How to Eat Healthy While Working from Home
Performance Nutritionist Mike Naylor Shares His Top Tips with BrightBox’s Andrew Saich
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, it brought rapid change to every aspect of our working routines. Nutrition was no exception.
Without the familiar office structure to keep us accountable, it became easy to give in to temptation and veer away from healthy habits. Throughout 2020, countless trips to the fridge replaced daily commutes, and mindless snacking between meetings became the norm. But with a new year and more WFH on the horizon, now is a great time to form long-term healthy eating habits that support both our wellbeing and productivity levels.
At BrightBox, we think of ourselves as working from home pros. With more than five years of experience in working with nearshore teams on a remote basis under our belts, we found ourselves on familiar turf when the world went remote.
That’s why, for the last few months, we have supported clients such as management consultancies, web-based organisations and FinTech firms to increase their ability to deliver on projects without increasing their headcount.
But when it comes to helping remote workers to stay healthy, we turned to the big leagues.
Leading performance nutritionist, Mike Naylor, provides nutritional expertise to Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. With over a decade of expertise in supporting elite athletes with their nutrition, Mike has worked closely with England Rugby and Premier League football clubs.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting to Mike about some of the nutrition concerns we all face while working from home. Here’s what we found out.
What were your clients’ most common concerns around health and nutrition when COVID-19 first hit?
If the rapid transition to working from home wreaked havoc with your eating habits, you are not alone. Even top athletes had to brush up on their cooking skills when the pandemic first hit.
“It was very different for people,” Mike says. “We began to quickly realise how little people cook these days, and how little they eat at home. Some of the fundamental practical nutrition skills were actually missing, which became a big challenge for people as soon as they went into lockdown.”
In the absence of office canteens and daily commutes, mealtime habits that were once taken for granted came into sharp focus. “If you’re working at the office, you might have a canteen meal once or twice a day, then stay out for dinner in the evening or pick up a snack at the train station on the way home. All of a sudden, everybody’s habits around food changed because those situations and scenarios weren’t available anymore.” In order to maintain a healthy diet, people had to think and act differently.”
For some, the change in environment became detrimental, while “others saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills.”
Unsurprisingly, many initial nutrition concerns centred around the immune system. “When such things as a pandemic happen, people want to use nutrition to maximise their health and support their immune system.”
While diet alone cannot keep disease at bay, eating the right foods can help support immunity. “There were a lot of questions around how we can use food and nutritional strategies to also support our immune system.”
One of the most prevalent topics of conversation over the last few months has been mental health. Do you have any nutritional tips to help remote workers manage anxiety or improve their mood?
“The important thing to remember is that mental health is much bigger than nutrition,” says Mike. “Looking for a nutritional magic bullet to solve mental health issues is the wrong approach to take.”
Instead of searching for a quickfire solution, Mike recommends approaching mental health in a holistic way and seeking advice from a mental health professional.
With that in mind, there are a few things remote workers can do to reduce everyday stress and support their mental health:
- Firstly, “make sure that you consume enough foods to support your day-to-day work.” Eating the right amount of food ensures a steady energy release during the work day. Balanced nutrition varies from person to person, but Mike’s golden rule is to “think protein and micronutrients first. Then, bring in carbs and fats to hit your daily energy requirements.”
- Reduce unnecessary stress in your life by scheduling appropriately. “Planning what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it will help you make healthier choices throughout the day.” Planning and prepping your lunches will save you time and hassle when lunchtime strikes — especially if you’re missing the convenience factor of the office canteen or the deli meal deal.
- Finally, enjoy your mealtimes. Stepping away from your workspace at lunchtime can break up the work day, boost your mood and increase meal satisfaction.
Many people are working from home right now. When 3pm hits, it’s difficult to resist the urge to snack on anything that’s in the cupboard. Could you recommend ways to curb unhealthy snacking urges?
Snacking is a common concern among remote workers. It can be difficult to resist the siren call of the fridge when we’re working just a few steps away, especially without an office fruit bowl to keep us in check.
Mike recommends taking a proactive approach to cravings. “Be prepared, and have healthy snacks and foods available in your house. Otherwise, you’re increasing the chances of going for something unhealthy or just whatever is available when temptation hits.” Stocking up on the right foods makes healthy eating quick, easy and convenient. That way, “you’re naturally increasing your chances of success at eating healthier.”
When it comes to healthy snack options, Mike suggests going for something that matches your goals. For many people working from home, this means reducing their sugar intake in order to regulate energy fluctuations and blood sugar levels. “In that instance, consuming something higher in protein might be of benefit, especially if you’re undergoing a training regime and you’re trying to increase your protein intake.”
A healthy mid-afternoon snack “can be as simple as fruit and Greek yoghurt. It’s easy to prepare and put together, and gives you good protein, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals to help support your health and immune function.”
Many of our clients exercise regularly. What are the key things a person should consume to get the most out of their activity?
It’s no secret that leading an active lifestyle requires the right fuel. Working with elite athletes on a daily basis, Mike Naylor is an expert in finding the right nutritional balance for high-endurance activities. His top two tips for remote workers engaging in high-intensity training are:
- Don’t cross off carbohydrates. “If you want to get the most intensity out of your activity, then carbohydrates become king,” says Mike. “Over the recent years, we got captured in a culture where low carbohydrate styles of eating became very popular. But if you’re trying to maximise your output, especially when it comes to endurance events such as cycling, then you need to make sure that you consume enough fuel.” Choosing wholegrains, fruits and vegetables is a great way to fill up on healthy carbohydrates and fuel up for your workout.
- Don’t forget about recovery. “If you’re doing training sessions or taking long rides on back-to-back days, then it’s important that you’re consuming enough nutrients to support this.” Mike points to the ‘Three R’s of Recovery’ as a helpful guide for eating to support recovery. He suggests eating “carbohydrates to replenish your muscle glycogen stores, protein to repair any damaged muscle tissue, and fluids to help rehydrate the body.”
We’ve spoken at length about nutrition, but what about hydration?
Hydration is equally important in staying healthy while working from home. Drinking enough fluids is essential for proper digestion, circulation, temperature control and even brain function. It can also help to prevent headaches and decrease levels of fatigue, making it easier to focus on the task at hand.
However, the absence of a convenient office water cooler, along with decreased activity levels, can make drinking water an afterthought. This means that remote workers should take extra care to prevent dehydration.
Elite athletes are known to have deliberate hydration strategies based on their performance goals. But what kind of guidelines should remote workers follow?
Mike recommends reaching a standard 2 litres of water every day. Once you reach this milestone, “drink to thirst.” Keeping a water bottle at your workstation at all times can help you reach your hydration goal effortlessly.
Mike Naylor is one of Britain’s top performance nutritionists, providing expertise to elite athletes for more than a decade. Throughout his career, he has worked closely with England Rugby, supported Team GB at the 2016 Olympics, and worked with Premier League clubs.
He is currently Lead Performance Nutritionist at The Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) at Harley Street, London. To find out more about Mike, follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter or book an appointment with the CHHP.