Nutrition affects our performance overall, which includes our performance at work. If you’re trying to take your career to the next level, you may want to fuel up right. It turns out, you CAN eat your way to a promotion…
Sophie Dillon is the in-house nutritionist at Fresh Fitness Food. “A study was carried out by Health Enhancement Research Organization, Brigham Young University and the Center for Health Research at Healthways. It was published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Representing 20,114 employees, it revealed a distinguished link between good nutrition and improved cognitive function,” she says. “In fact, it found 25% of employees who choose to eat healthily throughout the day are more likely to have a higher job performance rate, and the rate of absenteeism amongst employees who eat healthily and exercise regularly is 27% lower than their undernourished peers,” she says.
Here are Sophie’s top tips.
Prep your meals and snacks for the day. This is important for two reasons: Firstly, it frees up space in your head so you can focus on work, and there’s no need to think about what you’ll have for lunch because you’ve got that sorted. There’s a reason Steve Jobs used to wear the same black jumper everyday – that’s one less decision to make. Boring but efficient. Secondly, it ensures you won’t get hungry and grab the first thing in sight, as you’ve left nothing to chance. So when you go and get your coffee you’ll be less tempted to grab a chocolate bar on the way out because you have a healthy snack ready and waiting for you.
2. Eat your carbs
We’re not talking about the highly refined ones here. In a balanced diet there’s certainly room for some sugary treats now and then but in order to stay productive you want to make sure to get your veggies, fruits and complex carbs in first. All carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and this is our brain’s favourite energy source. Simple carbs are broken down quickly and make your blood sugar levels spike and crash. Complex carbs release glucose slowly and provide a long lasting, steady supply of fuel for your brain. The brain works best with approximately 25g of glucose in the blood stream, this just so happens to be the average amount of glucose in a banana. Coincidence or luck?
3. Avoid processed foods and go for whole foods
Processed foods are often created to make you eat as much as possible without feeling full. They are not satiating, provide little nutritional value and only increase the crave. So go for whole foods and make sure you consume a good portion of each macronutrient, protein, carbs and fat. Whole foods also provide a wide array of micronutrients: vitamins, minerals and fibre. Here are some examples of whole foods you can add to your meal prep to keep your body and mind healthy and functioning at its best:
Mackerel is the richest fish source of omega 3. This is a polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) which is the ‘healthiest’ form of dietary fat. Diets rich in fish containing omega 3 have been linked to improved concentration and memory.
The yolk contains a fat like B vitamin called choline. This choline promotes the release of certain neurotransmitters which helps improve our memory and reaction times.
When we eat chocolate our brain releases endorphins. These endorphins have been proven to boost our mood and give us a feeling of euphoria. It is well known that happy employees tend to be more productive when compared to those stressed/sulking/tired. Go on, break off a square or two… (just make sure it is at least 70% cacao).
In the deep purple skin of an aubergine you will find a phytonutrient called nasunin. It is this plant based compound that contains powerful antioxidant properties, which protect the membranes of our brain cells. This, therefore reduces the risk of free radical damage.
Research suggests the flavonoids (a form of antioxidant) present in blueberries might aid memory, learning, decision making, numerical ability as well as many other cognitive functions. And this is not the only superpower these fruits hold. Ongoing research shows a negative correlation between flavonoid consumption and age related cognitive disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
4. Take a break and switch off
How many of us spend our breaks staring at a screen? Staring at a screen is still stimulating your brain, even if you aren’t doing anything complicated. Our willpower works like a muscle and is prone to fatigue when overstimulated. That is why sleep is important, but also regular breaks throughout the day. Take a break and go for a walk, chat to a colleague or do some exercise. The added benefit of exercise is that it has been shown to have a positive impact on our mental health, especially exercising outside in nature. New research explores the use of exercise to treat mental disorders like depression with good results. So why not go for a run in the park on your lunch break. By the time you get back to your work you’ll feel more energetic and able to focus again.
Water is probably the most underrated nutrient there is, but in fact, our brains are mostly water. Now there’s no need for everyone to drink 8 cups per day, as our hydration requirements depend on individual body size and composition, as well as how much water you lose either through sweating from exercise or the recent hot weather for example. 2.5 litres for men and 2 litres for women daily is a good starting point but that doesn’t mean you need to drink 2 litres water. It’s the total amount of fluid that counts. The fluid in your coffee, but also fluid in food counts towards this total. However, if you are thirsty you’re already dehydrated. So keep a bottle of water on your desk and keep it in your sight. If it’s in front of you, you’re more likely to drink.
When it comes to optimal performance, whether this is physically or mentally, nutrition will always play a key role. Fuel your body with the right foods and adopt certain habits to put you in the best possible position to smash your tasks for the day and show your boss you deserve that pay rise.
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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.