7 tips on eating healthy and maintaining high energy levels at work – part 1

Summary of part 1: Plan, keep hydrated, don’t settle for crap.

A colleague of mine (hola David!) – a fellow consultant – asked me some time ago to write about some tips on how to eat healthy and maintain high energy levels at work. Initially this was supposed to be a 4-tips-one-part-post, sweet and short. It turns out, though, that because I’m so passionate about clean eating and had to figure this one out in detail at the beginning of my fitness journey this year, I actually have a few more pieces of advice that I’d like to share with you and I didn’t want any reader to fall asleep / run away in terror due to the length of this post – hence the breaking it up into parts (at least two).

Hope you’ll find these useful. They come as a result of trial-and-error regarding maintaining my training routine and ensuring that I still eat clean regardless of the location or busyness. The images at the top are pictures of my lunches bought in several places, but they share one trait – they’re mostly high protein, high in healthy fats and low in carbs (or low GI). These are just a confirmation that I do follow my own advice and it’s working!

Here we go then with part 1:

1. Plan (and prepare)

I get asked sometimes how do I combine an intensive lifestyle of a management consultant, with all the travel and long hours that come with it, with my quest of becoming an IRONMAN. My answer is always the same: it’s all a matter of proper planning (determination and motivation aside, of course – we’ll touch upon that subject at a different time). Anything else is just an excuse in my opinion. If I go out of town, I will choose a hotel with a gym / close to a gym with a stationary bicycle and will research the nearest pools, so that when I’m on-site, I can just act on my already carried out research. I try to spare myself the surprise of not being able to follow my training plan and not give myself the excuse of ‘couldn’t do it, there were just no facilities around’. That’s also one of the reasons why I started running, actually – as it’s a lot harder to believe in your own justifications of failure. If you’re following a gym regime, the excuse of a proper gym not being around can actually be sometimes absolutely valid, whereas with running you cannot say that there were no running shoes around or no streets / pavements / forests / whatever else you run on or in.

For me, planning is the critical element of maintaining a healthy diet and keeping your energy levels at a high level. I have nothing against improvisation – as long as it doesn’t turn into a convenient excuse. To prevent it from happening, I highly recommend planning your meals and then following your plans on the day.

If you’re cooking your own meals, then that’s a matter of ‘prepping like a boss’ during the weekend. Sure, you’ll probably have to invest some of your time in the cooking process, but I would argue that it is an investment with a great ROI – that is, of course, if your meals are of an appropriate quality and are in line with your nutrition goals / weight management targets. If you want to lose weight and you cook two kg of mac’n’cheese during the weekend to be ingested throughout the week, then that investment of your time might not be that super.

One more point about planning: I used to say that I didn’t have time for breakfast and settle for the fact that I was leaving the flat hungry and in a rush. Now that I’m getting up at 4:45 AM every day (including weekends, I wrote about it here), I have time to do a workout (core or intervals), have a cold shower and eat a proper breakfast that sets me up for a successful day. Ensuring that you have enough time in the morning is also a valuable planning element and a skill worth mastering!

2. Drink water

Headache, tiredness, dizziness – they’re all signs of a mild dehydration. A study from Loughborough Uni found that mildly dehydrated drivers made as many errors as people with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. That’s a proper shot of vodka for you there, just because you forgot to drink water at regular intervals and in enough amount.

Proper hydration is extremely important to your energy levels. I’m currently at the point of my bladder needing emptying as often as a pregnant woman’s, but I feel energised even though I exercise twice a day on most days and drink only one small latte in the morning (and green tea throughout the day, I confess).

And when I say ‘hydration’, I mean hydro-ation, not sugary-drinks-ation, coke-zero-ation, juice-ation or caffeine-ation. They all do consist mainly of water, but it’s the added crap that’s got a detrimental side effect to you trying to keep hydrated. That’s one of the traps of trying to keep your calorie intake down – quite often we forget the calories and the simple carbs that we actually drink! And it’s so incredibly easy to ingest half of your calories’ requirement in this way. Just drink a litre of Coke and voila, you’ve just eaten the equivalent of a decent lunch in terms of calories, but without the proteins and fats, replacing them instead with about 30 spoons of sugar. Well done. Insulin will start coming out of your ears in 3, 2, 1… aaand sleep. Because that sugar intake – or any excessive sugar shot – will get you into a lucid sugar coma. So carry a water bottle with you, replenish it multiple times a day and – the most fun part – observe the colour of your urine. That’s the simple indicator of whether you need to drink some more water. This chart might help you:


3. Don’t settle for crap

The canteen in the building that you’re working in isn’t offering a healthy option? The closest ‘restaurant’ to your place of work is McDonald’s? Others around you are having food that will contribute to their mild obesity at best and cause heart diseases at worst?

It is unspeakably easy to find excuses and settle for crap. This is very much connected to point no.1 – if you plan properly and know where you’re going to be that day and what food options are there around you, you can make a choice beforehand instead of impulse-buying fish and chips.

And I get it, sometimes there’s really no healthy option available – I remember one cantine where the only food was cold sandwiches with chicken mayo. That still can be made slightly less dramatic – do you have to eat both of those pieces of bread? With some effort and a plate you might get rid of the excess mayo? Be careful of the excuses that trying to eat healthy will be sabotaged by. Recognise which ones are genuine obstacles and which one just imaginary splurges of the fat guy inside you who really, really wants you to eat anything and everything, as long as it’s unhealthy (or maybe I’m just projecting my internal fatso onto you). If you know already that the choices will be limited – pack an additional protein bar, a portion of nuts or even some quality beef jerky. They’ll get you through the day healthy and again they’ll make the excuse of “I’m so hungry, there’s nothing around, well, a Snickers or two will have to do, as I need fuel in the end” (that might be the fatty inside of me talking again).

Finally, you can also ask about a healthy option. If you’re in a restaurant and all dishes seem to be calorie-bombs, you can always ask the chef to prepare something special for you. A simple grilled chicken breast with a poached egg on the side and some greens will not be difficult for the chef to prepare and in most cases they will be happy to accommodate your choice. Try it out!

Part 2 will follow soon. In the mean time, if you liked this post, please follow me:

Stay healthy and awesome!

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