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The Wall Street Journal just had a great story on brain foods for work, and it’s been a while since we discussed that here — so, what do you eat to stay energized at work throughout the day? If you’re in the office, how much are you bringing from home vs. relying on office snacks (or purchasing foods), and if you’re at home, do you have a system for snacking? If you’re hybrid, how has that affected things?
The Best Foods To Help You Stay Energized at Work
Kate looked into this a few years ago and found a bunch of great ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As she noted:
Good strategies to follow for maintaining your energy at work are eating frequently to keep your blood sugar at the proper level (no skipping meals!), choosing protein-rich foods and complex carbohydrates, and drinking enough water. Wise choices include nuts and nut butters, eggs, yogurt, oatmeal and other whole grains, fruits and veggies, and high-protein salads.
Breakfast Foods to Help You Stay Energized
- Oatmeal: Steel-cut or otherwise (readers recommended Kashi and Nature’s Path brands), perhaps with some berries or another healthy mix-in
- Peanut butter: on whole-wheat or sprouted-grain bread, bagel, or multigrain waffle.
- Eggs: on an English muffin, with meat (like ham or sausage), etc.
- Yogurt: Mix in ground flaxseed, honey, fruit, walnuts, granola.
- Smoothies: Add protein to make them more filling — yogurt, kefir, soy milk, protein powder.
- Burritos/wraps: Make them ahead of time and simply freeze and reheat, like this highly-rated recipe.
- Convenience foods: For relatively healthy options, readers suggested cereal (e.g., Kashi, Total, Fiber One), Clif bars, and Luna bars. (These can even take the place of some of the other meal ideas listed if you’re crunched for time in the mornings!)
Lunch Foods to Help Keep your Energy Up at Work
- High-protein salads: Be careful, though; dressings with a lot of fat or sugar can make you feel sluggish later. Bean salads are an excellent option.
- Sandwiches: Readers suggested combinations like apple and cheese, peanut butter and banana, and turkey with hummus and spinach.
- Takeout options: sushi, soup, sandwiches, grain bowls
- Yesterday’s leftovers: Again, YMMV.
Snack Foods to Help You Stay Energized at Work
- Dairy: yogurt (Greek or otherwise), cottage cheese, Laughing Cow cheese, string cheese
- Packaged bars: Kashi, RX, Quest, Fiber One
- Fruit and veggies: Apples, bananas, oranges, berries, grapes, dried cherries, baby carrots (with or without hummus)
- Nuts and nut butters: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans; try peanut butter on whole-wheat toast/bread, rice cakes, pretzels, bananas, or apples.
- Other: Popcorn, oatmeal, trail mix, tea (green, English Breakfast, Moroccan mint)
(These are some of our latest favorite mint teas — and, bonus, they’ll make your office smell nice!)
How I Stay Energized at Work
My System for Staying Energized for Long Days at the Office
When I was in an office, I definitely had systems to keep my energy up on days when I needed to make it through a super long workday.
Some of those systems have included frequent small meals, in an attempt to keep my blood sugar constant and energy levels high. For example:
first breakfast (within an hour of waking up) — something really small; over the years this might have been a few Triscuits, a piece of fruit, or about half a protein shake mixed with coffee.
second breakfast (after settling in at the the office, or after a workout) — yogurt mixed with a high-fiber cereal, maybe overnight oats, maybe hard-boiled eggs — you’ll notice these have all been easy things to literally shove in my purse and go. I also like to start focusing on water early; I aim to get 32 ounces before noon.
snack – apple or other fruit — I’m one of those people who, if I have a washed apple sitting in front of my computer screen, I will eat it, but if I don’t then I will completely forget that apples exist and that I needed a snack
lunch — Could be anything, but usually soup, salad, or sandwich from a fast food joint near the office. I’ve always tried to make sure this includes a good serving of protein. (And Diet Coke. Always Diet Coke.)
afternoon snack — This has ranged widely, from a decaf skim latte, to some oatmeal or other breakfast-type choices, to some nuts or a spoonful of PB. We’ve rounded up 40+ snack ideas for work!
dinner — Here, it’s really depended how long a haul I think I’m in for, and who’s paying for the dinner (me or the client). So if it was 6:00 p.m. and I thought I’d be working until midnight, I tended to order foods that didn’t have to be eaten all at once. For example, if possible, it’s great to eat fruit BEFORE you eat your dinner — it seems to give a burst of energy and, by the time your sugar levels spike and you’re starving, it’s time for the main meal. Or ordering soup (to eat first) and a half a sandwich (to eat in two hours). Other frequent dinner items at the office included things like omelets, grilled fish, steak, or chicken, sushi, salads.
final snack: On the days I intended to be there until midnight and really needed to crunch, I’d mix a cup of regular and decaf coffee and drink that around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Because I’d do it only occasionally, the effect would be to spike my energy levels SUPER high, and then I’d completely crash about an hour and a half later– just in time for bed. If I was hungry again I would maybe eat another snack similar to my afternoon snack.
Psst: Here are some of our best tips for eating late at the office.
How I Stay Energized when Working from Home
My eating schedule while working from home is very much the same, although long-haul days are much more rare, and I always try to join my family for dinner. I will note that I cook a lot more of my own food, and obviously my choices are much broader than at the office because I don’t have to think about packing food to bring to work, or keeping food in a shared office refrigerator.
But the general pattern of the day is the same:
first breakfast — something small (I never have much appetite in the morning, but always have at least one scoop of collagen powder with my black coffee)
second breakfast — something more substantial and breakfast-y, 30-90 minutes after first breakfast: overnight oats, protein yogurt
snack — apple or carrots with hummus — I try to make sure this meal helps with my fiber goals.
lunch — I often cook an egg wrap, nuke a Jimmy Dean egg sandwich, or heat up leftovers. Again, I try to make sure this meal has a good amount of protein.
afternoon snack — If I work out after lunch, this will be a super protein-heavy snack like a Fairlife shake or protein yogurt. It may also just be some tea with collagen added or a string cheese with some crackers. (I know, fancy!)
dinner — These days this is usually the end of my workday, but because I try to avoid eating after 8:00 p.m. we have a pretty big, protein-heavy meal, often with kid-friendly carbs like pasta or rice…
Readers, how about you — how do you stay energized at work?
Stock photo via Shutterstock / benedix.