The right nutrition at work can help you maintain concentration and avoid dips in productivity. But what do you need to bear in mind? And do the same recommendations apply to every occupation? Here you’ll find tips and tricks for your working day.
Nutrition at work: does the same apply for every job?
Depending how active we are at work, we will need more or fewer calories. People who do heavy physical labour (e.g. on a construction site) or who are on their feet all the time (e.g. in sales) have higher energy requirements than those of us who spend all day in front of a PC. Therefore, for physically active occupations it is advisable to plan an additional snack or have a slightly bigger lunch.
Snacks for when you're feeling peckish
Snacks satisfy hunger pangs. They provide us with energy and nutrients in between main meals. Plan one or two snacks, depending on how hungry you get between meals and how physically active you are.
Some delicious snack options for work are:
fruit & vegetables,
wholemeal sandwiches filled with hummus, cheese etc.
quark & yoghurt,
nuts & seeds (unsalted).
If you're pushed for time, choose fruits and vegetables that require little effort to prepare. Fruit and veg that don't require peeling or chopping are a good choice (e.g. apples, cherry tomatoes, berries or snacking vegetables). Ready-assembled Fruit and vegetable boxes save you even more time and can make it easier to eat healthily at work.
Sweet treats such as chocolate or cakes are not advisable as snacks. Their high sugar content causes blood sugar to spike, then fall. We perceive the drop in blood sugar as an unpleasant hunger pang. If you do eat sweet treats, it's best to have them immediately after lunch. The meal beforehand stabilizes your blood sugar so that it doesn't suddenly drop. Our guide "Dealing with sweets in everyday life" contains more useful tips on a responsible approach to sweet treats.
Sweet alternative: the next time you fancy something sweet, reach for a delicious piece of fruit or a small handful of nuts and dried fruits.
How to prevent the post-lunch slump
If you tuck into a big lunch, there's every chance you will be hit by after-lunch tiredness shortly afterwards. This phenomenon is particularly common after very greasy or lavish meals. To process these, our digestive system has to go full blast. A lot of blood flows into our digestive organs, leaving us feeling tired and listless.
A good way to avoid the post-lunch slump is to choose light meals with lots of vegetables. The ideal plate is a useful aid when assembling your lunch: the food should fill you up, be easy to digest and also provide plenty of key nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Avoid very greasy, deep-fried or breaded food, as this sits in the stomach for a long time and is uncomfortably heavy. A fruit salad or fresh berries are a good idea for a light dessert. Ripe in-season fruits have a particularly sweet flavour. In our article on climate-friendly food, you will find a seasonal calendar which reveals which fruits you should enjoy in which months.
Save time with meal prep
Meal prep is bang on trend. The idea is to save effort by cooking for several days at once. Side dishes with long cooking times (e.g. lentils, beans or wholegrain rice) can be pre-cooked in larger quantities on Sundays and be added to lunch over several working days.
Soups, stews and roasted vegetables can also be prepared in larger batches, then frozen. Defrost the dishes overnight in the fridge when needed. Cooked pulses and firm vegetables, such as root vegetables, also freeze well. Vegetables with a high water content, such as courgettes, turn mushy when frozen. If you haven't got time for chopping, use frozen vegetables, which are in no way inferior to fresh vegetables.
If there isn't a microwave for reheating, colourful sandwiches, wraps, salads and tasty bowls are a good alternative for healthy nutrition on the go or at the office. Lunchboxes are easy to carry and can be made healthier with vegetable sticks or pickled or fermented vegetables (e.g. kimchi or sauerkraut).
Balanced eating in the canteen
If you eat in a canteen, it's best to fill half your plate with vegetables or salad first. The other half should be split equally between starchy sides (such as potatoes or wholegrain rice) and a source of protein (e.g. tofu, fish or dairy products). If the set menu does not include many vegetables, supplement it with a fresh salad with a vinegar & oil dressing or a vegetable soup.
Healthy eating when working from home
If the kitchen is just around the corner, there's a strong temptation to keep snacking throughout the day. To prevent uncontrolled eating, plan fixed breaks and set reminders in your calendar.
Cravings are a common problem when working from home: the sudden and insatiable desire for a particular food, such as chocolate. To avoid this, don't hoard large quantities of sweet or savoury snacks at home. Instead, keep a stock of seasonal fruits to which you can turn if you fancy something sweet.
Don't spend your break in front of the screen. If that's not possible, switch your screen off so you aren't distracted while eating. If the weather is fine, you can combine your lunch break with a short walk.
Tips for shift workers
Eating healthily while working shifts is challenging. Working shifts, particularly the night shift, gets the body out of step. At night, our body deliberately shuts down a few functions. The intestine switches to idle mode and digestive capacity decreases. Therefore, while working a night shift, you should eat light, low-fat dishes (e.g. vegetable soups or sandwiches). These place less strain on the intestine.
As a basic rule: lots of small meals are better than one big one. After a night shift, it is also advisable to eat a small breakfast to prevent hunger waking you up from your well-earned sleep.
If your digestion is sluggish, or you are constipated, foods high in dietary fibre will help. Important: these must be consumed with plenty of fluids, otherwise they will have the opposite effect.
Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, energy drinks, black or green tea should be drunk in moderation. As caffeine affects sleep quality, you should avoid caffeinated drinks entirely for four hours before going to sleep.
On stressful days, we often tend to bolt down our food. Frantically cramming the food in and not chewing it enough can cause us to feel gassy, bloated and generally uncomfortable. So, plan plenty of time for your breaks. Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and enjoy every mouthful.
Did you know: people who eat more slowly tend to eat less. This is because our stomach doesn't register that it is full until at least 20 minutes into the meal. Only then is the information "I am full" transmitted to the brain
Don't forget to drink
Not drinking enough lowers our concentration and performance; we start to feel tired or even get headaches. That’s why we must make sure we drink enough at work. According to the Swiss food pyramid, ideally you should drink around 1.5 litres a day – and even more if your work is physically demanding, or in hot conditions.
Healthy nutrition on the go
People who travel a lot for work don’t always have the opportunity to eat in a healthy and balanced way. A drinking bottle containing water, along with a small "emergency" snack, are essential equipment. Nuts and dried fruits provide lots of energy and are ideal for taking the edge off hunger. Firm fruits such as apples or pears, which are easy to transport, are also good when travelling.
If you don't have long for lunch, sandwiches made with wholemeal bread, cheese or hummus and vegetables are a good choice. Fresh bowls, salads and mueslis also make a healthy meal when you’re on the go, and are available almost everywhere these days.