What you’re eating could be making you less productive at work says Healthista nutritionist May Simpkin who has 6 diet tips to keep you focused throughout the day
Rested and ready after the weekend, you bounce into work on a Monday morning, invigorated and energized for the week ahead. Your morning gets off to a great start as you run through your plans and projects with vigour and enthusiasm.
You kick start your day with a strong coffee and a muffin or croissant and a cheeky chocolate that a colleague has brought back from holiday.
Suddenly, your working week can seem like a long drag and you’re yearning for the weekend in no time. You’re struggling to make it through your day productively and you’re not sure why? Most likely, you’re settled into an unhealthy day-to-day routine and your meal choices are not ideal to help you stay focused and motivated throughout the day.
Stress, late nights, early starts, disturbed sleep, junk food quick fixes and missed meals can all wreak havoc on your wellbeing and have a significant impact on your ability to learn, concentrate, memorise and general ability to cope.
stress, disturbed sleep, junk food have a significant impact on your ability to learn and concentrate
Numerous studies indicate that employees with unhealthy diets are more likely to be less productive than those who ate more healthily. If you’re looking to ensure your best chances of success, in the first instance, addressing your eating habits is crucial. Making poor food choices will sabotage your ability to concentrate and focus during the day.
The brain cannot function without energy; it consumes around 20% of the body’s energy and this energy will come from the foods you eat.
It is important that you “eat for energy” allowing you to keep going for long periods, particularly if you’re in a busy stressful period at work. Choosing the right foods is crucial.
Give yourself the advantage with my top 6 practical tips, to ensure you’re firing on all cylinders so that you are sharp, focused, alert and yet calm
1. Don’t skip meals
As deadlines loom or your diary is full meetings and appointments, try to avoid skipping meals. Make your meal your break; take the time to be mindful and enjoy the food you’re eating, even if you can only allow 10 minutes for this. Indeed considering meal times can be a welcome excuse to break your train of thought and relieve the monotony of endless hours at your desk. Preparing your meals at home will ensure you have food to eat quickly and easily when you have a free moment in your busy schedule.
Breakfast will provide you with the energy you need to kick start your day and remain productive throughout the day. If you’re not hungry first thing in the morning, try to eat something as soon as you can.
Combine a slow release carbohydrate with good quality protein and plenty of fibre to keep you full and slow down the release of sugars, for sustained energy until your next meal. Avoid cereals and refined carbohydrates, which will not sustain you and leave you craving.
Good options, either brought in to work from home or from a local food outlet, include:
- Yoghurt with fruits, nuts and seeds
- Eggs with smoked salmon
- Overnight oats with chia seeds and fruit
- Avocado on sourdough toast with boiled eggs
2. Keep lunch portions moderate
Eating a large heavy lunch will leave you feeling tired and lethargic later in the day, particularly if your meal is made up of carbohydrate foods such as pasta, bread and potatoes. Eating a lighter lunch but combining good quality protein with plenty of vegetables and limited carbohydrates will ensure you are energized and invigorated for the afternoon.
Planning is key so that you have good options that are convenient to take into work, for example:
- Falafel wrap with humus and rocket
- Quinoa salad with (pre) roasted vegetables, chicken or tofu
- Tuna salad; include at least five salad varieties
- Sweet potato frittata (try May’s recipe for this here)
3. Avoid Quick Fix Snacks
You might be tempted to reach for an unhealthy snack either because it is convenient or simply out of boredom. Don’t! Avoiding these unsatisfying foods will go a long way to ensuring your energy levels and that you remain alert. Chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks are all very high in sugar and will play havoc with your blood sugar balance, subjecting you to sugar surges followed by debilitating sugar dips. Crisps are low in fibre and may fill you up quickly but you will feel hungry soon after. Beware also of shop bought energy bars that are very high in sugar and little more than glorified candy bars.
Chocolate bars, cakes, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks are all very high in sugar and will play havoc with your blood sugar balance
Try these better choices instead:
- Homemade bliss balls that are very easy to assemble and will keep you fuller for longer whist providing plenty of good nutrients. Make a batch up at the weekend for the week ahead – here’s a recipe Energising Bliss Balls
- Nuts and seeds that contain good fibre, protein and brain boosting fats
- Apple slices with a nut butter
Mild dehydration can impair focus, alertness and can cause symptoms such as anxiety, tiredness, fatigue and reduced alertness and will impair your ability to focus. Drink plenty of water and try to limit coffee, which can leave you feeling tired and sleepy after the initial boost. Drinking too much coffee at the beginning of the day will continue this vicious cycle; to remain productive drink no more than 2-3 cups of good quality coffee before noon. You may need to reduce your intake gradually if you’re used to drinking more than this on a regular basis. Green tea contains less caffeine as well as L-Theanine, which is calming.
mild dehydration can impair focus and cause symptoms such as anxiety, tiredness and your ability to focus
Be aware that caffeinated energy drinks are very high in caffeine and sugar and will significantly disrupt your energy balance, sleep and concentration. Avoid these completely.
Keep a bottle of water at your desk that you can sip from throughout the day or a mug of herbal tea on-the-go, topping up with hot water if necessary.
Remember that soups, fruits and vegetables all provide fluids and will contribute to your hydration levels. If you’re feeling thirsty and your urine is a dark yellow colour, you are already dehydrated.
5. Don’t skimp on sleep
A lack of sleep will leave you feeling foggy in the morning with little chance of fully concentrating. Focus on a sleep routine so that you aim for at least 7 hours sleep. Avoid using your computer, smart phones or tablets for a short period (around 30mins) before sleep, as these can be stimulatory.
Try to avoid a heavy late night snack before bed, stick with a milky drink, or a piece of fruit and only if necessary.
Avoid caffeine containing foods and drinks including tea, coffee, colas and chocolate at least 4 hours before bed, as these will act as a stimulant and impair sleep quality. Opt instead for a herbal tea, such as chamomile, cinnamon or valerian or milky drink instead.
6. Boost your Antioxidants
With a busy, stressful job, your body will have to work harder to make sure it is working as efficiently as possible and without adequate nutrients, some systems within the body will be compromised. It is important to support your general health so that you boost your immune system and avoid a cold or picking up a bug, which will leave you less productive at work.
Eat a rainbow: choosing plenty of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits will deliver good nutrients to counteract the effects of stress and boost your immune health. Aim to reach your 7-a-day and include vegetables or fruit at each meal. Try a smoothie, keeping a ratio of three vegetables to one fruit and include fibre and protein-rich ingredients, such as oats or chia seeds, Greek yoghurt or a good quality protein powder.
Good quality snacks can provide valuable antioxidants as well as an energy boost to help improve your performance and productivity, but do ensure that the snack you choose will sustain you.
- Energy balls are ideal as they contain dried fruit and nuts, providing you with good fibre and protein and a slower release of energy. Shop-bought are convenient but they are very easy to make at home and contain plenty of extra brain boosting ingredients.
- Fruits can provide valuable sugars to boost concentration but opt for high fibre fruits such as bananas, pears and apples. Combine your fruit with a small handful of nuts as the protein will help to balance the sugars so that they release more slowly into the blood stream.
May Simpkin is a UK qualified Nutritional Therapist with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition. She is an experienced clinician, practising functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is a registered practitioner, bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHC, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered withAFMCP, The Institute for Functional Medicine – Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice™ and a member of the RSM, The Royal Society of Medicine.