When it comes to having a productive day at the office, what you eat matters. The food you’re putting in your body acts as fuel, keeping your brain alert and your body satiated so you can tackle whatever’s on your plate.
However, if you’re eating the wrong types of foods, such as those that are high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates that lack in fiber, you’re bound to feel a bit sluggish come that afternoon slump.
Here are the best and worst foods you can reach for during the day for a more powerful, focused day ahead.
This fiber- and protein-packed nut is great for your productivity. “A national survey of office workers reported that snacking on pistachios in the morning before lunchtime reduced hunger and increased focus,” says Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, co-founder of Neuro Coffee, a coffee made with coffee fruit that’ll also give you that brain boost.
“This may be due to the impact of pistachios on blood sugar, but also brain waves, as a previous study found that eating pistachios increased brain waves associated with learning,” he says. Get the ones that are in shells to slow down your eating and promote mindfulness.
“A breakfast high is protein has been shown to impact brain function in such a way that your brain is not as sensitive to cravings and temptations from foods like chips, pizza, and cookies,” explain Roussell. Plus, fewer cravings means a better focus at work, as you’re not constantly drooling over that box of donuts waiting in the office lounge.
Whip up two eggs over easy or make an omelet or breakfast sandwich to go. You can also eat hard boiled eggs at work for a snack to give that energy boost in the afternoon. Thanks to choline from the yolk and protein from the whites, you’re in tip-top shape.
This spice will really fire you up. “Ginger is known to improve brain function (among its countless other benefits) and is easy to incorporate into your day,” says Lyuda Bouzinova, co-founder of Mission Lean, ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist and Personal Trainer.
“You can drink it as a tea or add it to your smoothie,” she adds, or you can eat a little in a chewable form, take a supplement, or cook with it in your lunch of or snack. It goes great with green veggies!
“Oatmeal provides you with long lasting energy to power your brain and body for the rest of the day,” says Bouzinova. You’ll stay focused and energized for hours without getting hungry.
Add dried fruit and nuts to your oatmeal bowl or some nuts or nut butter for added protein. “The mixture of carbs and all natural fruit sugars (plus the healthy fat from nuts) gives your brain the perfect boost if you really need to focus,” she explains.
“Avocados have healthy fats that are good for your brain (if you need to solve analytical problems) and keep you full for hours. The best thing is that you can add avocado to virtually anything you may be consuming,” Bouzinova says. There is even avocado ice cream, if you need a treat that also will keep you sharp.
Worst: Energy drinks
“These drinks have loads of unnatural ingredients that are terrible for your health. There’s also high amounts of caffeine which may give you a boost, but you will experience a crash shortly after,” Bouzinova explains.
Also, if you consume this later in the day, you probably won’t be able to fall asleep and will definitely not have a productive day come morning. “The only way to keep going if you choose this route is to continue consuming coffee and energy drinks until you’re done with your task. However, your brain probably won’t be functioning very well—- and eventually neither will the rest of your body,” she says.
Worst: Energy Bars
“You might as well just eat a cookie and enjoy yourself! The ingredients in most of these bars aren’t much healthier than their taboo alternatives. With added sugars, syrups, oils, and other ingredients you can’t pronounce — energy bars are the health food marketers version of a candy bar,” Bouzinova says. That means they will give you a quick sugar high but then leave you tired and hungry.
However, check the label. Some protein or granola bars may be really good for you if they’re made with wholesome ingredients and are free of icky additives.
Worst: Candied Nuts
Normal, raw nuts that are unsalted are fantastic, but candied nuts are full of sugar, says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
“When you eat them, insulin is secreted by the pancreas, and insulin promotes fat storage in your body,” she says. Rampant sugar in your body not attenuated by fiber, fat, and protein will lead to dramatic energy highs and rapid energy lows, which can interfere with your productivity. You’ll feel wonderful for a bit, and then comes “the crash.”
“Eating this at lunch will make you feel heavy and lethargic— the very opposite of productive. A cheeseburger has tons and tons of saturated fat plus refined carbohydrates (the bad kind),” says Bouzinova.
Eating so much meat and cheese is also not doing anything positive for your digestive system, so you will likely be dealing with the aftermath of consuming these products instead of focusing on being productive.
“These little treats are a fixture at offices everywhere… but beware if you want to have a productive day. Muffins are loaded with sugar—and even though some have a reputation for being a healthy alternative to something like a cupcake, they’re not,” says Bouzinova.
“Your basic, medium sized, plain blueberry muffin has around 37g of sugar and 61 total grams of carbs. Muffins with even more sweet ingredients like chocolate have even more sugar,” she adds.
Like candy, these will give you a sugar high and crash while adding hundreds of empty calories without truly energizing you. Avoid these earlier in the day and if you absolutely must, take one home as a treat for dessert or split in half.