Eating better food is important to keep the pounds from getting packed on and for maintaining energy throughout the day; we all know that. However, knowing and doing are two different things, and understand how eating healthy can optimize your performance in the workplace is important for success in many aspects of your life.
Performance eating focuses on helping you maintain your energy levels throughout the day and optimizing your brain function. Knowing not only what to eat during a workday, but also when to eat, will help you create better work product and avoid mental lapses that can hurt your job performance. We tell you how and why.
Eating Better Maintains Energy Levels
One of the goals of performance eating is to help you avoid starting to lag during the day. This is especially important if you work long days. If you regularly rely on coffee, candy bars or energy shots to make it through your work day, you’ve got a problem maintaining your energy. Performance eating will help you decrease your physical highs and lows, reduce your need for stimulants and help you avoid mid-day crashes.
Optimizing Brain Function
What if you make an error in a report you submit? Do you want your co-workers or competitors at other businesses submitting more creative work product than you? How do typos you don’t catch in texts and emails make you look to professional colleagues?
You’re probably aware of the studies that show that children who eat a good breakfast do better in school. That’s because your brain relies primarily on glucose (a sugar) as its main fuel source. When you have enough glucose, you have better cognitive function, which helps you do better work. When you skip breakfast, you deprive your brain of an adequate supply of glucose, therefore increasing the potential for brain lapses.
On a related note, when you eat dinner, your body starts burning through the calories (fuel) you just ate, continuing this process even while you sleep. If you skip breakfast the next morning, you’ll be going without re-supplying your body with fuel for up to 16 hours if you wait until lunch to eat again.
In addition to glucose, your brain benefits from protein. Protein stimulates the release of brain hormones known as neurotransmitters, which helps with alertness. That’s why eating better, and knowing when to eat, are so important to your brain functioning properly.
Optimizing Energy Levels
Like your brain, your body (specifically your muscles) needs an adequate fuel supply if you want to avoid feeling tired, sluggish and lethargic. You’ll need to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and crashing. This means you can’t go many hours without eating, or rely on simple sugars and stimulants to keep your energy levels from swinging up and down.
What To Eat
If you want to perform your best in the workplace, eating better will go a long way in doing this. This means you should primarily stick to non-sugary complex carbohydrates, some healthy fat and some lean protein.
Sugary carbs, also known as white carbs, include foods like white breads, potatoes, white rice and baked sweets (cookies, pies, cakes, pastries). Sodas, fruit juices and some fruits are also high in sugars. Pasta is actually not a high glycemic food because of the way your body digests it (slower).
When choosing carbs, pick veggies that represent the colors of the rainbow. If you’re having lunch out and want fish, opt for coldwater choices like salmon, tuna and mackerel rather than warmwater choices like tilapia and catfish.
A good combination for carbs and protein is 2/3 carbs and 1/3 protein. Add some healthy fats from sources like nuts, olive oil, avocado, eggs and coldwater fish. Eating fat reduces cravings cause by overeating carbs. Remember, carbs are not the enemy, too many junk carbs cause problems.
When To Eat
A good rule of thumb for eating better is to eat every four hours to maintain your fuel supply, avoid cravings that can lead to overeating, wanting junk foods, and to keep your blood sugar and energy levels more even throughout the day.
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Have a mid-morning snack and another snack around 3 p.m. Snacks not only help you maintain your energy levels, supply your brain with fuel and stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, they also help you avoid overeating at lunch and dinner.
Try to pair some carbs and protein to create your snacks, such as apples and cheese, nuts and pretzels or a yogurt cup with veggies or crackers.
Don’t Forget To Move
Your brain and body also need oxygen to do their work. Getting up and walking around the office, walking some stairs or doing a few exercises in your office will elevate your heart rate, increase your breathing rate and stimulate your circulatory system. It can also help release hormones that boost your energy levels.
Summing It Up
If you don’t want your body to spike and crash, don’t eat large amounts of food twice a day. Spread your calories out throughout the day — about every four hours — to keep your brain and body on an even keel and your performance at work at its best.
Eating better means adding complex carbs that mirror the colors of the rainbow, along with some healthy fat and some lean protein in your meals and snacks. Do this, then watch (and feel) how different your energy levels and performance improve.
Lead image via Getty