Most people reach a point in their day where they lose energy and focus at work. Some call it the 3:00 slump or afternoon fade. Did you know that your diet plays a role in the ability to focus during the workday? Here are a few nutritional habits that can boost your energy levels and help you feel more focused and have the added benefit of helping you control your appetite to prevent weight gain.
1. Eat breakfast. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that productivity drops a whopping 50 to 75 percent when you skip breakfast. Starting your day with a balanced breakfast that includes protein will help keep you energized for about five to six hours. Try an egg-white omelet with veggies. The choline in eggs a healthy fat that has been shown to boost brain function and that has a powerful effect on our memory. Skip the high-sugar morning treats such as muffins or donuts. You’ll likely be crashing within an hour or two because of the swings in blood sugar levels.
2. Step away from the sugar. When you experience stress, a dynamic is created in your brain in which dopamine is high and serotonin levels are low, creating an imbalance that feels uncomfortable. To compensate, your brain makes you crave sugary foods for a quick burst of serotonin. Unfortunately, however, the burst of energy that comes from eating sugar crashes very quickly, causing you to again lose your focus and concentration – and may ultimately cause weight gain because of the excess calories. Stock the work fridge with healthful snacks such as apples and peanut butter or hummus and carrot sticks. The carbs from the apple or carrots will boost serotonin levels and provide quick fuel, while the protein and quality fats in peanut butter or hummus will provide long-lasting energy.
3. Don't drink coffee on an empty stomach. Most workers first hit the coffee machine when they come into work, even before they tackle breakfast. Some may even skip breakfast entirely and instead drink coffee all day to sustain their energy levels. Don’t do it. Caffeine may at first feel energizing, but the benefit is short-lived says Noralyn L. Wilson RD, a spokes woman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Caffeine can deplete serotonin levels for up to eight hours. As a result, this will increase your stress as well as increase your sugar cravings, which, if indulged, will lead to more brain fog. If you're going to have coffee, first fuel up on food. It buffers the absorption of coffee, mitigating its effects.
4. Choose your lunch wisely. Eat too much at lunch and you may feel very lethargic in the afternoon while blood is diverted from the brain to the stomach for digestion. Eat too little, and hunger pangs will be very distracting t0 your work. It is best to eat a satisfying lunch with a variety of healthful foods, such as lean protein, plenty of vegetables, and a whole-grain carb source or a fruit. A fast food lunch is not a good choice because studies have found that high-fat meals lead to a decrease in learning and memory afterward.
5. Make water the beverage of choice. During the afternoon, you may hit a slump of energy that causes you to hit the vending machine for a soft drink or energy beverage. Reach for water instead. In addition to the before-mentioned sugar effect, sodas may affect the level of magnesium and calcium in the body, leading to a loss of several important minerals that the body (and brain) needs to function properly. Adequate water intake will also prevent dehydration that causes the brain to function less efficiently.
6. Choose your afternoon snack wisely. Try a handful of nuts which offer several nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids which may help with concentration and productivity. Yogurt is a good high-protein choice that can help you stay focused. Stay away from the candy bars and high-fat chips that tempt you when your ability to focus starts to wane in the afternoon.
These six simple shifts in your diet can make a big difference in your work focus and concentration. Remember also that a quick walk around the office or standing up to stretch can create a burst of energy as well!