn the energy as fuel during the day and we are more sensitive to insulin, which is advantageous for weight management. Having a regular source of proteins will also help keep your metabolism high, and regularly providing nutrients, key to health, will help boost immunity and brain health.
Planning can really help to boost your productivity throughout the day. Packing your own nutritious meals to take into work can be helpful. Talk to your co-workers and bosses about ways you can create a more nutritionally savvy workplace. Collectively, think of interesting ways to bring nutritious foods into the workplace. Healthy snacks, salad and porridge stations are easy to set up and could improve morale, wellbeing and productivity. According to Perspectives in Public Health, workplace nutrition initiatives increase productivity so it’s a win/win to introduce such initiatives into the office.
Five key food groups that affect productivity
- Low glycaemic index carbs: whole grains (e.g. rice, quinoa, buckwheat), vegetables, salad items and cold climate fruits (e.g. apples, pears, berries) release energy slowly to sustain us throughout the day. Avoid high glycaemic carbs like white bread and pasta, sugary drinks and confectionaries.
- Foods high in B-vitamins: meat, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds are high in B-vitamins, which are essential for converting food into energy and blood cell formation.
- Foods high in nitrates: beetroot and dark leafy vegetables contain nitrates, which dilate our blood vessels, allowing blood to flow through our body more easily to provide nutrients and take away waste products.
- Water: water effects all functions within our body and helps you stay slim! You don’t need to overdo it – just be aware of your body and drink to thirst.
- Caffeine or gaurana: caffeine is a general stimulant and increases our ability to create energy and improves cognitive function. However, too much is definitely a bad thing so stick to 1 cup and try to have after eating as you can limit Vitamin C absorption. Green tea is a great option as it helps with our immunity and aids burning fat too.
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