Our most recent HR Roundtable event featured our very own Dr Peter Wootton-Beard RNutr who spoke about the ways good nutrition can help us to improve work performance in an office environment.
Peter is a Registered Nutritionist who, after completing his PhD in Nutrition, lectured at several universities before joining Nudjed as Chief Scientific Officer in July 2014. He is passionate about food and health and his motto is: “We’re all practising health; there is no such thing as perfection.”
The roundtable event was centred around the simple healthy actions that business leaders can take to give their staff the best opportunity to perform at their highest levels. This post accompanies the talk and provides a summary of the key points.
We’re all practising health, there is no such thing as perfection.
Improving Work Performance
People should take time off when they are ill, and a culture where there is no shame in doing so ought to be at the centre of any successful business.
But, what should you do when you are ‘not quite 100%’? Taking time off then wouldn’t seem right.
How often do you say ‘I’m not quite 100% today, I don’t know why’?
Could that be a bigger problem in terms of business performance than absence or even presenteeism? How can you tackle it?
Expecting everyone to be at 100% all the time is a fantasy, but creating opportunities for them to be able to is possible…
Great performance is dependent on great preparation and great support. No sportsman or woman ever just turned up to a competition and won without first preparing correctly, and the same is true of any other job.
To perform at work you need support for:
- The immune system
- Maintaining energy levels
- Healthy digestion
- The skeleton
- Maintaining concentration
- Good rest, relaxation and recovery
- Positivity and optimism
The Immune System
The immune system can be supported through the foods we eat. There are certain foods that may allow us to fight off colds and flus and keep minor illnesses at bay. Just knowing about the benefits of different types of foods can help people to reduce the effects of minor illnesses.
These foods are separated into groups with the following functions:
Reduce inflammation associated with minor illnesses/aches and pains and may help us to recover more quickly.
- Sweet potatoes
- Oily fish
- Dark Green Veggies
These foods may reduce the impact and symptom severity of viral conditions such as the common cold.
- Chillies (decongestant)
- Prawns (and other seafood)
- Green tea
Colourful (rich in vitamins)
Vitamins and minerals are to be found in abundance in fruits and vegetables and they are an important part of the immune system. Focus on:
- Reds, yellows and oranges
- Dark greens, purples and blues
A very important part of immune support is good hydration: keep a water bottle with you and drink regularly.
Maintaining Energy Levels
Drops in energy levels, and feeling generally tired are all too common in modern office environments. Managing energy levels effectively is possible and it can lead to huge improvements in performance, here are the main contributors:
Caffeine is a double edged sword. It is the bringer of alertness and energy one minute and the bringer of crashes in energy and irritability when its effects wear off the next. You should try:
- To reduce caffeine dependency by offering and promoting alternatives such as water
- Try switching to decaf, especially in the afternoons
- Swap coffee breaks for walks
All too often a drop in energy has us reaching for a quick fix in the form of a sugary snack or drink. It’s like plugging a leak with a piece of kitchen paper: it’s not going to hold for long! Some better options are:
- Trail mixes – the perfect high energy, high nutrient snack for when you need a boost. Here’s how to make one.
- A banana – the right blend of nutrients for a healthy energy boost!
- Crackers and cheese – a mixture of complex carbs and protein to keep you going.
Drinking water again….it really is so important to maintaining energy levels. Over 2/3 of your body is water; when you’re dehydrated it makes you feel tired and irritable and unable to work at your best.
This is all about eating foods which release their energy more slowly to help maintain more consistent energy levels. It’s explained in the next section on glycaemic index (GI). The main food groups to include are:
- Wholegrain/wholemeal varieties of bread/rice/pasta/cereals
- Fresh vegetables with the skin left on where possible
- Nuts, seeds, beans and lentils
GI is all about how quickly your blood sugar rises and falls after you eat.
Quick = Short term energy (white bread/pasta/rice, fizzy drinks, energy drinks,sweets, crisps, fruit juice)
Slow = Long term energy (Wholemeal bread/rice/pasta, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, dried fruit, wholegrain crackers)
In the graph, you can see that a high GI food makes the blood sugar rise and fall quickly, leading to drops in energy levels throughout the day. Low GI foods keep the energy levels more stable.
Feeling uncomfortable, bloated or a bit below par digestively is a common issue, and one that is rarely noticed or reported for fear of embarrassment. But nevertheless it can throw you off your game, here are some easy ways to improve the situation:
There are some foods that have been shown to reduce bloating, and the good news is that lots of them have been added to herbal teas to provide an easy method of consumption. They are:
Pre and Probiotic
Some foods (probiotics) contain live ‘good’ bacteria that support your gut function, others (prebiotics) contain a special type of carbohydrate that feed the good bacteria that are in your stomach and improve digestion. Some good options are:
- Sweet potato – Prebiotic
- Parsnip – Prebiotic
- Jerusalem artichoke – Prebiotic
- Chicory – Prebiotic
- Live yoghurt – Probiotic
Fibre is the cornerstone of good digestion, it comes in two forms but both are important for good digestive health. Increase fibre by eating:
- Wholegrain foods
- Lentils, beans and other legumes
- Nuts and Seeds
- And leaving the skin on whenever you can
Beginning to notice a pattern here? Good hydration is at the centre of so many essential processes. Having plenty of water is an essential part of any healthy routine.
The number one reason for people to take time off are musculoskeletal issues like lower back pain. There are some simple practices that you can adopt to prevent this issue for becoming a bigger problem later on. They are:
Practising Good Posture
Good posture is a combination of knowing and practising. The key elements of good posture are as follows, but you have to practice them! Check your posture every 10-20 minutes and correct it if you have slouched.
- Feet facing forwards, legs straight
- Engaged legs, a little bit of tension in the upper legs
- A natural curve in the lower back, and straight upper back
- A slight forward tilt to the pelvis, pushing lower back backwards and bringing thighs forwards.
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Chin gently tucked in towards the neck, with neck straightened
Having the basic equipment to support your body whilst you work can significantly reduce the amount of pressure on your spine and the amount of problems you experience, the 4 most important are:
- A supportive chair that allows the natural arch in your lower back, and ideally has head and neck support
- A computer screen that is at eye level so that you don’t have to strain your neck to type
- A screen that is far enough from your face that your eyes do not feel strained from looking at it
- Space to get up and stretch regularly throughout your day
Being able to get up from your desk and move around regularly will help your muscles to relax and allow you to correct your posture. You could try:
- Getting up and moving every 20 minutes
- Making the effort to make your own tea or coffee so that you have to leave your desk
- Conducting walking meetings so that everyone is able to move and stretch
- Simply going for a 2 minute walk around the office on a regular basis
Being able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand can be a key driver of performance. A loss in concentration, or the ability to concentrate can really affect productivity, particularly in the afternoons. Here are some simple things that can help:
Perhaps the biggest reason for a drop in focus and concentration is dehydration, just 2% dehydration can lead to a drop in mental performance, and you won’t feel thirsty until you are well beyond that. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk and re-filling it regularly takes this out of the equation.
Regular Screen Breaks
Staring at a lit screen for long periods of time is draining on the eyes and the brain. There is no point being in front of the screen if you can’t focus on what you doing on it. You should:
- Get up and move away from your screen at least every 20 minutes
- Take 5 minutes away from the screen to rest your eyes every hour. Do some other small task
A Steady Energy Supply
Maintaining consistent energy levels is very important when it comes to keeping yourself focused and able to concentrate. Quick fixes will have us peaking and crashing throughout the day, which is a recipe for disaster. To maintain a consistent supply of energy we should:
- Eat meals based on low GI carbs
- Opt for healthy snacks that release their energy slowly
- Try not to go to long between meals, even if they are small
A Quiet and Peaceful Environment or Some Gentle Music
There is always the odd person who thrives in a bustling environment, and who can tune out the sounds around them, but most people need a peaceful environment to be able to concentrate fully. It’s part of creating the right environment for productivity and mutual respect. We can:
- Remove unnecessary distractions
- Keep general noise to a minimum
- Listen to a playlist of calming music
- Agree to disturb one another only when strictly necessary
- Communicate online before asking someone a question in person to make sure they are not busy
Rest, Relaxation and Recovery
The recovery is just as important as the performance. Without fully recovering, you cannot expect to repeat a great performance. The opportunity to rest, and recover should be just as important as the imperative to perform. We can provide these opportunities by:
Getting good sleep
Good sleep is the foundation of good recovery. It’s when our brains work out problems, and when our bodies repair and reset. Some simple ways to improve sleep are:
Time to Calm Down
After periods of intense activity it is important to find time to be calm and relax to relieve tension and stress so that they are not carried over into the next day and beyond. Stress is growing problem in the UK and accounts for lots of time off and lost productivity. Here are a few things that can help:
- Allocating 20-30 minutes to sit quietly, perhaps with a book or a drink and calm down after work
- Practicing yoga
- Learning to meditate, even for 10 minutes a day
- Find or build a calming playlist that you can listen to when you’re feeling stressed
Good Quality Protein
Protein helps our bodies to repair themselves and build new cells. Our ability to recover quickly depends on eating sources of good quality protein. Here are some of the best sources:
- Oily Fish
- Lentils and beans
- Quorn, tofu and other soy products
- Lean meats
- Milk and other dairy products
A Colourful Diet
The vitamins and minerals in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, especially antioxidants, contribute to our ability to fight off environmental stressors and recover effectively. Focus on:
- Dark Greens
- Blues and Purples
Low GI Foods
A steady supply of energy is also important for rest and recovery, and stable energy providers like low GI foods are a great choice.
Positivity and Optimism
Feeling good about what you’re doing and what you’re going to do are really important when it comes to performing at your best. It’s an important part of maintaining motivation and feeing empowered to achieve your best work. Here are some things that can help people to feel more positive and optimistic at work.
Focusing on Solutions
It’s easy to find problems, no process is perfect and nobody is perfect. Thinking about some possible solutions or committing to working on one rather than simply pointing out a problem is a much more constructive way to work, it keeps everyone feeling positive.
Practice not Perfection
In the same vain, chasing perfection is draining and exhausting. It’s unlikely that it’ll ever be achieved, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve something you can be proud of. Create a culture of practice and improvement rather than chasing perfection and people are able to feel more optimistic even in the face of adversity.
It might sound like it has come a bit out of left field, but having a good posture and keeping your head up can make a difference to how positive and empowered you feel. Practising good posture, keeping your head up and back straight could provide that little boost of confidence that is required at a difficult time.
Flexible Working and Rewards
It goes without saying that people respond to different motivators. Knowing what works for your team is very important when it comes to getting the most from them. Here are some of the areas where it might be valuable to focus:
- Notice effort and success equally. Success is often the product of persistence in the face of repeated failure, so it’s the effort that counts in the end.
- Provide thoughtful rewards or allow someone to choose their own
- Be flexible and allow for individual working styles. People work better in different environments, and being accommodating as far as possible can provide great benefits in productivity.
- Show you care, take every opportunity to support people in their lives, both in and out of work
If you have any questions for Peter, you can get in touch with him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to know more about Nudjed, you can visit www.nudjed.com