Whether we work in a traditional, 9-5 office environment, work from home, or bounce from one place to another, work always seems to get in the way of us taking care of our bodies like we wish we could.

It’s a funny paradox: we work so we can feed ourselves and our families, but this same work so often keeps us from feeding ourselves well.

It’s tempting to think that if we only had more time we would be able to fit in regular exercise and consistent homemade meals. Unfortunately, the opposite is true in many cases. More structure typically results in stricter habits while more flexibility leads to disorganization and procrastination.

We often intend to reserve non-working hours to pursue our health goals like cooking balanced meals or exercising, but by the time we get a break, there’s nothing that will keep us from indulging in convenience foods, binge TV watching, or sleep. For the entrepreneur, designing a routine around a nutritious meal schedule might be just the recipe necessary to provide structure to the entire workday.

Here’s 5 ways to energize your day by focusing on your nutrition first:

Eat breakfast within 1 hour of waking up

After fasting all night, a nourishing breakfast will stabilize your blood sugar, give you the focus you need to get through your morning, and reduce afternoon cravings. Breakfast consumption has been shown to have a positive effect on cognitive performance and results in more well-behaved and energetic individuals. A little protein, like eggs or yogurt, paired with fruit or vegetables should provide you with steady morning fuel.

If you’re not used to eating breakfast, it may take a while to work up an appetite in the mornings. Our bodies become accustomed to our habits, so start with a small snack within an hour of rising in order to work up your appetite over time. Caffeine has an appetite-suppressing effect, so if you’re a coffee drinker, your morning cup may be keeping you from feeling hungry for breakfast. If this is the case, try eating your small snack with you coffee, before you lose your appetite.

Know how long your meals will last

A basic rule to remember is that a balanced meal should last you about 4-5 hours before you’ll need to eat again. After 4-5 hours you will have completely digested your meal, stored away any extra calories for later, and your blood sugar will start to dip. This means that if you eat breakfast at 7am, you’ll need lunch just before noon. If you eat lunch at noon, you’ll be getting the munchies around 4pm.

If you find your meals don’t last you quite this long, you might need to boost the nutrient density of your meals in order to increase satiety. Try adding a bit of protein like meat, eggs, dairy, or legumes or some satiating fats like avocado, coconut, or olive oil. If you’re already including these things, try switching out some short-acting carbohydrates (bread, pasta, chips) for long-acting ones like berries, squash, greens, or intact grains.

If you typically go longer than 4-5 hours between your meals, try scheduling your meals into your calendar to remind you to eat. Even if you don’t feel hungry, going too long between meals can result in low blood sugar, poor focus, increased stress, and stronger hunger and cravings later in the day.

Schedule your snacks

There’s a lot of confusion about snacking. The truth is, snacking is likely essential to your productivity and nourishing diet. Because your meals only last you 4-5 hours, it’s probable that you’ll need a snack to get you through long stretches of the day.

Snack timing depends on your personal schedule. If you wake up and eat breakfast early, you may need a mid-morning snack to hold you over until lunch. If you struggle with afternoon fatigue and cravings, an afternoon snack may be necessary, especially if you don’t eat dinner until late. If you eat an early dinner, but stay up late, you may need an after dinner snack.

Choosing a balanced and intentional snack makes all the difference. You want something that will provide you with fuel and energy for the next couple of hours until your next meal. Consider your snack to be a “mini meal” – a hard-boiled egg, nuts, and veggies will fuel you much longer than an apple alone.

Plan for the unexpected

Last-minute meetings, phone calls, and deadlines can easily throw our well-intentioned schedules off track. While these distractions are sometimes more of an excuse than a necessity, I’ll admit, they’re sometimes unavoidable. When you miss a scheduled meal, it’s helpful to have emergency snacks on hand to hold you over until you can eat again. These can be eaten in your car in between meetings, as a substitute for a quick lunch if you’re running late, or a quick break to hold you over until dinner.

Keep non-perishable items in your bag, desk, or car that you can rely on during a busy day. Nuts, dried fruit, tangerines, dried seaweed, and protein bars are all easy to have on hand for these types of situations and should provide you with one to two hours of fuel.

Move

Get the most value from your meals by taking a 10-minute walk after each meal. This short exercise will allow your body to utilize stored sugars immediately, improve digestion, and reduce blood pressure. It’s also a great opportunity to breathe some fresh air, step away from a screen, and perhaps let your creative mind come up with a new idea or solution.

Do you have a tendency to graze on snacks all day or skip meals entirely? What tools have helped you stick to a regular meal schedule?

Drew Parisi
Drew Parisi

Drew Parisi, NC is a certified nutritionist, foodie, and amateur gardener, helping entrepreneurs and other busy people develop nourishing food habits to fuel their dreams. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and 1,000 paper cranes.

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