Author's Note: This is the 2nd blog post in meal prep series! Read more about our guest contributor Lindsay Young at the end.
We are back for Part 2 in this meal prep series where I’m teaching how to harness the power of good nutrition to fuel your body so that you can feel and perform your absolute best. In the last post, I discussed three huge ways food plays a role in your productivity: balancing blood sugar, brain power, and nutrient sufficiency. Today I want to lay out five simple strategies that will hugely impact your energy & focus. I guarantee that if you embrace this structure you will see a major change in the way you feel throughout the day!
Strategy #1: Eat Real Food.
No matter what kind of diet philosophy you follow, real food has to be the foundation. Our bodies were not designed to perform optimally on processed, manufactured food. Keep in mind that food is more than calories, carbs, fat, or any other number. Food is information. What you eat will either tell your body to store fat or burn it, support steady energy or crash your blood sugar, build your health or tear it down. Calories do count, but food quality and how that affects your hormones counts far more. We want to eat real foods that provide energy, sustain us, support our immune system, turn off hunger hormones, trigger fat-releasing hormones, and build muscle.
You can start by reading ingredient lists on the food you’re eating. Can you pronounce those ingredients? Do you recognize everything that’s on that list?
Begin to prioritize eating real food: fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, good quality fats and oils, whole grains and legumes, high-quality meat and seafood.
Consistency is more important than perfection. If you upgrade the value of your ingredients and eat good quality food all the way across the board, your body is going to handle that so differently. Real ice cream has five ingredients, you don’t have to be deprived! In comparison, fat-free frozen yogurt has about 25 ingredients. Begin to notice small ways you can upgrade.
Strategy #2: Eat Healthy Fat with Every Meal
Eating more healthy fat is the single most powerful way to reduce your cravings, fire up your brain, lose weight, and balance hormones. Fat isn’t just good for you, it’s essential!
Your brain is mostly made up of saturated fats and cholesterol and it requires them to build myelin, the insulators that connect many of your brain cells to one another. Low-fat diets will literally starve your brain! Your brain uses fat to recover and repair itself resulting in improved memory, increased cognitive skills, and even better moods.
Grass-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, whole eggs, grass-fed beef, wild caught seafood, nuts and seeds, and avocados are all great sources of healthy fats. How does this look in a real day? Perhaps with breakfast, you have some eggs with avocado on top, and for lunch, you have a salad with olive oil and lemon juice as the dressing. For a snack, you could have an apple with almond butter and for dinner salmon with veggies cooked in grass-fed butter.
Strategy #3: Avoid Added Sugar
Sugar is EVERYWHERE. It comes in many different forms and is hidden in so many foods, including sports drinks, coffee creamers, bars, yogurt, cereals, even sauces and salad dressings. It’s hidden in so many foods that are marketed as healthy so it can be easy to overconsume sugar without realizing.
As carbohydrates and sugar break down into glucose in our bloodstream, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. If there’s more sugar than our body can store at the time we wind up with excess insulin. This excess causes us to feel tired and increases cravings and hunger. If you’re hungry 1-2 hours after a meal look back at what you ate. It’s difficult to be productive and gain momentum if you’re having to stop every two hours for a pick-me-up or feel like you need a nap in the middle of the day.
The first place to start is by looking at ingredient labels and noticing what you eat that has added sugar. Try to replace any processed food you may be eating with healthier, unsweetened options. For example, if you are eating any kind of flavored yogurt, it has added sugar. Go for plain yogurt instead and add some fresh fruit.
The sugar in fruit is different than added sugar but it’s still possible to eat too much sugar from fruit. Limit fruit consumption to 1-2 servings a day and favor berries and citrus fruit. Always pair your fruit with a healthy fat to help minimize a blood sugar spike. I love to grab a handful of nuts to eat with a piece of fruit or add fruit to a salad that has olive oil as the dressing.
Strategy #4: Go Gluten Free
Most everyone by now has heard rumblings of the benefits of a gluten-free diet. How much of this is hype and how much real science is behind this craze? Gluten is a protein component in wheat, barley, and rye. The wheat we have today is not what it once was. These grains have been refined, hybridized, and genetically modified, causing disruption to our gut bacteria, greater levels of inflammation, and increased food sensitivities.
We know there are many negative health effects of gluten. Gluten can cause learning problems, focus issues, and memory malfunction. Gluten causes your body to elevate levels of inflammation, particularly by forming cytokines, proteins that are found in patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and autism – all neurological diseases.
Gluten-containing foods also have phytates and lectins. Phytates bind to dietary minerals and keep you from absorbing them, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Lectins can cause leptin resistance, leptin is a hormone that regulates hunger, so you receive the message that you’re hungry even when your body has more than enough calories.
Going gluten-free may seem intimidating at first but I promise you it’s totally within your capabilities! I encourage my clients to start with one meal at a time and make swaps, working their way up to a gluten-free diet. Try it for 30 days and see if it makes a difference in the way you feel.
Strategy #5: Establish Good Nutrition Rituals
When you are trying to maximize your productivity, it’s important to develop really good rituals around taking care of yourself and your nutrition so that you can have the most energy to give. You need to look at your schedule and the times of the day or week that are the most demanding, when do you work out, when are you in your zone of genius and need extreme focus, what situations cause you the most stress? Everyone is a bit different in this area, so establishing solid nutrition rituals will help keep you energized and focused with gas left in the tank at the end of the day.
Hydration rituals are a great place to start. I recommend my clients start the day with 16 ounces of water before they have anything else to rehydrate, flush out their cells, and assist detoxification. How can you create rituals to make sure you can drink half your body weight in ounces per day? You can adopt habits like carrying a water bottle in your bag and car or filling a glass of water before you sit at your desk. When we are dehydrated, our brain doesn’t work as efficiently and we get fatigued.
Take some time, whether it’s once a day or once a week, to look at your calendar and consider your options for healthy food. If you like to hit the gym after work and find that your energy is dragging, make it a ritual to pack an apple and a package of almonds in your bag before you leave the house. If you have a long stretch of meetings, make sure you’ve had a really nourishing meal without any sugar before you head into those meetings so your brain is fueled and you won’t have a blood sugar crash.
One of my clients owns a clothing boutique and was struggling with energy dips during the day because she wasn’t taking the time to sit and eat a real lunch. She had a great routine with making breakfast at home every morning and her husband’s schedule allowed him to be home to make dinner in the evening but she often skipped lunch because she didn’t want to leave her store or stop working for 20 minutes to fuel herself. She would be so hungry by the time she got home that she would eat her dinner and then spend the rest of the evening raiding the refrigerator. What ended up working best for her was using a meal delivery service that would send healthy lunches to her home that she could take to work. Once the food portion was taken care of she coordinated with the employees at the store to make sure there was time every day with enough coverage for her to step away for half an hour. These rituals made a HUGE difference in her energy and she said it really made her a better employer because she wasn’t snappy at her employees all afternoon.
When you upgrade your food quality and adopt good nutrition rituals, its literally putting wind in your sails. If you are well nourished and hydrated throughout the day you allow yourself to focus better so that you can do better quality work even faster. You’ll be able to perform better at all times, even in high-stress situations.
There you have it, five strategies that will change the way you use food to fuel your body. Don’t worry, you don’t have to implement these all at once. Take one at a time and work at it until it becomes a habit, then move to the next one that speaks to you. These are meant to be life-giving and you may be surprised at how much better you feel and move through your day as they become part of your life.
In my next post, I’ll be teaching you meal prep strategies to help it all come together. I know you, you’re a busy lady, so we need to figure out how to make this practical in your real life. More coming soon!
Lindsay Young is a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who specializes in helping passionate women develop a lifestyle & nutrition plan that works with their busy life. Grab her free download, Build a Brilliant Smoothie, for the insiders scoop on how to make a smoothie that is both slimming and satisfying, plus 16 recipes! Visit Lindsay on Instagram for daily tips on how to make healthy living simple and joyful.