Think back to the most productive day you’ve had this week. What are some of the things you remember doing that boosted your productivity? Maybe you tuned out the world with some soulful jazz or took a break and walked around the block to get fresh air and a fresh perspective. But do you remember what you ate?
When we think about our productivity each day, our minds typically don’t jump to give our food choices a 5-star Yelp review for the role they played in keeping us efficient. For most of us, food just keeps our stomachs from growling awkwardly in a big meeting or prevents us from getting hangry. Well, as it turns out, that’s pretty far from accurate.
What you put in your body every day directly affects your mood, energy and overall cognitive performance, similar to how the gasoline you choose affects your car’s performance. Imagine living in a world where you could hop over to a BP station and choose fuel that either gives you the ability to avoid all traffic or fuel that only allows you to get around at a top speed of 15 miles per hour. Your choice of gasoline wouldn’t be so offhanded, so why is it that our weekday food choices are?
Breaking Down the Science
Intuitively, we know that when we eat a heap of French fries, creamy bowl of pasta or triple-stack burger, we’re probably going to drift away into a food coma shortly after getting back to our desks — leaving us useless until it’s time to clock out.
The short synopsis of why this happens is as follows: pretty much every morsel you consume is converted into glucose, which gives us the energy to stay focused. When our glucose “tank” hits low, we end up getting a distracted, can’t-focus feeling. And while that remains fairly obvious, the part we don’t pay much attention to is that our bodies don’t process all foods at the same rate.
Some foods, like the carby goodness that is a bowl of Alfredo pasta, will release their glucose quickly, which gives us a short burst of energy followed by a dramatic slump. Other meals that are high in fat, like cheeseburgers, will provide sustainable energy, but because our digestive system has to work harder to consume them, our body reduces oxygen levels in our brain to focus more energy on digestion, giving you that groggy, food coma effect.
Most of us know we shouldn’t be eating heavy, high-carb and fatty foods during the middle of the day, but when your glucose levels are low, your brain isn’t exactly functioning at its highest capacity. This leads to lack of self-control, which then leads to us picking meals that seem efficient — like a basket of fries.
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
These quick, efficient and cheap meals seem like a great idea in the heat of the moment when your body is starving for energy, but in the long run, we compromise our performance for the rest of the day. So, what can you do? It’s simple: if you fail to plan, plan to fail.
Full disclosure: I used to roll my eyes every time I saw some workout guru or productivity freak post that on Instagram or Pinterest. But, it’s the type of action plan you really need to integrate into your lifestyle to make sure you’re as efficient as possible. Here’s a few ways you can become more strategic about the “fuel” you’re putting into your tank:
If you’ve made it this far without rolling your eyes, I bet you did after reading that. I know, we’re all busy, it’s hard to make time to meal prep for a week. But think of it this way: the amount of time you waste feeling foggy because of a heavy midday meal could’ve been spent meal prepping instead. Setting time aside to plan meals for the week is a lifestyle change that will save you time, money and workday efficiency.
If you absolutely don’t have time to meal prep, or you’ve forgotten your lunch, plan out what you’re going to eat for lunch before you go out and get it. Studies show that we’re a lot better at resisting salty and fatty cravings if we plan ahead.
Instead of letting your glucose hit rock bottom before lunch time, graze on healthy snacks. You’ll perform better throughout the day because you’ll be avoiding peaks and drops in your blood sugar levels. Smaller, more frequent meals are the way to go if you’re looking to maintain a consistent glucose level for productivity.
Download a food tracker app like MyFitnessPal. Why? Well, the more cognizant you are about what you’re eating, the more you’ll hold yourself accountable. Most people think of food trackers as a fad to help lose weight, but for this purpose, understanding what foods put some pep in your step versus those that tend to slow you down, will help you maintain a level of all-day
Eating the right things can be hard, especially with the temptation that plagues us every day. But if you’re really serious about stepping up your productivity game, it may be time to take a step back and reassess the fuel you’re using to keep you going on a daily basis. Chances are you’ll not only feel more productive, but you’ll have more energy and see some changes in your overall health as well.
Want more tips on staying productive? Check out these articles:
- “Being Busy” is Counterintuitive: Here’s How to Prevent It from Ruining Your Productivity
- A Productivity Method to Make Your Next 30 Days More Productive Than Your Last 3 Months
- 8 Ways to Avoid a Midday Productivity Crash