How You Eat Affects How You Work

By Sherry Baker and Temma Ehrenfeld @SherryNewsViews
September 21, 2022
How You Eat Affects How You Work

Skipping breakfast or lunch is a bad idea for your workday. The food you eat, or don’t eat, can directly influence your mood, thinking ability, and performance.

You get a good night’s sleep and arrive at your office well- prepared and confident. Today’s the big day for your presentation.

On those big days, it turns out, you need to be especially careful about what you eat and drink, as your diet can alter your performance.


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It’s not a new idea that what you put into your body can slow you down or speed you up. Consider coffee. A cup or two in the morning helps you not only wake up but also think more clearly. Scientists have confirmed that coffee is, in fact, a cognitive enhancer that keeps you alert and helps concentration.

But if you drink cup after cup of coffee, you could overload yourself with caffeine and end up with a headache and feel anxious.

The amount of caffeine you tolerate without feeling jittery depends on personal tolerance, but the Food and Drug Administration says 400 milligrams a day — equal to four or five cups of coffee — is the max. Cola counts, too.  

The food you eat, or don’t eat, can also directly influence your mood, thinking ability, and work performance. If you skip breakfast and maybe lunch, you can run low on glucose, which your brain needs to stay focused and alert.

Grabbing a sugary doughnut or processed cereal for breakfast or during a coffee break will give you a quick release of glucose from these foods. That will make you feel energetic for a short while, but you’ll soon experience an energy crash as your glucose levels fall.

What you eat at lunch can also determine how clearly you think as you tackle work in the afternoon. If you opt for a high-fat midday meal, like a cheese-rich dish or bacon burger, you’ll have more sustained energy than if you eat a high-carb meal like pasta. Your digestive system, however, works harder to process high-fat food — which lowers oxygen levels in your brain and can make you long for an afternoon nap, according to Ron Friedman, PhD, author of “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.”

A more balanced meal, like a salad with grilled chicken, makes better sense.

Unfortunately, just having this information doesn’t mean you’ll follow the expert advice, especially if you are tired and hungry. That’s when glucose levels plummet, self-control typically flies out the window, and grabbing a bag of chips or a quick milkshake becomes awfully tempting.

A study from the University of Waterloo in Canada suggests a healthy lifestyle may boost activity in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with not only solving problems but also keeping automatic, knee-jerk reactions in check.

Engaging in areobic exercise not drinking alcohol to excess, and getting sufficent sleep are proven methods to maximize the strength of the prefrontal cortex, noted researcher Cassandra Lowe, a postdoctoral fellow at Western University.

The result can be better self-control when you are tempted to wolf down a doughnut for a quick burst of energy that will later make you groggy.

Try to keep temptation away; do not buy donuts or avoid the plate of cookies in the office kitchen. Beyond that common-sense step, “the key is to keep your brain in shape, so that you are up to the task when you encounter temptations. Let's face it, they are everywhere," said Peter Hall, PhD, senior author.  

Perhaps the most important way to eat for a successful workday is to plan ahead.

Don’t wait until you are starving to reach for food. Make it a routine to get a salad with a protein at a standard lunch time.

It makes sense to have carrot sticks or an apple on hand, too. A study from the University of Otago in New Zealand concluded eating fruits and vegetables can help you have a better, focused, and more successful work day.  

Volunteers monitored what they ate and recorded their behaviors and mood over the course of about two weeks. The researchers analyzed the results and found those who ate more fruits and vegetables were not only happier but also felt more creative and engaged in their work.

The scientists theorized the antioxidants in the healthy snacks soothe inflammation in the body, boost mood, and improve memory. They also noted that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that increase the production of a neurotransmitter, dopamine, linked to feeling motivated, curious, and engaged in activities, including work.


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September 21, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN