The World Health Organisation has confirmed that adequate nutrition can raise your productivity levels on average by 20%.
Now that’s a lot! Even though I generally prefer to take statistical data with a pinch of salt, it has really made me think about how much more productive I could be, just by tweaking a couple of things in my daily routine.
Getting a good 8 hours of sleep every night and exercising regularly both play important parts in daytime productivity, just like your working environment plays its role. I would like to delve into what it takes from a nutritional perspective.
Eating the right food throughout the day is as crucial as filling your car up with fuel. Without it, you get nowhere.
Furthermore, the type and quality of fuel matters. A bad diet is like filling your petrol tank with the wrong kind of fuel. It may work, but in the long run, it’s damaging the engine.
Avoiding foods that slow you down is the first step in the right direction, and combining this with positive eating habits will definitely move you forward. This may seem daunting and overwhelming at first, but simple changes can be the most effective. Let’s explore some of the most important habits to keep in mind next.
Since your body is made up of more than 70 percent water, every function in the body depends on it to work efficiently. Throughout the day, fluids are lost, and when these aren’t replaced, the brain and other organs suffer the consequences.
Replacing lost fluids eases dehydration and expands the brain’s grey matter. Dehydration not only impairs focus (making any task more difficult to complete), it also impacts alertness and reaction times. Making an effort to drink a couple of liters of water a day will give your brain the power it needs to stay focused and think more clearly and quickly. As an added tip, try combining lemon juice or thinly sliced cucumber with your water, as these have the extra benefit of alkalizing the body as well as hydrating it.
So always keep in mind that if you can’t think straight, you need to hydrate!
Most of what we eat will be broken down to one thing: Glucose. Glucose is the fuel we need to keep our brains awake and alert. We always have certain levels of glucose in our blood at all times, what’s crucial here is that we are in full control of how we release glucose to our blood and our brains. Certain foods release glucose quickly, which most often leads to an energy crash not much later. Others do so at a slower, more sustainable rate. This is why foods with a low GI (glycemic index) are recommended, the sugars found in them break down at a slower pace, allowing the body to go further for longer.
Low Blood Sugar = Low Self Control
Many of us don’t realize how much self-control is linked to productivity. Think about it for a second and realize how true this statement rings! The ability to focus on a task and complete it before moving onto something else, is directly tied to willpower!
Studies suggest being able to resist temptation and do the right thing (instead of the fun thing), is more linked to the body’s glucose levels than anything else. Most of us are well aware of how much one’s mood can be impacted by low blood sugar, often making us reach for a coffee or a bar of chocolate to pull ourselves out of the energy slump. A little further on, we’ll explore those foods that keep going for longer, but for now, we’ll take a look at the different meals of the day and the impact they have on our productivity.
You are what you eat!
Breakfast jump-starts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories during the day because essentially, you are telling your body that fuel is in plentiful supply. There is no need to store any calories for later use. Alertness spikes right after breakfast is consumed, the brain is flooded with fuel to tackle the day’s challenges and stay on top of everything that requires one’s attention.
Many people will choose to start a day with a coffee (generally loaded with sugar) and rush out the door. Although these will give you a quick spike in energy, they also guarantee a crash in energy and alertness, which are most detrimental to one’s productivity.
After drinking the sugary coffee, glucose is released into our blood very quickly. We will have about 20 minutes of alertness. Then our glucose levels will drop rapidly, leaving you feeling unfocused and easily distractible. It’s like putting the foot down on the gas pedal until you’ve used all your fuel.
As previously mentioned, complex carbohydrates (low GI foods) release their sugar as glucose at a much slower rate. This means blood sugar levels remain steady, and our focus and attention are not compromised. To fuel up effectively for the rest of your day, eat low glycemic foods for breakfast.
In doing so, your body gains a steady source of energy to keep you going all the way through to lunch. Oats, fresh fruit or a couple of slices of seed rich rye bread are all great examples of foods with a low glycemic index, and excellent options for a healthy breakfast.
It’s effortless for busy or productive people to skip lunch or eat mindlessly while working. Still, both of those options can decrease your productivity, even though it might seem like the only choice at the time. You may be able to work for hours without a break when you’re in the flow - deeply focused - but your brain will most likely not appreciate it.
Mindful eating is the opposite of this, and it happens when you put your full focus on what you are eating, savoring each mouthful and appreciating the moment rather than worrying about the next. It is a form of meditation that allows us to press the reset button over lunch (and every meal for that matter), helping us stay productive and focused all day. It also encourages us to consider what kind of foods we are consuming, where the food has come from, and that in turn contributes towards our health, fitness, and possibly happiness as well.
If you consistently get sluggish and unproductive in the afternoon, the cause is likely to be linked to your lunchtime diet. Be careful that you’re not overeating or consuming too many simple carbs and fats, which lead to energy slumps. As mentioned before, remembering to keep hydrated is also essential for our energy levels.
If you eat irregularly, your blood sugar levels dip excessively low in between meals. When you finally do eat, you are more likely to overeat, causing your blood sugar levels to spike. This yo-yo cycle in your blood sugar levels can seriously deplete our energy levels, making them unpredictable and in turn affecting our mood as well.
Having low energy when it’s needed, most can make life feel like a struggle. Eating smaller and more frequent meals, space out the body’s fuel supply more evenly. By eating regularly and consuming low GI foods, your energy levels fluctuate less dramatically, and your body stays energized. Eating healthy snacks between meals keeps your brain plugging away at full speed, ensuring maximum productivity is reached.
It is generally recommended that a substantial lunch is preferred for a big dinner. In the evening, it is just as important to relax and recharge your batteries. Eating something light before bed will allow for a more relaxed and deeper sleep.
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.
It feels that the old saying rings true more than ever. Let’s now take a look at some of the best foods you can turn to throughout the day to help keep your productivity at an optimum level.
Foods to nourish your mind and body
According to neuroscience research, dark-hued fruits and vegetables are the best foods you can consume to protect your brain against the effects of aging. Berries contain high levels of antioxidants, compounds that protect cells from damage by harmful free radicals that cause aging. By protecting your memory and other higher brain functions, you’ll enable yourself to be more productive every day.
One banana holds the amount of glucose your brain needs for a whole day, which is why starting your day with a banana will keep your mind sharp and functioning well. They are a quick and easy way to replenish your body’s depleted glucose levels when you’re on the go.
The nutrients found in aubergines keep your brain sharp by improving communication between brain cells and messenger molecules. It is important to keep the skin on when cooking this vegetable, as that is where the majority of the brain-feeding nutrients can be found.
Besides looking a lot like the human brain, walnuts can do great things to help keep you productive. They contain roughly 15-20% protein, as well as omega-6 and omega-3s fatty acids, vitamin E, and vitamin B6--all of which are important for the brain and overall health. They may also help correct serotonin levels that affect both your appetite and mood.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark greens have loads of nutrients, including iron, which helps blood flow and improves cognitive control. These include spinach, chard and kale as some of the favourites. They also contain vitamin K, which slows the brain deterioration that occurs with age. If a big salad doesn't sound that appetizing to you, it is possible to blend your leafy greens into a smoothie with a combination of coconut water, citrus, berries and a touch of maple syrup for sweetness.
Raw carrots have a low glycemic index helping to fuel the brain at a steady pace all day. Avoiding glucose spikes steadies your mood and keeps your mind clear, letting you focus on what’s most important.
The secret to productivity is keeping consistent blood flowing around the heart and through the brain. Avocados are a natural stimulant for that very reason. They are made up of healthy fat that tastes delicious and improves your overall focus by feeding your brain.
Sunflower seeds are a great brain-boosting snack. They not only impact your mental processing power, but they also help improve your overall mood. They're rich in thiamine, a B vitamin that increases cognitive function and memory. Skip the sweeties and reach for the sunflower seeds instead - your brain will be most appreciative!
Our diets have a much higher effect on our productivity than we even begin to realize. The wrong foods can severely impact anyone’s workday.
Whether it’s some dried fruit to boost your energy and brainpower after your mid-morning energy slump, or maybe you prefer to turn to an apple or banana instead; you maybe even choose to whiz it all up in a smoothie - the options are endless and making the right decision doesn’t have to be so daunting.
With the right preparation and attention it’s easy to use food to your advantage, assisting you in getting the most out of every day and your future too.