Today’s work environment is a demanding and competitive place, so it’s important to make sure that you can perform at your best.
What you eat can have a profound effect on your ability to perform because it influences energy, mood and the capacity to concentrate, remember and learn.
One of the most important things to avoid is the blood sugar rollercoaster. If you eat the wrong foods or don’t eat at the right intervals you may begin to feel shaky, irritable, tired and experience food cravings. That is the time when most people grab for sugary snacks, junk food or a coffee.
This might resolve the problem in the short term, but very soon you will come crashing back down to where you started. These are blood sugar highs and lows when you constantly need to eat something to correct the situation, hence the blood sugar rollercoaster. This can profoundly affect energy, mood, concentration and how you might react in stressful situations.
There are however ways to avoid this, if you take charge and put some thought and planning into what and when you eat throughout the day.
Don’t skip meals and most importantly not breakfast which sets you up for the day; you cannot focus or function if you’re running on empty. Plan your day to have three meals and two snacks; one mid morning and one mid afternoon.
Alternatively have five or six small meals per day if that suits you better. This will prevent your blood sugar from dipping too low between meals and satisfy the energy demands of your brain.
Eat foods that keep you fuller for longer and provide a slow release of energy rather than a short sharp spike. This is achieved by including protein with each meal and snack from sources such as fish, eggs, poultry, beans, pulses, quinoa, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates should be wholegrain versions and eat plenty of vegetables, pulses and whole fruits. Healthy fats are essential, including foods such as oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Oily fish such as sardines and salmon are rich in omega-3 and contribute to the normal functioning of the brain.
Healthy breakfast examples are eggs with wholemeal toast or porridge topped with nuts, seeds and cinnamon. Mid morning and afternoon snacks should consist of something like a small handful of nuts with dried fruit or raw carrots with hummus.
The ‘food coma’ or energy slump after lunch is a common problem, caused by over eating or consuming foods that quickly break down into glucose, including refined carbohydrates of white bread and pasta.
Keep lunches healthy and light, such as soup, varied salads or a vegetable omelette (if eggs weren’t eaten for breakfast). Meals should contain a good combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Drinks are important and good hydration not only prevents irritability, it also helps to prevent hunger. Caffeine is a stimulant that makes immediate energy demands on your body and this can be detrimental to your energy levels over the long term, contributing to the blood sugar rollercoaster.
Moderate your intake and recognise if you are using it as a crutch to get through the day. Change for decaffeinated versions, better still are herbal and fruit teas, red bush tea (rooibos) and green tea. Green tea has lower levels of caffeine but is also packed with healthy antioxidants.
These are a few small changes that can ensure you are well balanced, improve your resilience to stress and provide the required energy and focus to perform well throughout your working day.
Zoe Rowlandson is a nutritional therapist at Nuffield Health.
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