How What You Eat Impacts Your Productivity
If you're someone who experiences the midday sluggishness, you're eating the wrong things. What would happen if you started eating, not by the clock and not by your feelings, but based on the goals you need to achieve.
When you think about your productivity at work, you probably don’t give much consideration to your diet, but you should. Food has a direct impact on your cognitive performance and can affect you more than you might realize. Lack of proper vitamins and nutrients, or consuming the incorrect amount or type of calories can lead to disruption in the balance of your body, which can decrease your energy level, and impair your cognitive productivity.
A Quick Breakdown of How Your Body Uses Food
If you consume a “normal” diet, the carbohydrates you eat are converted to glucose, which is then either used for energy or stored as glycogen in your muscle and liver tissue. As keto dieters who eat a diet high in fat, low in carbohydrates, with adequate amounts of protein, you essentially eliminate glucose as a source of fuel by severely restricting your intake of carbs (ketoers typically consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day). Your body has to quickly become efficient at producing fuel through other means.
Your liver starts working to whatever carbs it can find into glucose for key organs – namely your brain – to use. Your brain consumes more energy than any other organ in your body, accounting for about 20% of your total energy expenditure.
After you deplete your body’s glycogen stores (glucose tucked away in muscles and the liver), your body needs a back-up energy source or you’ll have trouble staying focused and may find that your mind wanders whenever your blood sugar dips.
For individuals on a ketogenic diet, the back up energy source is ketone bodies – acetoacetate (AcAc), β-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB) and acetone.
Ketoers essentially replace the carbs they aren’t eating with fat calories. Instead of breaking down carbs, the liver starts breaking down the fat, which it’s now getting in large supply. The result is ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are released into your bloodstream and picked up by your organs – including your brain – and transported into the mitochondria where they are used as fuel to provide energy.
Ketone bodies that aren’t used up are either excreted through your urine or your respiratory system (your breath). But this back-up energy source allows your body to avoid dangerous dips in blood glucose level, which allows you to stay mentally focused and productive throughout the day. For high performers, productivity is everything.
Brain Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
You are better able to focus
Two molecules, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are involved in mental alertness – glutamate promotes stimulation while GABA reduces stimulation. Lack of focus can occur due to an imbalance in these neurotransmitters. The 2014 study published in Annual Review of Nutrition suggests that a ketogenic diet helps to balance these neurotransmitters by allowing extra glutamate to be processed into GABA efficiently, thereby helping to improve mental focus.
Your brain just seems to work better, in general
Fatty acids help to promote brain development and improve cognitive function, in addition to acting as anti-depressants and anti-convulsants. Fatty acids have a direct impact on memory, learning, and sensory performance.
Eating fatty acids is important because essential fatty acids cannot be made in the human body. So, the ketogenic diet is a good choice as it supplies ample essential fatty acids for your brain to function optimally.
Keep in mind that the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids is also of importance. It has been suggested that a ratio of 4:1 is ideal for optimal brain-mediated functions. To put this in perspective, most Americans are eating a ratio of 12:1 – that’s too many Omega-6 fatty acids and not enough Omega-3 fatty acids.
You have more energy
A 2009 study published in Brain Research Review found that following a ketogenic diet helps to improve mitochondrial function, which leads to more energy for your cells and for you.
Another study, published in 2014 in Annual Review of Nutrition found that a ketogenic diet also impairs free radical production. Free radials form in your body and can lead to cell death. Reducing the number of free radials in the body can help to improve energy efficiency. Coincidentally, a diet high in sugar does exactly the opposite.
Eating with Performance and Productivity in Mind
Being aware of healthy versus unhealthy options and their impact on your productivity isn’t necessarily enough to coax you into making good food choices. A plan that you can stick to without much difficulty is more likely to push you to make better food choices.
So, if we were to put together a sample guideline for eating for performance and productivity (instead of eating for pleasure, which is what most of us are accustomed to doing), it would look something like this:
Set yourself up for a successful day by starting your day with a bulletproof coffee – coffee, grass-fed butter, and brain octane oil. Bulletproof coffee helps to suppress hunger because brain octane oil helps to balance hunger hormones, provides lasting energy because the saturated fat in the butter slows down caffeine absorption, and improves mental clarity because brain octane oil converts to ketones quickly, which your brain is able to use more efficiently than glucose.
Plan your lunch and snacks ahead of time to avoid the drive-thru lines. A good lunch option is a sandwich on keto bread, with tuna or salmon, a bit of olive oil, and pesto.
Or you could go with a salad packed with low carbohydrate vegetables, such as broccoli rapini, spinach, cucumber and celery combined with pumpkin seeds or chopped walnuts, and drizzled with a simple nut-oil dressing.
Here’s the reasoning behind the lunch choices. These options provide your body with essential fatty acids to help improve brain function, and the complex carbohydrates found in the keto bread and veggies will provide longer-lasting energy compared to simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta. Eating simple carbs is a good way to spike your blood sugar, which we know is followed by the inevitable energy crash.
If you munch throughout the day, reach for low-carb nuts or seeds like pecans, Brazil nuts and Macadamia which are packed with essential fatty acids to keep you brain functioning optimally and keep you within your macros.
Think of dinner as your chance to get the nutrition that may have been lacking in your previous meals. So, if you had the salad with the olive oil, you may be falling short on your protein macros for the day. In that case, have something like the chicken avocado salad with sesame seeds (grab that recipe here).
The wisdom of the ages says don’t skip meals. But there’s nothing in the science to indicate you need to keep your blood sugar elevated all day by eating every few hours. Just the opposite, in fact.
The biohacking wisdom says eat when you need to and eat what you need to in order to accomplish what you need to.