We all have good and bad days but what we eat and when we eat it can influence our mood, energy levels, concentration and even how we deal with stress. We've teamed up with the nutrition experts from BDA Work Ready (from the British Dietetic Association) to bring you some tips and tools you can use to get started.
The food and drink choices we make not only enhance our long-term health but also help us feel and function well at work.
Our research shows that healthier eating and drinking choices can help educators whose performance may involve:
- Having pressured or no break times with limited time to eat and drink
- Consuming the right food and drink to aid focus and concentration
- Coping despite limited access to healthier choices
- Limited access to fluids
- Coping with working long days
- Surviving a high-pressure environment
The good news is that small changes can make a difference that we can benefit from now and in the longer term.
BDA Work Ready's tips to staying healthy
Stay afloat – keep hydrated
Research shows that even mild dehydration (occurring at as little 1-2% loss of body weight) can be linked to factors which can impact performance, productivity, safety and even enjoyment at work.
Adequate hydration at work can significantly impact on our mental and physical health and being dehydrated can cause us to experience:
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Impaired motor skills
- Reduced muscle strength
- Reduced alertness
- Low mood
- Impaired cognitive function.
Long term, there is an increase the risk of health problems such as constipation, urinary tract infections, kidney stones and chronic renal disease.
As well as environmental factors such as heating or air conditioning, or strenuous physical activity, we can improve our hydration by taking on a range of fluids throughout the day.
Getting started is simple – and the benefits begin straight away. Find more tips for healthier hydration to feel and function well.
Many people think snacks are unhealthy additions to their eating pattern and that snacking leads to weight gain. However, the key to whether snacking supports our overall wellbeing goals is which snacks we choose, and how much of them we eat.
Where possible choose nutritious foods or drinks which help you achieve this balance in your diet. For example, if you find it hard to eat enough fruit then top up at snack time.
If there’s an unhealthy snack you usually reach for, and you’d like to change that, experiment with not buying it or try keeping it out of sight. No need to go without though - put something more nutritious where you can see it and you’ll be more likely to enjoy that instead.
Make nutritious snacking easier with these ‘Snack Smart’ food tips.
Taking breaks to refresh and refuel
Many people do not take a break away from work during the work day and one survey said up to 13% of teachers don’t eat lunch at all.
The main reasons for not stopping in the day include feeling stressed over our workload, lack of time or cover, nowhere to go and workplace culture. Around a quarter of teachers surveyed said they eat in their classrooms which suggests they may be working at the same time or not able to socialise with peers due to large school sites.
Agreed working conditions for teachers do include a reasonable break – likely to be between 12 and 2 – with protected time to eat lunch but for some the idea of sitting down for a nutritious meal can seem unachievable, even though it is considered a serious issue for students.
Teaching and supporting your students requires a lot of concentration, and there is strong evidence that a break can improve focus so is a good use of time and should be a priority. At lunch, try to choose a variety of foods from the main food groups – the BDA’s fact sheet on healthy packed lunches can help with this.
But there are two aspects of giving yourself time to eat – beneficial nutrients which your body needs to perform at its best, and also giving yourself some time away from your job to reduce fatigue and stress. Protect your lunch break and model good behaviour with this nifty sign for your desk, simply print, colour-in, and pop up when you go for lunch.
Strategic use of caffeine for performance
Caffeine increases alertness and reduces sleepiness during your working day.
Caffeine is usually found in tea and coffee, cola, chocolate and energy drinks. Small amounts are effective to boost alertness – as little as that found in a cup of instant coffee or tea, and additional supplements aren’t necessary.
Caffeine has its main stimulator effects at an hour after consumption so is most effective on waking. 2 cups of tea or coffee in a 2-3 hour period on waking is considered optimal. Intake should be reduced in the hours leading up to sleep and it should be avoided for four hours before our usual bed time.
Experts recommend an upper limit of 400 mg/ day to avoid side effects that may compromise health and performance. That’s the equivalent to four to five cups of coffee.
We’re all individuals and may respond very differently to caffeine so you may be more sensitive to it. Pregnant women should have no more than 200mg caffeine daily – capped at two mugs of coffee or three cups of tea a day – or choose decaffeinated alternatives. People with IBS should also follow this advice.
Despite the popular myth, this upper limit of recommended maximum caffeine intakes is not dehydrating so up to this level, tea and coffee all count towards your healthy fluid intake.
Many drinks also contain high amounts of sugar as well as caffeine. This includes energy drinks, colas, specialty teas and coffees. Coffee shop drinks are often high in caffeine and may contain sugar, fat and be high in calories e.g. large mocha with cream = 450 calories!
However, we shouldn’t rely on caffeine to fight fatigue. To maintain energy, nutrient-rich meals with a lower GI (Glycaemic Index) are a good option. These contain slow-release carbohydrates which results in a steadier rise and fall in blood sugar. Good choices include porridge or wholegrain, seeded breads; mixed bean and tuna salad with quinoa; seeds as a snack. Taking a break from your work and getting outside also helps.
Five a day genius quiz – do you know your onions?
Think you know your five a day?
Take our five a day breaktime quiz and share your score with colleagues for fun!