You may not even realise it, but what you eat during the day could be a large determining factor in your ability to concentrate and achieve your goals.
When we think of creating a working environment that is conducive to productivity, healthy snacks aren’t always our first port of call, but perhaps they should be.
The brain commands 20pc of your body’s resting metabolic rate. Because the brain is so rich in nerve cells, or neurons, it absolutely laps up glucose, and requires an almost constant supply since it has no mechanism for storing energy itself.
Glucose is necessary to facilitate the constant firing of signals going on inside your head every day. Your brain will consume large amounts of glucose when it’s dealing with mentally challenging work, and low glucose levels will quickly lead to cognitive impairment.
So, really, it doesn’t matter how distraction-free or ergonomic your working space is – if you’re not providing your brain with the energy it needs to work, you can kiss your dreams of a productive day goodbye.
It’s not just when you eat, but what you eat
Food certainly is fuel for the brain, but thinking of food as ‘fuel’ belies the fact that not all energy sources are created equal. A candy bar and a piece of fruit are both sources of glucose, but the latter is also vitamin-rich and contains blood glucose-stabilising fibre. Then again, people don’t really need to be told that fruit is better for them than sweets.
Armed with this knowledge, anyone serious about their work needs to get serious about the kinds of food they eat during the day, because unhealthy foods are going to have a deleterious effect on your ability to concentrate. Equally, allowing yourself to get too hungry will plunge your brain into a deep fog and sap your energy. The solution, therefore, is to keep yourself going by consistently eating healthy snacks.
I appreciate that this is definitely something easier said than done, between the constant pull of co-worker birthday cakes and the efficiency of just popping down to the vending machine for a bar of chocolate to help you power through. Not to mention the fact that it’s easy to forget to stop and eat while you’re on a roll.
The best workaround is to do some forward planning. It may be tempting to eat junk, but if you keep focus-aiding healthy snacks always at arm’s length, you’ll find that the sugar rush temptation will slowly melt away.
Healthy snacks to stow in your drawer
Your first priority should be finding non-perishable healthy snacks that you can keep right beside you for those moments when an urge to graze comes on rather suddenly.
Apples and clementine oranges can both be stored with relative ease inside a desk drawer. Bananas also work, but the combination of their slightly softer skin and the fruit-ripening ethylene gas they emit means they might be more work than they’re worth.
Dried fruit is also a handy desk option because it’s mess-free and will keep for a while in your desk. The thing to watch out for here is massive amounts of added sugar, which can take what is a good idea and turn it into sweets by another name. Dried cranberries, for example, generally have a lot of added sugar because the fruit itself is rather bitter.
Nuts are another great choice for desk snacking. You can go for whichever nuts you want really, but it’s best to avoid ones that are heavily salted or candied. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are also a great option for both sating savoury cravings and packing a nutritional punch.
You can also keep a jar of peanut butter or other nut butter in your drawer and then spread it on wholewheat crackers, apple slices, or even just eat it straight from the jar with a spoon (an unjustly maligned practice that we at Siliconrepublic.com thoroughly support). Honey is also a good accompaniment with crackers and apples, but you’ll have to moderate your consumption slightly due to its high sugar content.
Speaking of crackers, the only warning we’d give is to make sure to keep your keyboard far away from you while you eat them to avoid the embarrassing issue of having your P key give up because it’s filled with crumbs.
If you’re a tuna fan, tuna cans or packets also tend to have a long shelf life and also are packed with healthy oils and proteins. For convenience, try to find the ones that don’t require draining.
Finally, you can eat antioxidant-rich foods as well as satisfy a chocolate craving by keeping some dark chocolate bars beside you. Try to go for ones that are 70pc cocoa or above – it might seem very bitter if you’re used to milk chocolate, so you could throw it into a homemade trail mix of nuts, seeds and a couple of dried cranberries to ease yourself in.
Pre-made trail mix and granola also work, but again, be cognisant of the added sugar, which will send you on a high followed by a slump, which will affect concentration.
Fridge food to keep you going
Most offices have fridges (but be careful not to hog the limited space, which could lead you to being shunned by your co-workers).
A couple of key fridge items could elevate your daytime grazing to fortifying mini-meals. Bring some hummus, crudités, Greek yoghurt and berries into the office on a Monday and have them at your disposal for during the week.
It’s a win-win-win, really – you’ll likely save money, you’ll be kept well fed and nourished during the day, and you’re putting yourself in the best possible position to do the best job possible.