If you want your brain and body to perform at their energised best, they have to be fed the right kind of fuel. You wouldn’t put the wrong fuel in your car and then expect it to zoom off effortlessly. Yet we are potentially doing just that to ourselves each day and then questioning why we feel tired all the time or are struggling to concentrate.
In my first career in global telecommunication sales and management, my daily food choices were an afterthought. I would grab food when I could, and regularly swapped eating time for emails and meetings. My lunch breaks were few and far between. I survived some days on tea and biscuits provided in client meetings. At least it was some food, and surely skipping meals was a good thing as it meant fewer calories and that’s a good thing, isn’t it? The daily challenge wasn’t the role itself, but instead the energy for the role.
What if there was an easier way? Rather than just getting by, we could fly, powered by our food choices. As a corporate nutrition and performance coach, I invite you to see food as either potential brain fuel or potential brain fog, What, how and when you eat can have a profound impact on energy levels.
Here are four easy essentials, underpinned by the latest science, that could have a profound energising effect on your work day:
1. Lunch is not for wimps
Ditch the ‘al desko’
"Lunch is for wimps." Gordon Gekko defined the 1980s’ high-octane work ethic in the famous film Wall Street, with a phrase that cut through into mainstream culture. The sad thing is, it’s utter nonsense. Deliberately depriving your body and brain the nutrients you need to think properly, and surviving on coffee alone, doesn’t make you cool, it just makes you erratic. It certainly doesn’t make you better at your job. Take a lunch break, it’s an investment in your afternoon.
2. Don’t eat food with its own jingle
Eat food made from plants, not food made in plants
Steer clear of the jingles. What’s happened over the years is that the idea of being healthy has been hijacked by marketing people. They’ve adopted a two-step strategy to increase their profits:
- Tell us something is bad
- Tell us their product is low in the thing, or the alternative to the bad thing, and therefore the solution.
If food needs a marketing team to convince us it’s worth eating, it’s probably not worth eating.
3. Eat the rainbow
Banish the Beige
One of the simplest ways to ensure your plate is full of nutrients is to look at the colours on it. We’ve all heard of ‘eat your greens’, but what about all those reds, yellows, purples and oranges? Different-coloured vegetables tend to contain different nutrients, so a rainbow on your plate will help ensure you’re not missing anything out. Simply adding a handful of something colourful to an existing dish to ‘rainbow it up’ is enough to extend your range. Think a half a dozen cherry tomatoes, a handful of spinach, grated carrot or a forkful of sauerkraut. A few seconds of thought, but a massive energy upgrade.
4. Be prepared
You eat good food when you have good food in the fridge
One of the common problems with trying to lead a healthier lifestyle is that we’re busy. It can be hard to find easy, convenient options that are also nutritious. When you’ve been working all day, it’s late and you’re tired your willpower is down and the propensity to succumb to brain zapping food is at an all-time high. "Ninja" preparedness is all about thinking ahead. It’s like giving a gift to your future self, having good food in when you get home late or packed in your work bag/desk if you’re not. Don’t leave your future self in the lurch, as you will be as busy that day as you are now. Give your future self better quality options to set yourself up for more energy and resilience.
Work Fuel: The Productivity Ninja Guide to Nutrition by Graham Allcott and Colette Heneghan is published by Icon books (£8.99 paperback).
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