Caffeine has a complicated relationship with productivity. Drink a cup of coffee before work, and you’ll feel ready to face the day. Drink another when you sit down at your desk, and you’ll think faster and work harder. But drink a third or fourth before lunch, and you might trade your advantage for productivity-killing anxiety.
Although American adults consume an average of 3.1 cups of coffee per day, according to the National Coffee Association, most discover that the best way to get a caffeine boost isn’t to slam back cup after cup of the black stuff. In fact, according to Madelyn Fernstrom, health and nutrition editor at NBC News, coffee promotes productivity best when consumed in quantities of 300 milligrams or less once per day.
Although office snacks don’t contain caffeine, they have a similar link to productivity. One healthy snack may be what you need to perk up, and two might give you energy for the rest of the workday. But if you binge, be prepared to fight off a nap.
Maximize Your Office Snacks
Stopping after one or two snacks is easier said than done, to be sure. But portions are only part of the puzzle. Squeeze productivity out of every office snack by:
Choosing the RIght Office Snacks
Of course, somebody with a tree nut allergy shouldn’t consume cashews. But even for those of us without food allergies, it’s important to know which office snacks do and don’t work with our body.
Last year, nutritionist Lyn-Genet Recitas published The Metabolism Plan, which contains a list of reactive foods. Recitas segments the list by the percentage of her patients who reported that a given food causes symptoms of inflammation. Patients identify inflammatory foods by monitoring themselves for fatigue, bloating, headaches, and impaired cognition hours after consumption.
The foods that Recitas’ patients found inflammatory aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. Five percent or fewer reacted poorly to lamb, for example, while 85 percent or more did so to asparagus.
Recitas’ advice? Keep a food journal. Spend a week eating the foods that tend to be the least reactive, and then slowly introduce more reactive foods. At office snacks, for example, you might start with apples, goat cheese, pears, and pumpkin seeds. You could then scale up to slightly more reactive office snacks like chickpeas and cow’s cheeses before testing highly reactive ones like bagels, oatmeal, and strawberries.
…With the Right Ingredients
With that said, there are several common ingredients that Recitas and virtually every other nutritionist agree it’s best to limit. Not only can eating office snacks that contain them slow you down at work, but long-term overconsumption can cause serious health problems.
The biggest sign to stay away from an office snack? Added sugar. Because “free” sugars are quickly absorbed by the body, they cause levels of orexin — a brain chemical that promotes alertness — to nosedive. The result is a brief boost that’s followed by sugar’s characteristic crash.
So what should you do if you’re craving something sugary at work? Reach for something naturally sweet, like dried fruit. If that’s not your style, we offer more than 20 office snacks with no added sugars.
The other thing to watch out for in office snacks, at least if you want to stay awake at work, is sodium. Although the body needs some sodium in order to function, the average American eats almost 150 percent of the daily recommended value of this essential mineral.
What’s wrong with too much sodium? It may not make you sleepy, but a high-salt diet has been linked to other productivity problems. Researchers at Cornell Medical College found that mice fed too much salt showed signs of cognitive impairment, including difficulty telling new and familiar objects apart, navigating a maze, and building a nest.
…At the Right Times
But what if you eat office snacks in proper portions and with the right nutrients and still struggle with productivity? The problem might be one of timing.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are three keys to meal and snack scheduling that promote all-day energy. The first is to eat within an hour or two of waking. So don’t skip breakfast, and if you do, grab something with 150 to 400 calories from the healthy snack stash when you arrive. Doing so will bring your blood sugar levels back to normal, which can fix feelings of anxiety or fatigue.
The NSF’s second piece of advice is to eat smaller amounts more often throughout the day. Instead of waiting for lunchtime to eat a giant meal, enjoy a healthy snack every hour or two. Then, when it comes time for lunch, opt for a salad, soup, or similar low-calorie option.
Thirdly, according to the NSF, be sure to drink water while you snack. Not only does dehydration cause sleepiness, but consuming water with meals can aid digestion. Digestion, of course, is the process by which your body unlocks the energy inside foods.
Snacking might not sound very productive, and eating the wrong snacks at the wrong times certainly can sap your productivity. But just as with caffeine, there’s more to the story. Healthy office snacks — consumed in moderation and as needed — might be just what you need to stay productive through the workday.