Back into the swing of a new working year and already feeling exhausted? Help is at hand. We’ve enlisted leading workplace nutritionist, Linda Munster, to provide tips and advice to kick-start your return to work. With a few simple dietary changes, you can make 2016 the year you conquer the mid-afternoon slump and become a power-house of productivity. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Linda’s book, No Caffeine Required.
What sparked your interest in workplace nutrition?
In my twenties, long before I trained as a nutritional therapist, I worked for a large corporate bank with constant deadlines and pressure. I would usually have a carb-heavy lunch such as a giant baguette and then wonder why I would often find my head on the desk in the middle of the afternoon! I know that my productivity levels would have suffered badly and my employer was definitely not getting the best from me.
Years later, I realised that poor food choices and bad eating habits were the major cause of my tiredness and once I started to make better choices my energy levels soared – in fact, I felt so much better in my late thirties and forties than I did in my twenties! As the majority of my clients are busy working people, many of whom I’ve helped overcome the dreaded mid-afternoon slump, I was keen to spread the healthy eating message to the workplace and through my talks I have helped hundreds of people enjoy a much more productive day by making simple changes to their diet.
What difference does nutrition make to our performance at work?
A massive difference! If you can make good food choices and keep your blood sugar balanced by avoiding the really sugary, carby foods that set you off on a ‘rollercoaster’, then you will definitely have a far more productive and energised day and won’t need a constant supply of sugar and caffeinated stimulants to get you through.
What are the easiest and most effective dietary changes that office workers can make?
Start the day as you mean to go on – so a nice protein-rich brekkie such as eggs or slices of chicken or smoked salmon with a piece of toast for breakfast will keep you satisfied for hours so that you don’t have to keep dipping into the biscuit tin or raiding the vending machine! If you don’t have time to eat breakfast at home, prepare the night before and take into the office.Non-starchy vegetables (the ones that grow above the ground) should ideally accompany every meal as they’re packed with nutrients that keep you energised and alert – and they’re extremely low in sugar.
There’s generally something for everybody so apart from the tomatoes and cucumber start exploring the veg section and introducing some more of these super foods into your life. Instead of the biscuits, cereal bars etc for your snack go for a piece of fruit such as an apple or pear with a handful of nuts which provide both protein and good fats to keep hunger at bay.
Ensure your lunch always has adequate protein (eggs, chicken, fish, beans etc) and keep the starchy carbs / grains to a minimum. E.g. a small or half jacket potato with plenty of tuna and salad. Too much bread can almost guarantee the post lunch slump so limit to 1 slice and focus more on the protein and salad/vegetables.
As my book title suggests, I’d reduce the caffeinated drinks – tea, coffee, coke (only recommended for cleaning loos!) – to no more than 2 cups a day, but do it gradually to avoid the dreadful withdrawal headaches! Ensure you have 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day to keep your brain functioning properly.
Do you have any tips on how to break bad eating habits at work? Stock up on nuts, seeds, oatcakes, veg sticks (celery, carrot, cucumber, sugar snaps) – it’s important to plan ahead with these because if you haven’t got them you’ll end up making bad choices. For every cup of tea or coffee you have, have a glass of water to stay hydrated.
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day so make changes gradually and most importantly, be kind to yourself in the process.
It’s always more motivating to work with others so change your habits together as a team: nominate a Chief Water Bottle Monitor (make sure that bottle’s finished by end of day), a Nut Dispenser, a Fruit & Veg Provider etc. and every time anyone dips into the biscuit tin they have to throw a pound into another tin!
Banish the vending machine and remove temptation! It’s so much easier to change habits if you’re not constantly having to exercise willpower – we’re all only human!
What’s your number one recipe for an easy wholesome, home-made lunch?
Quinoa with salad and mackerel / salmon / chicken / feta / eggs / chickpeas. Find time to spend at least 10 minutes chopping all your favourite veg – cucumber, celery, tomatoes, avocado, radishes, fennel, pepper etc. Add a handful of leaves e.g. rocket, some herbs e.g. parsley and some seeds e.g. pumpkin, sunflower. Then mix in the quinoa which you can buy pre-cooked in pouches or you can make a batch yourself.
You cook it very much like rice but don’t use too much water – around 1 cm above quinoa surface in the pan is enough. Bring to the boil, add some Marigold stock for a bit of flavour, then put lid on and simmer for 13 minutes (my magic number!). The water should be fully absorbed and the quinoa light and fluffy. You can make a dressing from olive oil, apple cider vinegar and mustard. Always make/prepare at least twice as much as you need so you’ve got something for a couple of days. So nutritious and will keep you going for the rest of the day.
What’s your number one tip for a healthy snack to satisfy the dreaded 4.00pm sugar cravings?
Always ask yourself “where’s my protein?” with every meal including snacks as protein keeps you fuller for longer. So an apple with 5 walnuts and 5 almonds would be perfect. Eat your snack before you’re ravenous or you’ll end up overeating! Cravings occur when you don’t give your body/brain what it needs so ensure you have a good balance of protein/fat in your snack to satisfy you.
What inspired you to write your book – No Caffeine Required?
I am passionate about healthy eating as I’ve seen in my practice the difference it’s made to so many of my clients’ lives. Whilst I enjoy my one-to-one consultations I take particular delight in giving talks, particularly to companies, thus inspiring lots of working people to take control of their health and live a better, healthier and more productive life – both in and out of the office. As I was always giving out handouts I decided to consolidate everything I had learnt in a book to enable me to spread the message even further. In the book I have created the POWERTM Eating Programme, which has proved to be a really helpful guide to healthy eating in a truly balanced way. You’ll have to read the book to find out what POWER stands for but I can disclose that the P stands for protein!
Linda is available for lunch break talks for companies on-site or by webinar. To arrange an appointment, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To win a copy of No Caffeine Required, let us know what one single dietary change you intend to make to eat well at work in 2016.
By entering this competition, you will not be added to any mailing lists. The deadline for the competition is midnight on Friday 12 February 2016. The winner will be chosen at random by Linda Munster.