Diet and Productivity in the Workplace

If anyone has experienced feeling exhausted mid-afternoon, particularly 2-4 hours after lunch, then read on. The general solution to mid-afternoon fatigue is coffee or energy drinks, but that just covers up an underlying problem that was caused by one’s choice in lunch.

The problem is that diet is very closely related to energy levels and while food is our energy source, there are different “grades” of food.

The fastest energy to “hit” the system and then cause exhaustion is anything with sugars or starches. Think Coke, bread, fries, candies and chips. Sure they’ll give you an almost instant boost but when that burns out (which is within 2-4 hours) one needs something to pick one up again, or or become exhausted. At this point, people will do coffee or have a sugary or starchy snack. (What is in those food dispensers? Candy bars, potato chips, soft drinks, etc, in most cases.)

What kind of lunches are causing these rollercoasters energy, leading to the mid-afternoon crash? 

Sandwiches and anything with fries, buns, pasta, bread, desserts and of course drinks with sugars, like soft drinks or coffee with sugar. Even 100% fruit juice is just a more natural version of the same thing - lots of sugar, to pep you up and then let you down again.

OK, so what to eat if you need to stay awake for the afternoon?

If you go to fast food restaurants, have the burger without the bun and fries and instead have a salad with your burger. Have water and squeeze a piece of lemon into it, or coffee without sugar.

Or, you can have a taco salad or a “sandwich” wrapped in lettuce. Most soups are OK if not loaded with potatoes, for instance.

Basically try to have some protein and non-starchy vegetables which are raw (as in salad) or cooked. If you go to a restaurant for lunch (or order in), then one idea is to look to see what their specials are and order them without the starches.

I’ve ordered a seafood pasta dish and asked for the sauce to be placed on top of a salad (with no dressing) instead of the pasta. You’d be surprised how good a salad “dressing” most pasta sauces can be! As I seem to need protein with every meal, I’ll make sure that the pasta sauce has meat or seafood in it.

If you order steak and have an option of two sides, you can pick non-starchy vegetables like broccoli or green beans. A salad is pretty safe as long as it doesn’t have sugary nuts in it for instance and the dressing isn’t obviously loaded with sugar.

What vegetables are starchy? Anything to do with potatoes (like fries, mashed or boiled), corn (including grits, corn chips or tortillas), bread, even whole grain, is full of starches.

Anything with alcohol should be avoided for lunch, as similar to sugar, alcohol will give you that quick hit of energy and then let you down again, which is just one reason not to drink alcohol when you are working.

If you are hungry mid-afternoon and need a snack, then go for something that isn’t sweet or starchy, like a few nuts (with no added fruit), hummus and vegetable sticks, cheese, deli meats, cucumbers or an unsweetened yogurt and add a few fresh berries.

This is not an article about correct diet, just what to have for lunch and mid-afternoon, so you can remain productive until dinner time, when hopefully your work is done for the day.