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STARTUP

How to Eat for All-Day Energy

A nutritional counselor explains how you can use your diet to keep your energy levels up enough to keep up with the challenges of start-up life.

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As a busy entrepreneur you're probably going non-stop all day, but that doesn't mean your energy levels keep pace with your to-do list. Despite a consistently packed calendar from when the alarm rings in the morning to when we shut out the light at night, many busy professionals veer wildly from a post-coffee 11am energy buzz to a near catatonic post-lunch lull in the afternoon.

This can't be good for your productivity, but what's to be done about it? Afternoon napping has been suggested by many and seems to align well with humans' natural circadian rhythms, but if your customers or your kids make that option untenable, are their other possibilities for dealing with your daily energy rollercoaster?

On blog Dumb Little Man recently, nurse and nutritional health counselor Penny Klatell suggested busy professionals consider eating themselves to more consistent energy levels. "Food is both the culprit and the treatment for a big part of our lack of energy, muddled thinking, and mid-afternoon drowsy eyes," she writes, before offering advice on how to modify your diet to keep your mind and body on an even keel throughout the day.

Aside from solid-but-expected advice you've no doubt already heard from your mother ("Eat your breakfast!!!"), Klatell suggests several other dietary adjustments:

Complex beats simple, for once. We all know simple carbohydrates like sugary snacks, pasta and bread cause energy levels to spike and crash. Klatell nudges readers towards the alternative: "Complex carbs take longer to breakdown. Your body digests them more slowly so they supply energy at a slower and more sustained rate than simple sugars. You can get complex carbs from whole grains and cereals, beans, and vegetables."

Drink your way to more energy (no, not that kind of drink). "Dehydration causes fatigue. Even mild dehydration can slow your metabolism, drain your energy, and make you feel tired," writes Klatell.

"There's no easy answer to the question: 'How much water should I drink?' The answer really depends on many factors including your health, your age, how active you are, and where you live. For the average healthy adult who lives in a temperate climate, the Institute of Medicine recommends around 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total water intake a day for men and 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total water intake a day for women," she says.

Snack smart. "Energy sustaining snacks can be peanut butter or low-fat cheese with whole grain crackers, veggies with hummus, whole-grain cereal with milk, or a small portion of nuts with some fruit. Be prepared and carry some snacks with you so you don't go for a long time without fuel," Klatell says. "Don't let your tank hover on empty--to keep your blood sugar stable and to have well fed brain cells have something to eat (a meal or a snack) every three to four hours."

Don't fear the fat. "After carbs, fats are a big source of energy. Feed your body healthy fats from foods like avocados, olives, fatty fish, seeds, nuts, and vegetable and nut oils," Klatell suggests

For much more on the biological explanations of how various foods affect your body and more detailed advice on how to eat right for consistent energy, check out Klatell's complete post. Or if your diet is solid and you're still suffering from a precipitous dip in energy in the afternoon, the New York Times offers other suggestions for beating post-lunch drowsiness. "Another way to push through the dip is to exercise or simply get up and move around the room. If you need to talk to a colleague at another desk, this could be the ideal time," writes Phyllis Korkki. 

"It also helps to arise at the same time every morning, Dr. [professor and sleep scientist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine David] Dinges said. He has found that getting up earlier than usual--even as little as a half-hour earlier--magnifies drowsiness in the afternoon," she adds.

Do you eat as well as you should or are you guilty of cutting corners due to your busy schedule? 

Last updated: May 31, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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