I’ve written about lots of factors that can impact productivity at home, like a streamlined workspace or a well-timed schedule. One other factor to consider is diet. The foods we eat (and drinks we drink) affect productivity. Here’s an overview of some scientifically-supported guidance on how to maximize productivity through food.
This Forbes article points out that your body is constantly allocating energy to its various tasks. This means that the food you eat can fuel your system, but it can also drain that energy right back out if it requires your digestive system to go into overdrive. Breakfast, so named because it breaks your “fast” during sleeping hours, sets your initial energy for the day. It’s important to plan breakfast wisely.
First, eat enough. Skipping breakfast may seem time-efficient in the short term, but eventually, having low blood sugar will drain your productivity way more than taking a few minutes in the morning to eat. It’s no surprise that this study found academic performance in school to be positively associated with good breakfast habits. After all, this study demonstrated that what you eat for breakfast can be closely linked to cognitive performance like short term memory and concentration.
Furthermore, not all breakfasts are created equal. This article lists some productivity-boosting foods to include in your breakfast, such as high-fiber carbohydrate options like oatmeal. It also suggests smoothie ingredients for those who aren’t inclined to eat a sit-down meal before lunchtime. I’ll say more on the value of these foods versus others later.
Throughout the workday, it’s critical to stay hydrated. This study found that even tiny levels of dehydration could be associated with measured decreases in cognitive performance, as evaluated via measures of attention, critical thinking, and memory. That’s no surprise if you’re familiar with the breadth of benefits linked to maintaining hydration. This article on hydration and productivity lists a myriad of important correlations between good hydration and markers of wellness. Hydration can impact sleep quality, facilitate focus, minimize stress and anxiety, combat fatigue, improve mood, prevent headaches, and help maintain a strong immune system, among other benefits. So, drink water! And don’t worry about low levels of caffeine intake disrupting your hydration. This meta-analysis of dozens of double‐blind, placebo‐controlled studies on the link between caffeine intake and hydration concluded that “low to moderate caffeine intake” yielded overall positive results for productivity and didn’t adversely affect hydration levels.
The Good Stuff
Back to that topic of not all breakfast foods being created equal. In general, eating throughout the day is important, but some foods are better fuel for the body than others. One category of foods found to have specific benefits to wellness is fruits and vegetables. This fascinating study discovered strong links between individuals’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and their self-reported “eudaemonic well-being.” What’s that? It refers to how meaningful and purposeful you find your life. This study suggests that if you’re feeling bored and burnt out, adding some fruits and vegetables to your diet may help you find meaning again. Plus, the study found that increased fruit and vegetable consumption correlated with increased curiosity and creativity, great traits to foster in the workplace.
Further, this article suggests some possible scientific explanations for those strong correlations. First of all, fruits and vegetables provide the body with nutrients necessary for the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to motivation. This may explain that link to eudaemonic well-being. Plus, antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are known to improve memory, so it’s no surprise that higher levels of fruits and vegetables in your diet will correspond to improved productivity.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
Not surprisingly, there are also certain foods known to negatively impact productivity throughout the day. One of the biggest culprits is foods high in carbohydrates and sugars. As this article points out, carbohydrates affect your levels of tryptophan and tyrosine, which in turn increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter you might recognize for its infamous role in making you sleepy. This article explains that these foods are converted into glucose very quickly by the body, leading to a quick boost in energy followed by a challenging midday slump. Another category of foods that contributes to sleepiness during the workday is fatty foods. These require a lot of energy for the digestive system to process. While your energy is being funneled towards digestion, oxygenation levels in your brain decrease, making you more sleepy and less productive. That’s not at all how you want to feel in the middle of a productive day.
Strategies and Solutions
In light of all this knowledge, psychologist Ron Friedman, whose work focuses on research-backed strategies for success in the workplace, has some practical tips for improving your diet during your workday. As he writes in this article, the best thing to do is to make choices about what you will eat before you get hungry. That’s because self control and informed decision making decrease as blood sugar levels drop, as evidenced by this study. Choose healthy foods that will boost your productivity in advance. Then, keep them accessible near your work space during the day. That way, as you snack and replenish your energy levels, you’ll be reaching for foods full of nutrients and avoiding common pitfalls that could drain your motivation right in the middle of your workday. Make smart choices in advance and fuel your mind well. Happy snacking!