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I read in Steve Jobs's book that he used to avoid coffee during the week and drink lots of water to remain productive and energetic throughout the day. I would like to know what food and beverages to take and to avoid to have maximum productivity.

Is there research available that looks into the relationship between nutrition and productivity?

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Deleted a comment that speaks ill of the dead. However, the spirit is valid. Beware of taking medical advice from non doctors. Or random people online. – Jeanne Boyarsky Feb 8 '12 at 3:25
Good point, that's why I would love to see some research before accepting the answer. – Rob Tillie Feb 8 '12 at 6:45
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think the relationship is probably better thought about the other way around - not 'How do I best eat to be productive?' but 'How do I best arrange my working day around a good balanced diet? - this gives you the follow on question, which I think is the really important one here, 'How do identify my high and low energy times in my day and schedule appropriate work for them.

Your body is your body and I think we all have to work out what's best for us - on the other hand there are some factors to be aware of.

For example, maximum productivity (particularly in the short term) is not necessarily associated with particularly good health - keeping your sugar levels up is probably good for your productivity, but maybe not if it means you'll gain weight.

Personally I become an unpleasant person if I've not eaten fairly recently and I regularly regret not having stopped work to go and sort out proper food. One of the things I'm working on in my own life is having enough fruit and so on nearby that I'm not always popping out to the shop for a food fix...

When I get the balance right - I'm eating full meals of food I've cooked myself from scratch, at regular times, and being away from my computer while I'm eating them, then my energy levels are up and I get a lot done - but when stress goes up it's very difficult to stick to a careful diet...

Here's an interesting study from the International Labor Organization: Food at work

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I think this could be a great answer if it expanded a little bit on what a good healthy balanced diet would include for snacks (e.g. per-portioned bags of nuts, fruit, etc) – Raystafarian Feb 7 '12 at 15:25
I've been purposefully vague on that one actually - mainly because my diet is slightly unusual to many people (I'm vegan) and people's milage will vary so much.. .will add something though... – Joe Feb 7 '12 at 17:06
You have a very good point. I indeed meant a long-term healthy nutritional diet. Is there perhaps any research that has been done in this field, so we have a more objective answer and we don't have to stay vague on the nutritional part? – Rob Tillie Feb 8 '12 at 6:40
I added a reference and marked this as answer – Rob Tillie Feb 9 '12 at 7:36

Protein tends to give energy, and carbohydrates tend to make people sleepy. So, eat protein in the morning and at noon, and carbohydrates in the evening.

Also, I find that eating a large meal makes it very difficult to be productive. So if I have work to do I eat a snack instead.

Each person is different. Keep a log of what you eat and how you feel. Then you can discover the foods that have the biggest effect on you.

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Actually, as I learned in school biology classes, the opposite is true: carbohydrates quickly give you a lots energy, and proteins - small amount. Am I wrong? – Bunyk Feb 27 '14 at 18:07

Avoid white sugar. I think this is the most important part. If you want to eat something sweet, then eat sweet fruits.

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Unless, of course, you don't tolerate the acid in fruits very well or the fructose. And don't eat fruit if you are allergic to it. So, sometimes white sugar doesn't seem so bad in comparison to anaphylaxis. I guess, @Joe was right about being vague on the nutrition advice. – xmjx Feb 7 '12 at 23:53
Of course you should not do it if you are allergic. I was allergic to all possible things and after nutrition change, I am now allergic free! So nutrition is very important. – hellectronic Feb 8 '12 at 8:29
BTW: Is there any scientific peer-reviewed study that shows that white sugar is bad? If so, is there any explanation for it? I'm asking because there is so much nonsense published by so called nutritionists that I'm very sceptical about pretty much every such claim. – xmjx Feb 9 '12 at 12:14
@xmjx Gary Taubes makes a pretty compelling case in Good Calories, Bad Calories and it's extensively referenced. – Greg Feb 14 '12 at 2:08
Here is Steve Gibson talking about sugar from his own experience: . Semi-scientific, meaning that he is not a nutrition scientist, but he took the time to figure it out properly. – Eugene May 10 '12 at 5:49

I like snacking on small bits of fat or protein, so nuts or jerky work great, and keep meals small. An overall balanced clean diet is your goal here. Olive Garden is not what you want.

Two experimental changes to look into:

  1. Intermittent fasting. I keep my window between 12pm and 8pm, my morning productivity stays incredibly high.

  2. The paleo diet has helped me clean up my diet so I avoid carb crashes as 95% of my carbs come from fruits and veggies. A lot of protein here too which is good for brain fuel.

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