Getting through each workday is challenging, to say the least. There are pressing deadlines, personality conflicts, difficult clients. And then there’s your own fluctuating level of enthusiasm, energy and general outlook, dependent on a variety of factors, from your personal life to how much sleep you got the night before. Another influencer: what you’re eating throughout the day.
Rebecca Scritchfield, a Washington D.C.-based nutritionist and author of the forthcoming "Body Kindness," believes that the food choices we make are key to our health and happiness, at the office or elsewhere.
“When it comes to work and productivity, food is going to be the fuel that lasts us through a long work day, basically until we get home and can have dinner. Being able to choose quality food matters,” she says.
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We asked Scritchfield for advice on what to eat to better sustain us throughout the day, from a mid-morning snack to a late afternoon pick me up, plus, how to avoid unwanted stress eating and sugar crashes courtesy of the vending machine.
Plan your week
It’s rarely the plan to eat unhealthily at work. “People don’t wake up knowing their boss is going to make them mad so they're going to be eating that cheese danish at 10:30 in the morning,” Scritchfield says.
She advises putting together a bag of healthy snacks over the weekend that you can keep at work and will last you through the week. Packs of yogurt and baggies of trail mix, and staples like peanut butter can be easily stored at your desk.
“If you’re better prepared, you’re more likely to make a healthier, nourishing choice in that moment of hunger,” she explains.
For when the morning’s caffeine buzz is wearing off and lunch is still at least an hour away, try a snack of banana with peanut butter, or a serving of yogurt — and make it full-fat, “which increases your satiety, your body’s signal to stop eating,” she explains.
Instead of a greasy bag of chips: try pistachios, which are full of fiber, protein, healthy fat and can serve as stress relievers by virtue of the way you consume them. “You have to crack each one open, which gives you something to do with your hands, and slows down your eating,” she says.
Late afternoon pick-me-up
There are foods that play a role in our body’s production of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that’s essential to our sense of calm and wellbeing. Because bacteria in our gut synthesize the majority of our body’s serotonin, Scritchfield says it’s vital to eat foods that help grow and nourish a healthy.
Around 4 p.m., it’s common for energy and focus to drop. We only have a couple hours left in the work day, but typically, we’re already thinking about our post-work plans. If you’re feeling distracted or peckish, these snacks can help you power through.
Try crunchy, hydrating veggies — like baby carrots, grape tomatoes, mini cucumbers — dipped in hummus, a great source of protein and healthy fat. “Think of it as dinner one. You want something savory and chances are you didn’t get enough veggies yet in your day,” says Scritchfield.
Alongside the veggies, enjoy the hummus with a (small) portion of pita chips or pretzels for the salty, carbohydrate fix you might be craving.
Scritchfield stresses B vitamins as essential to harnessing energy, explaining that they’re often the pump-up ingredients in junky, sugar-filled energy drinks. Instead of a Red Bull, have a snack of Vitamin B and protein rich jerky—chicken, beef, pork.
For another lean protein boast, Scritchfield loves tuna packed in olive oil, in the jar or can. She recommends filling avocado halves with tuna and enjoying with a spoon. (It could also serve as a last-minute, mini-lunch). Bonus: tuna is a great source ofomega-3 fatty acids, which benefit your heart, skin and bone health.
If your sweet tooth is kicking in
Instead of a Snickers, opt for trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate mixed in. Scritchfield suggests making your own in bulk and then portioning it out into small baggies for the week.