What You Eat Affects Your Productivity
Most people have their productivity hacks that they rely on to keep their workplace performance high.
Surprisingly enough, most of these people do not take what they eat into consideration when thinking about how to improve their workplace productivity.
For most people, food is simply the fuel they need to power them as they plough through the workday.
However, this simplistic view of food as fuel is a bit misleading.
When you fuel your car, it doesn’t matter whether your fuel your car at Shell, Mobil, Exxon, or BP, you will still get the same level of performance from the car.
This is because the role of fuel is simply to power your car, regardless of the brand. If fueling at Shell meant you could drive faster than someone who fueled at Exxon, you would probably never fuel at Exxon.
Unlike the fuel for your car, however, the kind of food you opt for affects your performance.
This is because different foods have different characteristics and different effects on your productivity.
Therefore, it is important to consider what you eat when looking for ways to boost your productivity.
This idea that food affects your productivity is not mere speculation.
According to a report by the WHO, proper nutrition can improve your productivity by about 20%. Another study published by influential psychologist Roy F. Baumeister in his book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength also supports this view.
In the study, schoolkids were instructed not to take breakfast before going to school. Once at school, the kids were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given a healthy breakfast while the other group did not get any breakfast.
The results from the study showed that the children who ate a healthy breakfast had higher learning patterns and less behavioral problems compared to those who got no breakfast.
In a control experiment, when the group that had not eaten breakfast was given a snack, they started showing improved results.
While the experiment was done on children, it also applies to adults at the workplace.
What you eat has a huge effect on your productivity, and therefore making sure that you eat right can be a great way to boost your performance.
But how exactly does the kind of food we eat relate to how we perform at work?
To understand this, let’s take a look at a few ways through which food affects our bodies.
SUGAR AND THE BRAIN
The first reason why food has an impact on your productivity at work is because food directly affects your brain and therefore your cognitive performance.
All the cells in our body, including the cells in the brain, rely on glucose – a form of sugar – for energy.
Since the brain is involved in running and regulating most body processes, and since it cannot store its own energy, it needs a constant supply of glucose.
Actually, the brain accounts for more than half of your body’s energy requirements.
When you are thinking critically, concentrating on a work project, or working on something else that is cognitively demanding, your brain demands even higher levels of glucose.
When the levels of glucose in your body become low, your body has to compete with the rest of the body for the available glucose.
To ensure that it is able to maintain its high level of activity even when your glucose levels are low, the brain does two things; first, it starts getting its glucose needs directly from the blood instead of its cells.
Second, it limits the amount of glucose that is available to the rest of the body. While the rest of the body (such as the heart, the liver, and muscles) can use other sources to create energy, such as fatty acids, the brain can only use glucose.
Despite this attempt to ensure it gets as much glucose as necessary, a dip in glucose levels also results in some areas of the brain getting less glucose than necessary.
This can lead to an impairment in some cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and learning.
It’s also good to note that low glucose levels are not the only problem. Studies show that excessive levels of glucose in the body can also lead to impairment of cognitive functions.
Therefore, this means that you should not flood your body with glucose, since this can affect your productivity.
Having seen the link between glucose and your brain, what does this mean for your nutrition if you want to remain productive? Once again, let’s take a look at what happens when you eat.
When you eat food, the digestion process breaks this food into its basic components.
Some of these components, such as fats and proteins, are used to for things such as dissolving micronutrients and rebuilding body tissues, while the remaining get broken down into glucose to provide energy.
Components like carbs are immediately broken down into glucose since they have no other purpose in the body.
This glucose from the food you have just eaten then provides your brain with the energy it needs to stay alert and work on cognitively demanding tasks.
This is why you might find it a bit difficult to concentrate when you are hungry, because the glucose levels in your body are low.
Now, if eating leads to an increase in the glucose levels in your body, why did I say that different foods affect your productivity in different ways? Well, here is the thing.
While all foods provide your body with energy, they are all not processed at the same rate. Some foods are processed a lot faster than others.
For instance, foods like soda, bread, pasta and cereal are easy to process. They get converted into glucose easily and give you a quick burst of energy.
Unfortunately, this also means that the glucose in these foods will get depleted very fast, and you will experience a slump in energy within a short time.
Other foods, such as cheeseburgers and other high fat foods, take longer to convert to glucose. This means that they will provide you with energy for much longer.
Unfortunately, since they are harder to process, this means your digestive system has to work harder.
This uses up a lot of the oxygen in your blood. The less oxygen getting to your brain can make you groggy and lethargic.
Yet other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, take more time to process compared to simple carbohydrates like bread and pasta, yet they do not require your digestive system to work very hard.
Such foods provide you with a steady supply of glucose without leaving you feeling tired and lethargic.
These are the kinds of foods you should opt for if you want to maintain a steady schedule of work.
NUTRITION AND COGNITION
We have seen above that poor nutrition and poor eating habits affect your brain’s energy levels, which can lead to reduced productivity.
However, this is not the only way poor nutrition affects your brain.
You might have noticed that you tend to be more irritable after eating processed foods. With time, poor eating habits can increase your risk of suffering from anxiety and depression.
For people already struggling with mental health disorders, the symptoms might get worse when they don’t eat properly.
Of course, this increased irritability and the increased risk of anxiety and depression can make it harder to concentrate at work, thereby affecting your productivity.
Aside from affecting your energy levels and mood, poor nutrition is also bad for your creativity.
If you work in an environment where you constantly need to tap into your creativity, you should opt for foods with vitamin C (citrus fruits, bell peppers, berries, and so on), Vitamin E (nuts, vegetable oils, etc.), folate (greens, beans, meet, and so on), and omega-3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and so on.)
LOW BLOOD SUGAR IS LINKED TO LOW SELF CONTROL
Your productivity is closely tied to your level of self-control and willpower.
To remain productive at work, you need to be able to keep working even when you don’t feel like it, even when there are other things vying for your attention.
What you might not be aware of, however, is that your self-control is also linked with your eating habits.
Various studies, including this study by a graduate from the Florida State University show that the glucose levels in your body are closely related with your ability to exercise self-control and resist the temptation to do the fun thing instead of the right thing.
In other words, when your body is low on glucose, it becomes harder for you to do tasks that require self-control and willpower, such as concentrating on a project at work. Of course, this can significantly impact your productivity.
TIPS ON HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY THROUGH PROPER NUTRITION
Having seen how what you eat affects your productivity at work, below are some tips on how you can ensure that your productivity remains high throughout the day through proper nutrition.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast
Mornings are one of the busiest times of the day, and the time when most of us focus on our most important tasks of the day.
If you want to be energetic and productive in the morning, you should start by eating a healthy breakfast before you leave home. Research shows that consuming a healthy, nutritious breakfast leads to a spike in levels of alertness.
This is because a nutritious breakfast fuels your body and gives you a steady supply of energy during these crucial hours.
On the other hand, an unhealthy breakfast, such as a grab-and-go donut, can make your mornings lethargic and unproductive.
So, which is the best kind of food to eat in the morning in order to have a productive and energetic day?
You should go for foods that have a high fiber content and are rich in carbs. These kinds of foods have been shown to lead to high levels of alertness.
These foods will also provide you with a steady supply of energy, allowing you to remain productive between breakfast and lunch.
One study even found that consumption of cereal in the morning is associated with lower levels of fatigue, emotional distress and depression, as well as fewer cognitive problems, a greater level of general alertness, and fewer bowel problems.
Examples of foods that are rich in carbs and have high fiber content include whole grains, which can be found in bagels, crackers, certain hot or cold cereals, rolls, and some low-fat bran muffins.
While some natural health circles encourage the consumption of high fat foods for breakfast, some studies indicate that the satiating power of fat-rich breakfasts is a bit low compared to other kinds of breakfast foods.
This means that you might find yourself heading to the workplace kitchen or snack bar by 10 am if you ate a fat-rich breakfast.
Therefore, instead of high-fat foods for breakfast, you should opt for low-fat proteins, such as peanut butter, hardboiled eggs, plant proteins like tofu, nuts, and hemp seeds, as well as lean meat.
Low fat dairy products like skim milk, low fat cheese and low fat yoghurt are also a good option. Fruits and vegetables are another great option for a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
Avoid Skipping Meals
Sometimes, we get so busy at work that we end up skipping a meal like lunch in an attempt to be as productive as we can. Ironically, doing this can actually reduce your productivity, and you should therefore avoid it.
When you skip lunch, sure, you might do some extra work in the half hour it would have taken you to eat lunch.
Unfortunately, later in the day, your energy reserves will be lower, and this will impact your productivity, therefore defeating the purpose of skipping lunch.
Aside from trying to be get in some more work, some people also skip lunch because they assume that doing so might help them lose weight.
Unfortunately, your body finds a way to compensate for the meals you skipped, which might lead to an increase in fat deposits within the body.
Carry Packed Lunch or Plan Ahead
Most of us know the importance of eating healthy food and its effect on our productivity.
Surprisingly, however, most of us do not make smart decisions when it’s actually time to eat. This can be attributed to a number of reasons.
First, most of us wait till we are hungry before deciding what to eat. Unfortunately, at this time, our energy levels are at their lowest.
This in turn affects our self-control and our ability to resist unhealthy foods. This is why mozzarella sticks and French fries are so appetizing when you are hungry.
Aside from the decreased levels of self-control, unhealthy lunch options are usually faster to get and cheaper compared to healthy alternatives.
This makes choosing the unhealthy food options an easier choice, especially when you are very hungry.
Problem is, while you might save 10 minutes or a dollar, you will pay for it with a lethargic performance later in the day.
The best way to avoid the temptation to go with an unhealthy option for lunch, or even to skip lunch, is to carry packed lunch to work. Since you will need to prepare your packed lunch before you leave for work, you are more likely to ensure your lunch is comprised of healthy foods.
Good options to pack for lunch include sandwiches on whole grain breads, wraps, and pitas, coupled with fillings like lean meats (such as chicken or turkey), sliced eggs, tuna, and so on, and spreads like hummus.
Salads are also a great option, provided you keep away the dressing from the leafy greens. You can also pack some additional snacks, such as apples, bananas, granola bars or almonds to keep you energized throughout the day.
If you are not in a position to carry packed lunch, you should decide what you are going to have for lunch long before lunch time.
This way, you are less likely to get tempted by unhealthy junk foods once you get to the workplace canteen.
Be Wary About Caffeine
Coffee is a very popular drink. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, just under two thirds of American adults (64%) drink coffee every single day, while the average coffee drinker takes 2.7 cups of coffee per day.
Much of the popularity of coffee in America stems from the fact that a lot of people use the caffeinated beverage as a pick-me-up before or during work.
Coffee is associated with reduced fatigue, increased levels of energy, and increased alertness and focus, and therefore most people drink it hoping it will improve their productivity.
For the most part, they are right. Coffee can help improve your productivity. Normally, as the neurons in your brain fire throughout the day, they produce a chemical known as adenosine. The higher the amounts of adenosine, the more lethargic and drowsy you feel.
When you take coffee, the caffeine in the coffee enters the A1 receptors, which are normally responsible for monitoring the levels of adenosine in your brain.
In other words, caffeine blocks these receptors from monitoring the levels of adenosine and triggering sleep and drowsiness. Therefore, you are less likely to feel tired and lethargic.
With the adenosine receptors blocked, the neurotransmitters glutamate and dopamine, which are the brain’s natural stimulants, have nothing to regulate them, and therefore they have more freedom to perform their stimulating function.
This is the reason behind the effect you feel after downing a cup of coffee. The decreased regulation of dopamine and glutamate can also boost your memory and cognitive function.
While caffeine can make you more productive as we have seen, this depends on the amount of caffeine you consume. Too much of it can make you anxious and jittery, thereby making you distracted and unable to concentrate on your work.
In addition, too much caffeine, especially late in the day, can disrupt your sleep schedule.
The resulting lack of enough sleep can lead to cognitive impairment and end up affecting your productivity at work.
Include Brain-Enhancing Foods In Your Diet
You can also increase your productivity by including brain-boosting foods in your diet. There are lots of different foods that are good for your brain. For instance, regularly eating avocados can help improve your cognitive function, while broccoli can help enhance your memory.
Eggplant enhances the interaction between your brain cells and neurotransmitters. Adding extra virgin olive oil to your salad dressings can also help strengthen your brain.
Some types of protein are also good for your brain. Protein sources like salmon are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for the health of your brain.
When eating eggs, do not remove the yolk, which is rich in choline. A study by researchers from Boston University found that regular intake of choline was linked to improved performance in certain kinds of memory tests.
You should also opt for snacks that are good for your brain’s health, such as dark chocolate, almonds, and walnuts. Dark chocolate enhances the circulation of blood in the brain.
To get the greatest benefits of dark chocolate, you should opt for milk-free chocolate that has a high percentage of cocoa.
Almonds are a great source of energy, while walnuts can enhance your level of mental alertness.
To most people, food does not come to mind when they think about productivity at the workplace. However, as we have seen, food can have a huge impact on your productivity.
Food provides your brain with the energy it needs to handle cognitively demanding tasks.
Some kinds of foods also have various brain-boosting capabilities, such as enhancing your cognitive function, boosting your memory, increasing your levels of alertness, and so on.
Therefore, if you do not have healthy eating habits, you should start making some of the changes discussed above and you will definitely see some improvement in your productivity at work.
Like changing most other habits, don’t expect to make a complete turnaround overnight.
Instead, make one change at a time, get used to it, and then move to another, and eventually, you will find that you have replaced all your unhealthy eating habits.
Taking it step by step also increases your chances of sticking through with the changes.