People & Human Resources, Startup Advice

Food for thought: How smart nutrition can fuel success for business owners

Stuart Taylor /

Startups and small businesses are no strangers to stress. The demands of growing a business from the ground up and the associated levels of work intensity will often be the tipping point into a domino effect on the key pillars of our wellbeing.

Our research shows 30% of people experience excessive work intensity and 55% of people worry excessively. Under intense work stress, regular exercise and healthy sleep patterns are usually the first things to go, followed by good nutrition — in other words when work gets too hot to handle, many of us remove ourselves from the kitchen.

More people than not would be aware of the string of health issues associated with poor nutrition. There is enough in the media and online for us to be aware of the serious risks, which include increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, but also psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Read more: Are you time poor and stressed? Here’s how to reclaim yourself

The impact a poor diet will also have on your work life cannot be underestimated. The nutritional choices you make will affect your emotional state, your cognitive ability, and ultimately your performance. Therefore, instead of allowing one’s diet to fall to the wayside during stressful times, these are the times when the maintenance of smart nutrition is critical. A good diet will enable resilience and the effective management of stress.

When it comes to nutrition, business owners should lead by example, but also consider implementing practices that will support staff in achieving this. A Harvard University study identified that business leaders who recognise the potential productivity benefits associated with employee wellness can expect to see a return on their investment of $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness programs.

At an individual level, there are also tactical steps you can take to maintain good nutrition and mitigate the impact of stress at work.

Don’t skip breakfast

School teachers ask their students if they have eaten breakfast, so why is it that many of us continue to neglect this essential part of our day as adults? Breakfast improves mental performance and having a full stomach when you enter the work day can reduce anxiety and irritability, resulting in better individual performance and improved teamwork. For those who are time-poor and find they don’t wake up hungry, start by hard-boiling some eggs and taking one with you as you run out the door.

Boost the brain food

Vitamin D from fatty fish and eggs, plus exposure to sunshine, contributes to improved mood and cognitive performance. To support memory function, boost your intake of vegetables, rice and whole grains.

Pick up protein

Tyrosine found in tofu, tuna and yoghurt are ideal foods to eat before tackling a challenging work project to support alertness. However, avoid high-protein meals for dinner as it can affect your sleep patterns. Opt to increase your protein intake at breakfast and lunch.

Bring nutrition to the workplace 

There’s a reason people like to work out together; it’s inspiring to have others by your side sharing the same journey. The same goes for nutrition. When those around you are also practicing good health habits, it makes you more accountable and inclined to stick to your guns. Try to introduce healthy habits into the wider workplace to get your employees and co-workers on board.

Get back to basics

When you’re busy, it can be tempting to reach for sweet snacks when you need an energy hit, but steer clear of processed foods or those with artificial sweeteners. Carbonated drinks also tend to make you hungrier, which can lead to overeating and lethargy. Try to eat a wider variety of vegetables, include good fats such as nuts and avocados in your snacks, and go for full fat dairy products (if you can).

Eat regular, small meals

Timing is key to keep your glucose levels stable. A drop in glucose levels can give way to reduced attention and focus, irritability, and impulsive behaviour. Two or three snacks spaced throughout the day in between meals is ideal. Keep your office well-stocked with nuts, fruits and other healthy snacks. Chances are your employees would rather go for a muesli bar 10 metres from their desk before running down the road to gorge on lollies.

Enjoy food with people

During the work day, and particularly in the cases where you need to pull longer hours than usual, brief breaks for meals and snacks are a valuable opportunity to connect and engage socially, which is an important part of incorporating relaxation into your day. Being present with family members over dinner or catching up with friends for a bite to eat are ways to mitigate against the negative effects excessive work intensity can create in your personal life.  

Through your diet, you ultimately have the choice to either enhance or hinder your levels of alertness, concentration, memory, creativity, and the ability to think effectively. We all know that good eating habits will have a significant impact on our wellbeing, so why don’t more of us consider the significant impact it will have on us at work?

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Stuart Taylor

Stuart Taylor is a speaker, facilitator, executive coach and the founder of Springfox.

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