Everyone knows it: staying energetic at work can be a real drag. Only a few hours into your Monday and your eyes are blurry, your back is sore, and you are longing for the weekend once again. While getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a healthy exercise routine both play important parts in daytime productivity, eating habits are crucial as well. By simply avoiding foods that will slow you down, and building eating habits that move you forward, everyone can stay more productive at work. While this may seem like a daunting task, some of the most effective ways to boost your productivity at work are actually incredibly simple changes to make.

Don’t eat junk food

Whether you have a sweet tooth or just have a lot of free snacks around the office, eating junk food is a quick way to lose your alertness at work. Foods that are high in trans and saturated fats will make you feel sluggish, while foods high in sugar will give you a quick energy high, followed by a crash. Despite the fact that sugary and fatty snacks tend to be easy to transport and consume on the go, you are better off eating nutritious foods if you want to stay sharp at work.

Be careful with caffeine

When you start to feel your productivity at work slide, it’s all too easy to reach for a triple espresso, or a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans. Even though it seems counterintuitive, consuming sizable amounts of caffeine can actually make your productivity at work suffer. Much like unhealthy snacks, consuming too much caffeine at once will give you a quick spike in energy, but guarantees a productivity-harming crash. To stay productive all day, it’s better to consume small amounts of caffeine, like the amount in a cup of green tea.

Eat breakfast every morning

Another foolproof way to keep your energy up at work is to make sure you eat breakfast. Even if you are not someone who is generally hungry in the morning, eating breakfast ensures your body moves out of its sleep-friendly energy-conserving state and into its wakeful daytime state. Even a glass of juice, protein shake, or piece of fruit in the morning is better for your productivity than nothing.

Eat the right foods for breakfast

Now that you are comfortable eating breakfast, make sure you eat the right snacks in the morning. Much like gaining steady energy by eating complex carbohydrates, foods known as low glycemic foods are digested slowly by your body. To fuel up effectively for the rest of your day, eat low glycemic foods for breakfast. In doing so, your body gains a steady source of energy to get you through until lunch.

Eat small, frequent meals

Similarly, eating small, frequent meals is a good way to keep your blood glucose levels constant, which helps you have energy. If you eat infrequently, your body’s blood sugar levels dip excessively low in between meals. When you finally eat, you are more likely to overeat, causing your blood sugar levels to go higher than normal. This yo-yo cycle in your blood sugar makes your energy levels unpredictable. Having low energy at inopportune times will cause a serious dip in your productivity. By eating smaller and more frequent meals, you space out your body’s fuel supply more evenly. By spacing out your meals equally, your energy levels fluctuate less dramatically, so your body stays energized.

Keep lunch moderate

On a related note, staying productive at work is easier when you eat smaller portion sizes. For example, though many people believe that turkey is to blame for feeling sleepy on Thanksgiving, many scientists agree that it is actually overindulging in our portion sizes that causes the dip. This means that eating a giant lunch, especially while you’re at work, will have a similar effect. If you want to stay productive at work all day, make sure the amount you eat at lunch is moderate.

Don’t eat tryptophan on an empty stomach

Tryptophan is the ingredient in turkey and other poultry responsible for that pesky rumor that Thanksgiving foods, and not their portion sizes, is what causes drowsiness on the holiday. In reality, tryptophan only causes sleepiness when ingested on an empty stomach. For this reason, foods high in tryptophan should be avoided when you haven’t had anything to eat in a while. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey and other poultry, milk and cheese, as well as some fish.

Do eat fruit on an empty stomach

Fruit is uniquely situated to give you long-lasting productivity during your day at work. Fruit contains fiber and complex sugars, which breakdown slower then simple sugars (like those found in candy and junk food). Fruit is also easily digested by the body, which lets you skip the fatigue associated with hard to digest snacks or large portion sizes. When you haven’t had anything to eat in a while, it’s best to reach for a bit of fruit instead of dairy or poultry so your body gets off to the right start.

Eat whole grains

When you eat carbohydrates that your stomach breaks down quickly, your blood sugar levels will spike, which is always followed by a bottoming out of your energy levels. Multigrain and whole grain carbohydrates take longer for your body to digest, which means the energy you gain from them is spread out over a particularly lengthy amount of time. This steady gain in energy will help you stay productive at work for greater periods of time.

Skip the steak

While you don’t have to cut meat out of your diet entirely, eating less meat for breakfast and lunch can help you be more productive at work. Meat is usually high fat, and is always high-protein, which makes it more strenuous to digest than other foods. It’s perfectly healthy to love meat, but indulging in large portions of meat before and during work could hamper your productivity.

Eat extra omega 3s

Omega 3s are an essential fatty acid found in many nuts, oils, and fatty fishes. These critical ingredients help keep your brain cells thriving, as well as help your body store carbohydrates as energy, rather than fat. Making a special effort to ensure you have enough omega 3s in your diet can help you stay alert at work.


Not only does drinking enough water help your body to stay healthy, keeping hydrated aids the transport of energy-providing nutrients throughout the body. Not only that, as you grow dehydrated your blood thickens, which forces your heart to pump with difficulty, which makes you feel drained more quickly.

Eat enough fiber

Much like complex carbohydrates, eating enough fiber helps your body to digest food slowly and steadily. This means your energy levels stay uniform, letting you be more productive, more alert, and better prepared for your day.

Avoid drinking to help you sleep

While having a glass of wine before bed might help you nod off initially, alcohol may actually make your sleep less restful. Alcohol affects the way your body metabolizes food, plus it depresses your body’s energy levels. Although this makes it easier to fall asleep, when the alcohol wears off in the middle of the night you might be more prone to waking up. Staying productive at work is tied to getting enough rest, so avoiding alcohol before bed the day prior to work will help you get more efficient sleep.

Fight the afternoon blahs intelligently

Much like eating quick and healthy meals, fighting your afternoon slump without caffeine will help you be more productive at work. As mentioned, too much caffeine will cause your energy levels to crash, severely affecting your productivity. However, another way caffeine makes you less productive is by messing with your sleep. Consuming too much caffeine in the afternoon can negatively impact your sleep later that night, which will give you an even less productive tomorrow. Instead of reaching for caffeine-heavy beverages when you grow groggy in the afternoon, which are often heavy in sugar as well, try one of the other energy boosting methods on this list. A quick snack that is high in omega-3s or fiber, or simply drinking a glass of water, can be a better way to boost your energy and skip the crash.

Featured photo credit: Wall_Food_10051/Michael Stern via flickr.com

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