The saying ‘you are what you eat’ is so true – but it’s hard to think about yourself when you’re running and growing a business. Anything will do, so long as it’s fuel. However, just as your car would splutter and grind to a halt if you filled it up with the wrong fuel, your body will do the same.
Time and time again I see businesspeople struggling to function and, more often than not, the underlying cause is that they’re malnourished. They might grab a healthy breakfast at 6am, but then graze for most of the day as they dash from meeting to meeting.
They hit the gym on their way home and finally fill up with a heavy meal at 9pm, just before slumping into bed and starting the cycle all over again the next day. This routine increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Being responsible for a business doesn’t mean you should put your own needs on hold, though. The nutritional choices you make will impact your cognitive ability, emotional
state and capacity to cope – and, ultimately, your performance.
As the leader of your business, you also set an example that others will follow. Healthy eating habits across your company will improve energy, mood, memory and concentration, and reduce sick days.
What’s not to like about something that enables people to perform at their best and has a positive impact on your bottom line?
If you want to operate at your peak, just a few simple rituals woven into your day will allow you to remain nourished and resilient.
So many people skip breakfast, but you’ve been on an overnight fast and your body is craving some fuel – particularly your brain. Keep it light if it’s not your thing. Try:
Live natural yoghurt sprinkled with some fruit
A slice of wholemeal bread with peanut butter
Porridge sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with some slices of apple.
If you still can’t face breakfast, have a small mid-morning snack such as a few walnuts or an apple.
Eat some protein at every meal
Protein is an important macronutrient in the human diet and I regularly see people who are deficient. It’s an essential source of amino acids, which the body cannot make but are vital for health.
Amino acids play a vital role in the production of hormones and brain chemicals, which impact your mood, concentration and focus, memory, even your appetite and sleep. Protein also slows the digestion of food in your gut, balancing out your blood sugar and preventing fast-fix cravings. Increase your intake with meat, fish, eggs, dairy, chickpeas or quinoa.
Try scrambled eggs for breakfast or hard boil an egg the night before and take it to work. Have a lunchtime salad or sandwich with some tinned salmon, tuna, cheese, ham or hummus, or you could bring in some leftovers from your evening meal the night before.
Avoid biscuits, sweets, cakes and crisps. They are empty calories (meaning heavily processed, high in sugar and lacking in nutrients) that mess with your energy levels. Even snack bars and ‘free-from’ snacks that purport to be healthy can be laden with sugar. It’s the same with fruit juice and fruit smoothies. Instead, try snacking on an oat cake with hummus or cottage cheese, or a piece of fruit with a few mixed nuts.
As an employer, think about snacks for your staff, too – maybe a bowl of fruit, some mixed nuts or crackers and dips. This will improve not only productivity, but also morale, giving staff an opportunity to connect away from their desks.
Eat for your brain
Your brain has a high demand for essential fatty acids (Omega-3 oils), vitamin D, and B vitamins. Regularly incorporating eggs and oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel, into your diet will help top up those essential fatty acids that form the basic structure of the brain and provide vitamin D.
Wholegrain bread, rice and pasta, almonds, sunflower seeds, dark green vegetables, mushrooms, dairy, avocado, beans and lentils are good sources of vitamin B, improving your focus, concentration, creativity and mood. A healthy soup at lunchtime with some wholegrain bread is a great way to top up on these foods.
Your brain is 73 per cent water, yet it’s easy to forget to drink enough. If you’re dehydrated, you won’t be able to think clearly and make decisions on important matters. Keep a pint glass on your desk and drink from it throughout the day. Stopping off by the water cooler to fill it up will give you a chance to chat informally to some of your employees, which is great for morale.
Providing some healthy teas for your staff may help them stay hydrated, too. Green tea, redbush tea, peppermint and fruit teas are all popular right now. Avoid carbonated drinks and too much coffee, which only give you a temporary lift. It’s actual water you need.
Susan Scott is a nutritionist and business psychologist and author of Life Force: The Revolutionary 7-Step Plan for Optimum Energy