If you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, can’t function without coffee, and run out of energy every afternoon, then this guide is for you. Learn when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat so you can stay energized, focused, and productive throughout the day.
WHY WE EAT?
The answer seems obvious—to obtain the energy we need to support our everyday activities and to promote our health. However, many of our modern-day food choices suggest another answer—one that actually seems to threaten our health and well-being. Most of these choices are actually made unconsciously. In fact, food psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink has found that we make more than 200 food decisions each day but we are unaware of 90% of them.
High-performing individuals are not only more conscious about the food choices they make, but they also have a deep understanding of the connection between what they eat and how they feel and perform as a result of their daily food choices.
Simply put, the food choices we make each and every day, in terms of when, what, and how much we eat have an immediate impact on our energy, focus, memory, performance, and overall well-being. That’s why high performers make nutrition a priority. High performers eat to boost energy, focus, productivity, performance, and overall well-being NOT to get full fast.
No matter what nutrition approach you prefer (paleo, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc.) there is one thing you should obsess about when it comes to eating: Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced!
Balanced blood sugar levels help keep our brain healthy, our energy levels stable, and our mood balanced. However, when disrupted, our blood sugar can lead to increased sugar cravings, irritability, poor sleep, brain fog, anxiety, low energy, and weight gain.
WHEN TO EAT?
It’s important to keep energy levels high—blood sugar levels balanced—throughout the day. You can achieve this with the aid of smaller, more frequent meals in your day-to-day meal patterns. This doesn’t mean you eat more in total, you just spread it over the day.
Make it a habit to eat every 3-4 hours, for a total of five meals per day to supply your body and brain with the constant energy it needs to perform at its best.
Time may vary, however you can use the following example as a rule of thumb:
7am: Breakfast – 10am: Snack 1 – 1pm: Lunch – 4pm: Snack 2 – 7pm: Dinner
WHAT TO EAT?
Your meals should be healthy, pleasurable, and energizing at the same time. Below are some general recommendations:
1. Get as much of your nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods
These include fruits and vegetables. But they also include meat, fish, poultry, and eggs that haven’t been processed. In other words, when buying food at the market, focus on things that have not been cooked, prepared, or altered in any way.
2. Hydrate – Drink more water
Most people simply do not drink enough. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.
3. Switch to whole grains
When it comes to carbohydrates, brown is better. Whole-grain foods (like whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal) contain more nutrients and fiber than refined grains (like white flour, white bread, and white rice). Not only are these complex carbohydrates healthier for you, but they also help keep you full longer.
4. Choose foods with healthy fats
After carbs, fats are a big source of energy. The higher the share of total fats that are unsaturated the better the choice.
5. Avoid high sugar meals
These foods spike your blood sugar levels without providing sustained energy. It’s one of the worst things you can do to your energy and health.
6. Have a plan when you hit the grocery store.
The biggest mistake people make is not knowing what they need, and instead, browsing the aisles for inspiration. That leads to buying more packaged foods and less fresh, whole foods. Optimizing your surroundings when it comes to food makes eating healthy a whole lot easier.
7. Enjoy your food
This may sound obvious, but many people think that healthy eating and enjoyment are mutually exclusive. Work towards a lifestyle built on healthy choices that are going to work for the long term. In order to achieve that goal, find nutritious foods that you enjoy eating.
Some healthy and energizing food suggestions for each meal of the day:
A high energy breakfast consists of:
– Proteins (natural yogurt, soya, eggs, oats, cheese)
– Complex carbohydrates (fruits, granola, whole-grain bread, vegetables, quinoa)
– Healthy fats (avocado, seeds, nuts, shredded coconut)
A high energy lunch consists of:
– Proteins (grilled meat or fish, soya, eggs, beans, cheese, tofu)
– Complex carbohydrates (salad, whole grain rice or pasta, steamed vegetables, potato)
– Healthy fats (avocado, nuts, olives, edamame)
Most important: Avoid over-eating or you will fall into the afternoon energy dip.
A high energy dinner consists of:
Choose foods that stabilize your blood sugar (nuts, vegetables, poultry, beans, lentils, seafood, fruits, avocado, eggs)
Reduce foods that raise your blood sugar (potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, french fries, bagels, fruit juices, sweets)
A high energy snack consists of:
– Protein (trail mix, greek yogurt, veggies, cheese, protein bars)
– Carbohydrates (fruits, dates, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers)
– Healthy fats (seeds, hardboiled eggs, edamame, peanut butter)
– Some fiber (dark chocolate, popcorn, pistachios, dried fruits)
HOW MUCH TO EAT?
The Hunger Scale is a great tool that can be used to help you identify how hungry or full you are, or to help you know when to start or stop eating. The aim should be to always operate between 4 and 6—a gentle wave—so that you eat when you begin to feel hungry but never so much that you feel stuffed.
- 10. Feel sick; hate the thought of food; post-Thanksgiving dinner.
- 09. Stuffed; headaches, lethargy, ready to sleep.
- 08. Uncomfortable; bloated; change into sweats.
- 07. Sluggish; ate too much; loosen the belt, unbutton pants.
- 06. Full, but still have room for a good dessert.
- 05. Satisfied; don’t feel food in the stomach; lasts two to three hours.
- 04. Mildly hungry; the stomach is beginning to stir.
- 03. Hungry; stomach growling, light-headed.
- 02. Famished; irritable, nauseated, preoccupied.
- 01. Beyond hungry: so hungry you aren’t hungry anymore.
The final key to eating smart is not to relentlessly resist pleasure. That means including the sugary, fatty foods that many of us love most as part of our regular diet, but in portions that are intentionally limited and modest. To make that possible, we must replace our bad habits and impulsive behaviors with greater awareness and positive rituals.
Now that you know why, when, what, and how much to eat you can make more conscious food decisions each day. Now it’s time to take the first step. What’s a small action step you can take today to implement high-performance eating into your life?
THIS GUIDE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE.
The information, including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained in this guide is presented for general educational and informational purposes and to increase overall health awareness. It is not intended to be legal, medical, or other expert advice or services, and should not be used in place of consultation with appropriate professionals.