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When you own a business, you’re often so busy that it can be difficult to even remember to eat, let alone to eat healthfully. Yet adopting the right kinds of eating and exercise habits could boost your on-the-job performance. So, what should business owners keep in mind when it comes to eating well and staying active?
To find out the answer to that vexing question, we did a lot of research, and we turned to Maria Bella, a registered dietician who founded and runs Top Balance Nutrition, which has offices in New York, San Francisco, and Miami. If you’ve been feeling a little sluggish on the job lately, or you’re simply looking for some advice about how to supercharge your typical workday, then check out these seven easy tips for business owners to improve work performance.
1. Starting your day with a cup (or three) of coffee is a great idea—but what you add to it probably isn’t.
Though you might have had a friend or a colleague poke fun at your coffee intake, as The Upshot has pointed, the science is remarkably clear: Drinking a moderate amount of coffee—between three and five cups a day—is actually good for you.
As if you needed another excuse to refill your favorite mug, a 2014 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience offered even more compelling evidence that coffee can positively affect your job performance. A research team at Johns Hopkins University reported that people who consumed between 200 and 300 milligrams of caffeine—a typical brewed cup of coffee contains anywhere from 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Mayo Clinic—outperformed their non-caffeinated peers in a series of memory tests. What was their main takeaway?
“We conclude that caffeine enhanced consolidation of long-term memories in humans,” the researchers wrote.
Yet even though caffeine could help improve your memory, you should be cognizant of what you’re adding to your coffee, Bella cautions. “Caffeinated beverages can have a slew of health benefits, ranging from stabilizing blood sugar levels to preventing Alzheimer’s,” she says. “However, it also depends on what you are putting in your coffee. Remember that a serving of full-fat cream has 50 calories and a hefty dose of saturated fat.”
2. Breakfast isn’t necessarily the most important meal of the deal. But eating the right kinds of foods for breakfast can help keep your energy level up.
“Breakfast is absolutely not as important a meal as people think. Some people are just less hungry in the morning, and there is no reason to force yourself to eat large quantities of food,” Bella says.
Still, eating the rights kinds of foods can satiate your hunger—many of us, after all, wake up hungry—and help boost your energy levels. To pull off that feat, try combining protein and fiber with a fruit or a vegetable. “Some good examples would be reduced-fat Greek yogurt with berries or a pumpkin parfait made with vanilla yogurt, cinnamon, and a thinly-sliced banana,” Bella says.
Why Greek yogurt? Well, it’s a pretty powerful food. One cup of it is packed with B vitamins like B-12, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, all B vitamins play an essential role in converting carbohydrates into glucose, which the human body uses to generate energy. B vitamins also help power our metabolisms, giving you the energy you need to lead meetings, pitch clients, and manage your employees.
3. The color of the foods you eat is very important. So try to incorporate these foods throughout your day to keep you strong and healthy.
“Incorporate six colors of produce per day,” Bella says. “Purples have a ton of anti-oxidants, greens have a lot of calcium, and orange colors are loaded with vitamin A. We need to eat on a rainbow to ensure we’re consuming an adequate amount of nutrients.”
Why should business owners make an effort to get enough of these kinds of nutrients? Consider calcium, which not only builds and strengthens bones, but also helps muscles contract. If you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet—something that many Americans fail to do, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation—you could be at a greater risk for bone loss and even broken bones.
It’s pretty difficult to lend your employees a helping hand when that hand is broken in multiple places and set in a cast, or to get a leg up on the competition when it has to be surgically repaired. So, next time you’re ordering lunch, consider foregoing the hamburger special and think about ordering a big, hearty (and colorful) salad.
4. Don’t forget this cardinal rule of a healthy diet.
“You need to stay hydrated! Our brain’s hypothalamus isn’t smart enough to differentiate between thirst and hunger, and we often confuse the two. Staying hydrated can help you understand when you’re actually hungry,” Bella says.
Not drinking enough water can also seriously affect your workplace performance, causing excessive tiredness, headaches, and dizziness, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have trouble keeping track of your fluid intake, then consider investing in a reusable thermos or water bottle. You should also make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, among other water-rich foods.
5. When debating what to eat, think about the big workday picture—and avoid instant gratification.
“Focus on lean protein and a fruit or a vegetable with every meal and snack, and remove all processed carbs and over-salted foods,” Bella recommends. “They may provide instant gratification, but the water retention and long-term sluggishness will ultimately decrease your productivity.”
6. Don’t think you can make up for your poor eating habits by binging on “superfoods.” (Because you can’t.)
There’s no offsetting the effects of a bad diet, which can negatively affect your memory, your energy level, and your concentration. Contrary to what some people believe, there’s no quick fix for poor eating habits—not even with so-called “superfoods.”
“‘Superfood’ is a term that is not regulated in the United States,” Bella stresses. “The front of the packaging in general is not regulated, so it’s best to read the nutrition label to determine if something is a ‘superfood.’ More fiber and protein always works. Remember that every day an adult woman needs 25 grams of fiber, and an adult male needs 38 grams of fiber.”
So, instead of buying expensive “superfoods” at the grocery store, you might want to instead consider purchasing some old-fashioned fruits and vegetables. Though they might be less flashy, they’re more likely to help improve your health and well-being.
7. Little bursts of exercise throughout the day can help improve your mood, enhance your ability to focus, and increase your energy. (No gym required.)
The Boston Globe reports that a 2013 meta-analysis of 19 different scientific studies concluded that even as little as 10 minutes of exercise can have immediate effects on the brain, leading to increases in concentration and mental focus. Exercise has also been shown to boost productivity and help with stress. But what busy entrepreneur has time for that? It may not take as much time as you think.
“To stay focused, try running a few flights of stairs or taking short walks a few times a day to get your heart rate up,” Bella says. “Even if you do five minutes every hour that you are at the office, that’s 45 minutes in the end of an eight-hour day—without ever going to the gym. I do push-ups in bathroom stalls, run stairs in hotels, and walk around airports with the goal of covering at least 10,000 steps a day—and often more.”