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Updated Nov 02, 2023

Want to Get More Done at Work? Eat Better

A healthy diet is key to better productivity.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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It can be easy to forget just how much the foods we eat impact the rest of our lives. Of course, without the proper nutrition, it is much more difficult to get things done. You may feel more fatigued and distracted when your diet is unhealthy or may get sick more frequently and be unable to work. If you’re interested in learning more about how diet impacts productivity and how you can improve your own, this article includes an overview of research and tips to help you.

How diet impacts productivity

There’s a significant body of research into the link between diet and productivity. Here’s a look at some notable studies in the space, which found that healthier diets improve the ability to focus and get things done efficiently.

Population Health Management study

A Population Health Management study surveyed 19,803 employees working at three large, geographically dispersed companies. The study ― conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) and the Center for Health Research at Healthways ― revealed that unhealthy individual lifestyle choices might result in substantial losses from productive work time.

Specifically, the study found that employees with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to experience a loss in productivity than those who regularly ate whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, employees who exercised only occasionally were 50 percent more likely to report lower productivity than employees who were regular exercisers, while smokers were 28 percent more likely to suffer from a drop in productivity than nonsmokers.

The research also revealed that employees who had difficulty exercising during the workday were 96 percent more likely to have a productivity drop. Furthermore, those who did not believe their work environment would support them in becoming physically and emotionally healthier were more likely to see their productivity decrease.

“Our research confirms that employee productivity loss is associated with low well-being, poor health behaviors, elevated health risks and the presence of chronic disease,” said Dr. James Pope, vice president and chief science officer for Healthways. “This information is significant because the number of employees with excess body fat, poor diets, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles has risen to unprecedented levels in the nation.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Studies show that unhealthy diets can result in productivity dips at work.

Other factors that decrease productivity

The research found that several other work-related and personal factors contributed to decreased productivity, such as employees not having enough time to perform job duties, having insufficient technological support and worrying about money.

The study also revealed that productivity loss was highest among employees ages 30 to 39 and lowest among those 60 and older. It was more prevalent among women than men and more pronounced among those who were separated, divorced or widowed than with their married colleagues.

The report found that clerical or office workers in the service and transportation industries experienced the highest productivity loss, while those in the farming, forestry, fishing, construction and mining industries had the lowest levels. Offering health insurance to your employees can be a way to help them improve their lifestyles.

“It’s critical that companies look deeper at productivity loss and measure it to understand the impact it is making on their bottom line,” said Jerry Noyce, CEO of HERO. “Business leaders have the ability to reduce the factors that significantly impact productivity loss by implementing comprehensive, best-practice workplace wellness programs focused on well-being improvement, which in turn can lead to improvements in employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability for employers.”

To find your most productive work time, pay attention to your daily habits, energy and focus levels. Then, identify obstacles interfering with your time management.

British Journal of Health and Psychology study

A British Journal of Health and Psychology study analyzed the effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on feelings of engagement, meaning and purpose. You could argue that these feelings don’t directly affect workplace productivity but imagine your least engaged employee. Chances are they’re not getting much done. This study suggests that if they ate more fruits and vegetables, that could change.

Among a sample of 405 adults, 13 days of increased fruit and vegetable consumption led to more creativity, curiosity and well-being. Very few unhealthy foods led to these positive feelings.

The implication is clear: Employees who eat better are more productive.

FYIDid you know
As a manager, you can also boost engagement at work by providing a good employee experience, taking care to make employees feel valued.

Journal of Applied Psychology study

According to a Journal of Applied Psychology study, nighttime unhealthy eating choices result in less productivity the next day.

Among 97 full-time employees tracked over 10 days, those who ate unhealthy foods the night before work were more likely to avoid work-related situations. They were also less likely to offer help or go beyond for their teammates and supervisors. These disengaged employees ― of course ― were less productive.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Unhealthy nighttime eating can decrease your productivity the next day.

How to improve your diet and productivity

Health and diet are correlated with productivity. What might not be as clear is a set of realistic, achievable steps you can take to change your diet. After all, diets are tough to stick to in the long run.

Here’s how to make a lasting shift to a healthy diet:

  1. Ease into it: Nobody’s expecting you to empty your fridge of all unhealthy food overnight. After all, a rapid transition is sure to knock you off balance. Instead, next week, try swapping out a few of your typical meals for healthy ones. Every subsequent week, increase how many meals you swap out for healthy choices. Eventually, you’ll be eating mostly ― if not entirely ― healthy.
  2. Add fruits and vegetables slowly: More than any other food group, fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals that power your body and mind. However, not everyone loves fruits and veggies, so as you transition to a healthy diet, add small amounts of each to your typical meals. A burger can be healthier with a side salad of kale, roasted carrots and sliced strawberries, for instance. Eventually, you’ll want to replace the burger with something healthy altogether.
  3. Take a daily multivitamin: Multivitamins offer a great way for you to supplement the foods you eat to ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. This includes important vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin D as well as minerals like zinc and magnesium. While the foods you eat are an important source of these vitamins and minerals, a daily multivitamin can give you a leg up and ensure you get enough of everything you need to have a productive day.
  4. Don’t go it alone: Healthy diets can be tough to stick to on your own. To make it a team effort, set up an employee health and wellness program. Since workplace meals can improve productivity, arrange healthy communal lunches. Through your wellness program, encourage your team to eat healthy and track their habits alongside your own. Openly discuss your victories and struggles to help and inspire one another. A permanent shift in health and diet can benefit everyone.
  5. Cheat occasionally: Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to mean saying no to a slice of chocolate cake once in a while. Occasional junk and sweets won’t ruin your health ― it’s eating them in excess that’s the problem. So, go ahead and enjoy the treats at the next party. You deserve it.

Improving diet makes it easier to get more done

The science is clear ― when you have a nutritious diet, you can do more work at a better quality. Rather than trying to work harder, longer hours, you might just need to add some more vegetables to your diet or start taking a daily multivitamin. Over time, you might be surprised at how big of an effect these little changes can have on your energy levels, focus and ability to get things done. So, if you want to enhance your mind, be sure to nourish your body first. 

Tejas Vemparala and Chad Brooks contributed to this article.

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Max Freedman, Business Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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