Our brain requires a constant stream of quality fuel to keep us energized, motivated, and focused throughout the day. However, the type of food we fuel our body with can either set us up for a productive day or leave us feeling groggy and unmotivated. In fact, the World Health Organization has noted that those who have adequate nutrition are more productive and therefore able to learn more efficiently (1). F45 Sport Nutritionist Kim Bowman highlights the key differences between foods that boost productivity and those that leave us in a brain fog.
How does the food we consume affect our work productivity?
The key to avoiding brain fog and midday fatigue is to consume quality foods that promote a healthy blood sugar balance. Glucose (blood sugar) is what provides us with constant energy, allowing us to perform everyday tasks efficiently while keeping the brain alert and focused. Foods vary in the amount of glucose they produce in the bloodstream, which plays a large role in how much energy we have and our ability to focus throughout the day.
Foods that hinder mental focus and productivity
Foods with a high glycemic index (GI) break down into glucose very quickly, causing an immediate spike in blood sugar and energy. However, the problem with these foods is that they do not supply a steady stream of energy—instead, they hinder our mental focus shortly after consuming them. These include all forms of processed and refined sugar-packed foods like cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, and granola bars.
Foods that optimize mental focus and productivity
Nutrient-dense whole foods with a low glycemic index (GI) provide energy at a slower, steadier rate, which is key for optimizing focus and staying productive. These foods also naturally provide our body with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which boost brain health and optimize overall mental health. Additionally, foods that boost our digestive health are key to incorporate due to the strong link between our gut and our brain. By choosing gut-supporting foods (fermented foods) like Greek yogurt, kefir, fiber-rich vegetables, beans, lentils, and fresh fruit, we can optimize our gut microbiome. Ultimately, a healthy gut microbiome benefits the production of brain-supporting hormones to minimize feelings of stress and keep us feeling motivated and productive.
What are the best proteins, carbs, and fats for productivity?
Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, and snapper are some of the best protein sources for brain health. They are rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are key for brain function and development. They also help to lower inflammatory markers in the body and protect the neurons in the brain from excessive inflammation. For vegans and vegetarians, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are great options for keeping blood sugars balanced while providing a quality source of protein to optimize mental focus.
Whole grains with lots of dietary fiber, such as rolled oats, ezekiel bread, and quinoa, provide a slow release of glucose into the bloodstream for consistent energy. Additionally, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will benefit gut health and stabilize blood sugars to optimize productivity.
Avocados, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of fat to support brain health. They are energy-dense but provide a quality source of fuel for our body to keep us feeling fuller for longer throughout the day while optimizing mental focus.
The simplest way to boost productivity is to incorporate quality whole foods into your diet on a regular basis while avoiding processed foods and refined sugar. The Mediterranean-style diet is one that has been positively recognized for its brain-boosting capability. The premise of this diet is to incorporate plenty of whole grains (brown rice, quinoa), lots of fruit and veggies, legumes, quality fats from plant-based oils (olive, avocado), and omega-3 rich fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Here’s an example of what a nutritious day of meals looks like for optimizing mental effectiveness:
Banana Coconut Oats
- Banana, chopped
- Vanilla protein powder
- Rolled oats
- Almonds, chopped
- Unsweetened coconut milk
High-Protein Green Goddess Salad with Grilled Chicken
- Chicken breast
- Crushed almonds
- Broccoli florets
- Plain yogurt
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Freshly chopped parsley, mint, and basil
- Himalayan salt and black pepper
Baked Salmon, Tahini Yogurt, and Tabouli
- Raw salmon filets
- Lemon juice
- Fresh dill
- Himalayan salt & pepper
- Unhulled tahini
- Natural Greek yogurt (unsweetened)
- Diced tomato
For the Tabouli:
- Ground cumin, flat-leaf parsley
- Red onion (finely diced)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice