It’s been said that while we can’t change the number of hours in a day, we can change the energy we bring to those hours. Experience has taught me this is very true.
This is why I prioritise good quality (and quantity) sleep, and ensure I exercise every day.
But, I’ve also noticed I can tick both the sleep and exercise ‘boxes’ and still struggle to find the energy needed to concentrate and be productive when it comes to work. Especially in the afternoon.
When this happens, it’s because one crucial piece of the energy puzzle is missing – good nutrition.
Now, I suspect what you might be thinking right now is: ‘Yeah, that’s not surprising given it’s impossible to even know what good nutrition is these days’.
Is it eating Paleo?
Fasting two days a week?
Well, forget all those things. Good nutrition for a maximum energy day doesn’t require subscribing to any of the above.
Here are my eight best nutrition tips:
1. Start your day with two big glasses of water
This was part of a health challenge I did once and it made such a difference to my life, it’s now a habit: the very first thing I do when I wake up is head to the kitchen and have two really large glasses of water. I don’t try to knock them back in one minute. I spend 10-15 minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook while I drink. Those fluids seem to get my whole system going (in a good way) and I find if I forget to drink any other water over the rest of the day, it doesn’t matter.
2. Have a green smoothie for breakfast
If there is one great thing you can do for both your health and your energy levels right this second, it’s to stop having cereal for breakfast given most commercial breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar. (Incidentally, so are innocent choices such as rolled oats, Shredded Wheat or Weet-bix once we add sugar to them for taste).
The other problem with cereal is that none of them are designed to get you through to lunch without needing a snack/morning tea. So much so, we now think that needing a snack around 10.30am is normal.
Enter the green smoothie. The beauty of these, when made well, is that they tick so many boxes. The most basic recipes provide good fluids and 1-2 serves of vegetables. Add a good quality protein powder and some healthy fats and you now have a more ‘complete’ meal. One that can get you all the way to lunch once you break the habit of automatically heading to the biscuit jar at 10.30am each day.
3. Always take a lunch break
By this, I mean ‘get away from your desk at lunchtime’. Too many of us are eating lunch ‘al desko’– one hand holding a sandwich while the other taps away on the keyboard.
This isn’t great for our energy levels later in the day. It’s really important to move away from your desk and try to eat your lunch, indeed any food, in a mindful fashion. You only need 10 minutes. That 10 minutes you spend giving your brain a rest and ensuring it’s picked up on the fact that you’ve actually eaten? That will be repaid to you many times over in the afternoon.
4. Don’t buy your lunch from the lunch bar
This isn’t because there aren’t healthy options at that lunch bar. There probably are. It’s more because when you’re at a lunch bar and you get to choose between lovely delicious hot chips or the healthy salad, hot chips will generally win out. And then you’ll spend so much time berating yourself for your lack of willpower (when you get the hot chips) that you’ll struggle to get all your work done in the afternoon.
5. Understand that it’s ok to feel hungry
The ready availability of food in the modern world makes it very easy for us to ‘graze’ our way through the day. What this means is, (if you’re anything like me), the first murmurs of hunger will propel you to the pantry or fridge. The problem with this is the more food choices we have to make over the course of a day, the harder it is to make them all good ones. Also, if our stomachs are spending all day processing food – guess what? We’re going to feel sluggish and slow all day. So learn to understand the difference between peckishness and true hunger. If you’re eating three truly nourishing meals a day (more on that in a second), then any tummy rumblings that aren’t at your regular mealtimes are mostly likely puckishness – something that can be banished with a big glass of water.
6. Stop eating from packets
If something you’re eating is from a packet there is good chance it contains added sugar, preservatives and ingredients you can’t even pronounce. None of these things are good for your health – they adversely impact the way your body functions and anything that does that impacts energy levels too. So try and eat food you’ve made for yourself from scratch where possible and where’s it not possible, stick to packet foods that:
- Have less than 5% sugar
- Don’t contain preservatives
- Have a minimal number of ingredients
- Don’t contain ingredients with numbers or names you cannot pronounce.
7. Embrace good fats
Ah fat. The mortal enemy for as long as I’ve been alive (nearly 40 years). Thankfully, most of us have now caught up to the fact that it’s not fat that’s making us fat. It’s our penchant for eating packaged and processed foods that are high in sugar and other weird things (i.e., ingredients we cannot pronounce).
Why should you embrace good fats? There are heaps of reasons but the main one (in the context of what I’m talking about today) is they make you feel fuller for longer and stop you running to the fridge every hour on the hour.
How do you get more good fats into your diet? Eat full-fat dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter) rather than their low-fat alternatives. Add ¼ avocado and/or a handful of nuts to your salads. Make your own salad dressings from olive, macadamia or avocado oils rather than using commercial dressings. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to your green smoothie.
8. Time your caffeine hits for maximum effect
If you’ve been a coffee drinker for any amount of time, it probably has very little impact on your energy levels and mental alertness, (unless you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine). If you time your caffeine hits right, however, even the most habitual coffee drinkers can get a boost.
How do you do this? Well, rather than having a coffee first thing in the morning when your cortisol levels are naturally high, time it for mid-morning and mid-afternoon when they’ve taken a dip. But stick to just coffee or tea at those times. If you’re tempted to have a sugar-filled cookie at the same time, this will eradicate the energy boosting effect of your well-timed coffee break!
Good nutrition isn’t hard when it’s a habit
I’m not sure about you, but I grew up in the age of convenience. Which meant all my nutritional habits were built around foods out of a packet and the assertion that ‘I don’t have time to prepare fresh food/cook for myself’. Once I shifted my mindset and built better nutritional habits around the eight nutrition tips above, good nutrition actually became very easy.
Incorporate one a week for the next eight weeks and hopefully you’ll see both how easy it can be, and how worthwhile it is from an energy point of view.
Do you have any great energy boosting nutrition tips for a working day? Share them in the comments below!