Eating for Maximum Productivity, spring 2001

With today's busy schedules and long work hours, it's important to keep in mind that you're only human. Your body is a machine that will thrive with proper maintenance, and break down if you forget to fuel it properly. The trick to keeping that engine of yours purring is to eat regular, small meals with a variety of nutrients.

Skipping breakfast is a common--and unhealthy--habit. When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you need to do is fuel up. Think about it--you probably ate dinner the night before at around six or seven. Most likely it's been 11 or 12 hours since your body has had any food. You're making things pretty hard on your brain, which needs a constant supply of carbohydrates to function. And eating lunch and dinner are just as important. Sure, you can probably get through that important meeting on caffeine and stress hormones, but can you really get any work done?

The secret to sustained energy--and keeping control of your weight, incidentally--is to eat more frequent meals. Like the rest of us, you've probably had the experience of eating a large meal at lunch, only to find yourself nodding off at your desk afterwards. That's because large meals force your body to use precious energy stores for the huge task of digestion. Blood rushes to your gut, robbing the rest of your body of oxygen and nutrients.

Instead of a cheeseburger lunch that turns you into a zombie for the rest of the day, try a series of small, more frequent meals. Eating more often can keep your digestive system humming along steadily and your energy level consistent.

This permission to snack doesn't extend to scarfing down donuts, though. Coffee, candy and other common office snacks will only give you a brief energy boost. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, but it doesn't contain calories, which are your body's fuel. And sugar breaks down quickly in your system, giving you only a brief pick-me-up.

The key to consistent energy and maximum productivity is planning. Before you go off to work in the morning think about what you will eat over the course of your day. Prepare snacks from a variety of different food groups--not just starchy favorites like pretzels and crackers, whose processed carbohydrates are broken down almost instantly, giving you only a brief energy burst.

Instead, try fiber, protein and fat, which take longer to digest. Snacks such as nuts, fruit and yogurt will even out your metabolism, protect you from energy highs and lows and keep that engine humming like a well-oiled machine.