You spend most of your waking hours working or getting to work. Let that sink in a moment. And this is assuming you're doing the average American 40-hour work week. For entrepreneurs, it's not unusual to work 100+ hours per week, especially in the early years of a startup. Is that healthy? Of course not, but in many instances it is viewed as a necessity in order to get your venture off the ground. The good news: In many cases you're no longer in an office where Debbie from accounting brings in doughnuts on the daily and the snack machine is a siren's call. The bad news: You may be totally left to your own devices when it comes to meals and snacking.
You can turn that bad news into good news by educating yourself about what you put into your body. It may be quick and efficient to buy fast food during the work day, but the toll this will take on your body systems is anything but efficient and will only harm you and your business in the end. You might not feel like you have time to cook a healthy meal (and maybe you don't) but there are plenty of healthy, filling and wholesome "on the go" foods that are a better bet than the drive-through.
Despite the availability of healthier foods nowadays, entrepreneurs still seem to lean on certain "stressful foods" over and over again. These are generally unhealthy and you should consider cutting back on them at the least, banishing them from your diet, or saving them as an occasional indulgence if you really can't let go for good. Even better, check out the healthier alternatives:
1. Sugar-laden cereal
It's fast, cheap, tastes good and it's comforting because it's from your childhood. I've also known many a startup that fills their kitchens with it. However, the majority of these cereals are loaded with sugar, salt, and a slew of ingredients you can't pronounce. The average adult should consume no more than 1,800mg of salt per day, otherwise you risk bloating at best and high blood pressure at worst. One alternative: A whole-grain granola with ingredients you recognize, limited sugar and no added salt.
2. Energy drinks
These spell trouble, and the same goes for sodas (even diet). They have preservatives, some have dangerous chemicals and can even destroy your teeth. As much as engineers feel they have to spend all night coding their latest project, constant large injections of caffeine should be avoided. The Mayo Clinic talks about how much is too much here. The alternative: Any and all herbal teas (hot or cold) with a fresh squeezed lemon (or just old-fashioned water).
It doesn't matter if your weakness is milk chocolate bars, doughnuts, snack cakes or hard candies. So much added sugar, food colorings, salt and preservatives is going to bring you crashing down (and makes you obese too). However, that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself. The alternative: Up to three squares of the darkest chocolate you can find per day or up to three servings of fruit.
In small doses, and with nothing added, coffee has been shown to be beneficial in many studies. However, as mentioned above, the average American takes caffeine too far. They have too many cups, too many additions (from sugar to creamer), and ultimately a dependency occurs. The alternative: 50 percent decaf until you're down to one cup of regular coffee per day, or tea.
5. White starches
Is your go-to food white breads or pasta? If so, a lot of the nutrients have been removed and you're filling up on simple carbs which gives you bloat, energy swings, and can lead to fat increases. This does not make for a happy workplace. The alternative: Shoot for complex carbs, such as whole wheat or even alternatives such as low-carb flaxseed-based starches. It also doesn't hurt to consider a diet that cuts out most starch-y foods altogether.
Sometimes there's a thin line between alcohol use and abuse. The fast-paced startup lifestyle often includes a dangerous mix of alcohol and various other drugs (a subject for another post). However, any alcohol consumption can slow your metabolism and potentially impact weight gain. You don't have to go teetotaler, but if you're drinking more than you're comfortable with, take action. The alternative: One drink, dealer's choice (but dry red wine has more benefits than others), for social events.
7. Energy bars
Just like energy drinks, these so-called "healthy" bars are often anything but. Simply read the ingredients. If you understand everything in them, and it's not brimming with dehydrated fruits and chocolate (sugar bombs), you're good to go. The alternative: Any truly healthy bar that passes your nutrition label test--but these usually aren't filling anyway, so go for something healthier with lower calories like steamed broccoli with Sriracha.
You think you're being healthy when choosing juice, but is it 100 percent juice and how much sugar is in that anyway? You might be missing out on fiber and a more filling treat going the juice route. The alternative: The actual fruit. Also consider more savory juices by mixing kale, parsnip, tomato or celery, for example. These can be delicious, once you take the plunge.
9. Fast food
Yes, you can check out the nutritional information online for many chain restaurants, but studies have shown these nutrition calculators may not even be accurate. Plus, you don't get to account for added preservatives (they might not be featured on the online labels). The alternative: Whole foods from your grocery store--you're not saving much time in the drive-through vs. going into a store anyway.
10. Sugar-free options
These can seem like lifesavers if you're trying to avoid carbs (because of the aforementioned fat issues), but not all sugar substitutes are created equally. If you really need a fix and want to keep your sugars in check, look for sugar-free items featuring Stevia extract, which comes from a plant, and may be less harmful for you. Alternative: The real winner is ditching sugar substitutes all together and focusing on finding sweet treats that naturally have little sugar, like berries and whipped cream.
At the end of the day, your body is a machine, and you need to fuel it correctly or your entire life will suffer--including the company you are running or working for. You can't be the best partner, manager, inventor or idea pitcher without proper nutrition. You may also want to consider whole, quality supplements since it's tough to get all the nutrition you need (and manage your weight) from diet alone.