How Does Food Affect Productivity?

Man holding a bag of healthy food flexing his muscles

Whether you have ever considered becoming a Registered Dietitian or a nutritionist, or simply have an interest in food and nutrition, you most likely know that what we eat affects how productive we are. Just as your automobile needs the proper fuel to be able to operate, your body needs nutritional fuel, from food, to be able to work at its optimal levels. The kind of food that you choose to fuel your body affects your productivity, too. You wouldn’t put the cheapest grade of gasoline into a premium automobile, would you? Think of your body as a luxury automobile, which deserves the utmost of care. The foods that you choose to fuel your body affect how your body operates, on all levels, including cognitive, emotional, and physical. Eating healthy foods can mean the difference between wellness and ill health, further boosting productivity.

This all sounds good, you might say, but how am I supposed to know what to eat in order to be my most productive self? Productivity comes from more than just the foods you put into your body. Making good decisions about your diet can affect the foods that you eat, thereby increasing your productivity. Here, we will discuss how what you eat, and how you eat, can affect your productivity.

The Connection Between Diet and Productivity?

The foods that you consume are converted into glucose in your body. Glucose, the main sugar found in the blood, is your body’s main source of energy. Glucose provides energy to your brain, improving cognitive function. It provides energy to your muscles, enhancing physical activity. If you are experiencing a shortage of glucose in your body, you might notice that you have a hard time paying attention and staying focused on a task. This is why you might feel less productive on an empty stomach, or experience excessive tiredness in the afternoon after consuming a less-than-healthy lunch.

Your body, however, processes certain foods that you eat differently. Foods with simple carbohydrates (like breads, pasta, cereal, sugar soda, baked goods) free up glucose quickly into the bloodstream, which causes an immediate eruption of energy, followed by a slump. These foods will be examined in more detail below.

Foods such as “fast foods” that are higher in saturated fat, on the other hand, may provide slower, steadier energy to your body. However, your digestive system uses more energy to process them, reducing levels of oxygen in your brain and creating a groggy feeling, thereby reducing productivity. This feeling of tiredness after eating high-sugar or high-fat foods is often referred to as the “afternoon slump,” but can occur any time of the day after consuming such foods.

How Can I Avoid the Afternoon Slump?

If you want to avoid an afternoon slump as described above, the answer is simple: make better choices when it comes to meals. Decide what you will eat before you get hungry. Plan ahead. If you are bringing your lunch to work, for example, pack healthier foods (the choices of which we will discuss further below). If you plan to eat lunch out, decide in the morning where you will go and what you will have, and stick to that decision, no matter how hungry you are when lunchtime rolls around. Even better, plan a healthy snack during the mid-morning hours, so that you won’t be starving when lunchtime rolls around. Choosing the right foods for lunch can help you to avoid the afternoon slump and keep your productivity levels high.

worker at desk asleep from being tired

Snacking throughout the day is also a good way to avoid crashes later in the afternoon. If you choose healthy snacks, considering them to be smaller, mini-meals, and eat every few hours, your body will remain fueled and your productivity levels will be maintained. Make sure that healthy snacks are readily available (again, we will discuss healthy choices below) at work, at home and in the car.

What Foods Gives You Energy? And Which Can Boost Productivity?

There are many foods that can boost productivity. Some of the most important ones are discussed here.

Fruits and Vegetables

A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that eating vegetables and fruits throughout your day benefits your body as well as your mind. Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables equaled higher levels of well-being, creativity, and curiosity – all of which are vital to productivity. Why are vegetables and fruits so important to well-being? These foods contain nutrients that enhance the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine in your body. Higher dopamine levels create a higher sense of well-being, motivation, and engagement in life. Vegetables and fruits also contain antioxidants the improve memory, mood, and reduce inflammation in your body. 

bowl of vegitables

Fruits and vegetables are the perfect choice for snacks at work or at home. Ones that can particularly increase productivity when incorporated into your diet include:

  • Berries
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Kale

Protein-Rich Foods

Protein bars and almonds are two great choices for healthy snacks to keep on hand that will increase productivity. Why is protein so important? The amino acids making up protein help to build up your body, making it stronger and more productive. Besides the obvious protein bars (make sure to read its ingredients before consuming to make sure that it does not contain excess sugar, thereby causing a glucose reaction and resulting in a slump when eaten) and nuts, other forms of protein that enhance productivity include:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Seeds
  • Lentils
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Whole grain foods (think rice, quinoa, and millet)
  • Dairy products


As we mentioned above, some foods with simple carbohydrates can provide a quick energy burst but later lead to a slump in productivity. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, can provide longer-lasting energy to your body, enhancing productivity. If you are low on carbohydrates, you might feel tired, weak or have problems focusing (hence, the afternoon slump). Feeling this way might cause you to grab something sweet from the vending machine at work, which just perpetuates the cycle– it might provide you with an initial burst of energy, but later you will feel another slump. Fruits and vegetables contain natural sugar (fructose), which is good for you and therefore, fruits and vegetables are classified as “good” carbohydrates.

Good Carbohydrates to Incorporate into Your Diet

Some examples of good carbohydrates that enhance productivity are:

  • Whole grain foods
  • Brown rice
  • Dark chocolate
  • Oats
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Carbohydrates to Limit in Your Diet

Simple carbohydrates, which typically contain too much refined sugar, should be avoided. Foods with simple carbohydrates and unhealthy sugar levels to avoid include:

  • Sugar cereal
  • Sugar soda
  • Pasta
  • White bread
  • Pastries and other baked goods
  • Candy
  • Alcohol

Alcohol is not really a carbohydrate, but it can raise or lower blood sugar. This can cause a lack of concentration and coordination, reducing productivity.

A further note on sugar: Sugar is not always bad. As noted above, sugar provides quick energy to your body. Having low blood sugar can decrease productivity. Having high blood sugar can cause all sorts of problems as well, including affecting productivity. The key is to keep sugar levels in balance and know what are “good” and “bad” sugars. Good sugars include sugars found in fruits, fruit juices (natural with no added sugar), and vegetables. Bad sugars include those found in fruit juices with added sugar, baked goods, and the simple carbohydrates listed above.


Surprisingly, water is crucial to productivity as well. Staying well-hydrated affects cognitive performance and brain power. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal found that losing even one to two percent of the body’s water can impair cognitive performance, reducing productivity.  Researchers from the University of East London and the University of Westminster conducted a study that found that, by drinking just 300 ml of water, the short-term attention levels of adults and children were increased by 25 percent.

man drinking water to hydrate himself
Flat vector illustration character.

Why is water so vital to productivity? Staying hydrated provides your body with energy, as water carries nutrients to your cells and removes waste from the body. Those who are dehydrated have less energy, have lower moods, and are, therefore, less productive. When reaching for a beverage, consider water first— it’s a simple way to stay productive and boost your overall health and well-being.

How Can I Create a Healthy Eating Plan to Boost My Productivity?

Following the advice given in this article can help you to know what foods to eat and what foods to limit or avoid in your diet in order to boost productivity. If you are really serious about making changes for the better in your diet, however, consult a Registered Dietitian or a nutritionist. These trained, educated health professionals can help you to incorporate changes in your diet and lifestyle to increase your productivity and change your life for the better.

Woman drinking healthy smoothy for energy