I am a huge believer in food being the solution to many problems. At the end of the day, we are living creatures and nutrition is what keeps us alive.
Yes, money makes the world go around and many of us strive for financial success, prestige and status.
Remember, however, nutrition is one of our basic physiological requirements. Maslow’s infamous hierarchy of needs even spells this out to us. Food is at the foundation of our being and it is part of what builds each and every cell in our bodies, including our brain cells and therefore our productivity in every aspect of our lives.
So why are we so blissfully ignorant of the connection between food and performance in our home and work lives?
It makes sense that the food we consume will impact on our quality of life, our focus, our energy and, ultimately, our performance.
Am I right?
We receive so many mixed messages about what to eat so it's no surprise that it is hard to know what to do and what not to do.
Our brain consumes around 20% of our daily energy intake so feed it with premium fuel. Optimal brain function requires a constant supply of glucose and fat. It's essential to look at the sources of these nutrients and consider whether they provide a stable, sustained and quality supply of fuel to the brain.
In the interest of giving you actionable lifestyle tactics, here are 7 foods that will boost your energy and productivity levels.
Put these on your shopping list and get to the supermarket. Pronto!
Good old spinach. Popeye’s favourite. It may not give you bulging biceps but spinach is said to enhance learning capacity, cognitive control and motor skills. It is high in iron, which is essential for the transportation of oxygen around the body and to the brain.
QUICK TIP: Add spinach as a side to your eggs in the mornings and start the day right. Fry an egg in olive or coconut oil and add a handful of baby spinach leaves to the pan. Cook until wilted and serve.
Phenylalanine. It’s hard to pronounce but just know that it is good for you and you can find it in almonds. Phenylalanine is one of the few substances that can cross the blood-brain barrier – a membrane which protects our delicate brains from chemicals in the blood and allows the transfer of necessary nutrients only. Phenylalanine stimulates the brain to generate neurotransmitters that boost our mood, alertness, creativity and concentration levels (dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline). Bonus – almonds also contain riboflavin to boost memory, plus good fat for brain health.
QUICK TIP: Keep a container of raw almonds nearby so you can snack on these when the mid-morning munchies creep up on you. A much better option that sugar-filled chocolate bars. Your brain will thank you.
Another favourite on the weekly shopping list. Salmon is fantastic for boosting memory and focus, as it contains omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron and B vitamins.
Omega-3 is said to have anti-aging effects on the brain’s structure and function, helping with cognition, memory and the prevention of mental health illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Around 60% of dry brain matter is composed of fatty acids so it's clear why omega-3 is so important.
QUICK TIP: Make a simple dinner of grilled salmon, brown rice and peas / kidney beans, and steamed broccoli on the side. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over your fish and veg for added nutrition and flavour. Balanced, a good mix of macronutrients and extremely satisfying.
Bananas contain the ideal amount of glucose required in the bloodstream to enable the brain to work at its best. That’s around 25g.
Bananas are also high in potassium, a mineral that helps the brain to transmit messages, assists the delivery of oxygen to the brain and keeps the mind sharp.
QUICK TIP: For breakfast, have a slice of multigrain toast topped with peanut butter (look for brands that contain 100% peanuts and no palm oil) and banana slices to keep your tummy happy.
Another favourite and an extremely versatile fruit (yes, it is a fruit). Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which help to promote healthy blood flow – essential for brain health and performance.
QUICK TIP: Smashed avocado on toast with a dash of lime, coriander, crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper. And maybe a tiny amount of sliced red chilli peppers for extra kick. Prepare in advance and make enough to last a couple of days – just make sure you squeeze enough lime juice and mix well to stop the avocado turning brown.
Eggs contain choline, a B vitamin that enhances reaction time and memory. Choline increases the size of neurons, improving the strength and speed of electrical signals.
QUICK TIP: Hard boil 5 eggs as part of your Sunday meal prepping for the week ahead. Then add to some baby spinach leaves for a quick and simple brekkie or snack option each day.
Referred to as a superfood, blueberries have a number of super benefits. They contain a high concentration of antioxidants (anthocyanins) that enhance motor coordination and memory. Studies show that they also help to reverse age-related declines in balance and coordination. So, eat berries to stay alert and youthful.
QUICK TIP: These are great in a green smoothie. Or you can graze through a punnet when you are hungry between meals. No mess, small and easy to eat.
And there you have it.
7 ways to boost your energy levels each day. Eat unprocessed, natural foods that give your body the nutrition it needs to function at its best.
You now have some insights into what to eat but remember that the above are just a few options to get started. Mix it up, introduce a variety of fresh veg into your meals and drink lots of water to keep your system working smoothly.
And what to avoid? Processed, sugar-laden and calorie-filled meals that will make you fall asleep by 3pm. Blood sugar spikes and slumps from unhealthy food choices will slow down your performance, your cognitive ability and your productivity.
Time to say goodbye to the chips, white bread, burgers, deep fried food and soft drinks.
Abigail Ireland is a high performance and productivity consultant with a background in corporate banking, strategy, business management and entrepreneurship. She is also a qualified personal trainer, Pilates instructor and nutrition coach.
Abigail takes a unique 360-degree approach to high performance and personal productivity, drawing on her business and wellbeing expertise to deliver targeted services for her clients.
For more information on Abigail’s consulting, training and coaching services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more atwww.abigailireland.com.