And while those stories can be interesting and helpful, I personally have been more in need of mid-day recommendations. Anybody who knows me is well aware that I make a Starbucks run for a caffeine fix just about every afternoon.
I typically feel great and am at my best in the morning, only to have my energy and productivity dip precipitously right after lunch.
Of course this is common — we’re wired to become sleepy between 1pm and 3pm, when our core body temperature drops and the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is released. This is a natural part of our body’s circadian rhythm.
But I also know that what we eat for lunch plays a big role in how we feel for the remainder of the day. As best-selling author Tom Rath says, “What you do at lunch can either make or break the rest of your day.”
So I have been on the lookout for lunch options that will keep me mentally sharp through the end of the work day.
As part of my research, I looked for inspiration from some highly-successful people. Although there seems to be far less information out there about the lunch foods of successful people relative to what they eat for breakfast, I was able to uncover the following:
- Entrepreneur, author, and productivity guru Tim Ferriss recommends eating the same thing for lunch almost every day, which for him consists of organic beef, mixed vegetables, pinto beans, and guacamole.
- First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama has been known to eat fish and stir-fried vegetables for lunch, and occasionally brown rice or a potato. One of her lunchtime favorites is also veggie pizza on whole wheat bread, loaded with vegetables, cheese, and tomato sauce.
- Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Magazine Anna Wintour opts for a high-protein lunch, usually consisting of a steak or hamburger without the bun.
- Actor Mark Wahlberg (and co-owner of the burger restaurant chain Wahlburgers) typically eats a salad, turkey burger, and sweet potato for lunch.
- And then there is CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who eats the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for months in a row. At times this has meant just scrambled egg whites three times a day, or baked potatoes, or oatmeal raisin bars, or veggie burgers for every meal, month after month. Wow.
Interesting information for sure, but next I needed to turn to the experts to see what they recommend.
According to Karen Ansel, Registered Dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the ultimate lunch for a productivity boost is chickpeas and iced green tea.
Chickpeas provide the perfect blend of protein and complex carbs to power the brain, and apparently adding some balsamic vinegar is icing on the cake because it slows down carbohydrate digestion to sustain energy even longer. Washing it down with green tea sharpens concentration and focus thanks to the drink’s combo of a key amino acid plus a small amount of caffeine.
Research also shows that eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day is as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body. A recent study found that the more fruits and vegetables people ate, the happier, more engaged, and more creative they became.
Other great lunchtime options include lean meats (such as grilled chicken), fresh fish, healthy fats (such as avocado and nuts), and drinking plenty of water.
It’s no surprise that foods to avoid at lunch are anything high in sugar such as cookies, candy, and soda. And best to stay away from refined carbs such as white pasta and bread, which release their glucose quickly producing an energy spike followed by a slump.
With healthy lunch options now in the bag, here are some other energizing habits to consider incorporating into your lunch break:
- Leave your desk and get outside, even for as short as 10 minutes
- Eat with friends or co-workers to socialize and build relationships
- Listen to music to release tension and stress
- Exercise to boost afternoon energy levels and productivity
- Unplug and recharge by shutting off your devices during your lunch hour
If your energy does happen to dip in the afternoon, here are some brain-boosting snack ideas to power you through the end of the day, including almonds, walnuts, carrots, raisins, yogurt, berries, and even some dark chocolate.
Have a great afternoon!