How to boost your performance by eating healthily
Most PAs have busy lives, and busy lives mean that eating food that is good for you – as well as tasting nice – is not always a priority. A quick sandwich and a packet of crisps may well become the norm, while eating with one hand and typing with the other at our desktops.
Our bodies are remarkably efficient at extracting the nutrients we need, but at times of stress these requirements increase and a well-balanced diet is, therefore, essential in keeping healthy in both mind and body.
You may think you are eating well, but how many times do you just grab something on the run because you, or your boss, has a deadline to meet? How many times do you come home late in the evening and are just too tired to prepare a proper meal, so settle instead for Chinese takeaway?
It’s very easy to slip into bad habits, which need to be broken if you are to remain fit, healthy and stress free in the long term. A diet that is balanced in carbohydrates, protein and vegetables is vital.
If under pressure, then eat food that is high in vitamin B (wholemeal bread, whole grains, pasta and jacket potatoes) and vitamin C (fresh fruit and vegetables). Ensure you also have adequate amounts of green, yellow and orange vegetables, which are all rich in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals that are essential to boost immune response and protect against disease.
There are some essential components to a healthy diet, all of which need to be balanced to match your physique and lifestyle.
Complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, potatoes and bread result in a slow release of energy, which is important in maintaining a constant blood sugar level. This is particularly important for diabetics, as opposed to the quick fix provided by sugar.
Carbohydrates also trigger the release of the powerful neurotransmitter, serotonin, which has an important role in the maintenance of mood control.
Fat is an important source of energy, but avoid the consumption of foods rich in animal (saturated) fats that can cause obesity and increase cholesterol levels. Both these factors adversely impact the cardiovascular system and are a contributing factor in coronary heart disease (CHD).
Diets made up of a large proportion of processed foods are often omega-3 deficient, which can contribute to bouts of depression. Foods such as coldwater fish, flaxseed oil and walnuts will help redress this balance and reduce the risk of mental health problems associated with stress.
Protein is responsible for repairs to skin, muscles and bones. It can be found in nuts, dairy products, meat and some beans and grains. There are two types of protein. Animal products supply complete protein and some plants supply proteins regarded as incomplete. It is necessary to combine both proteins for the body to get the amino acids it needs.
Fruits, vegetables and grains are excellent sources of fibre. These bulking agents are important for a healthy digestive system and it is recommended that a normal diet should include at least 25 grams of fibre per day.
Your body needs 13 different vitamins to grow and develop. Vitamin C is especially important to strengthen your body’s defence system, especially in winter. All the vitamins the body needs can be obtained from eating fresh fruits and vegetables or from vitamin supplements.
Minerals help to build strong bones, create hormones and regulate your heartbeat. Fruit, vegetables and fish contain the minerals that are necessary to help release energy from food and improve brain function. This in turn can help you think more clearly, especially during periods of stress.
Water is essential to maintain life and for our bodies to operate efficiently, especially in very hot environments. This includes temperature regulation, nerve impulse conduction, circulation, metabolism, the immune system, eliminative processes, sensory awareness and perceptive thinking.
Many people drink too little water. One glassful a day is not enough, as the many chemical processes inside the body require more than this for optimal completion of reactions. It only takes a one per cent fluid loss for the body to become dehydrated, and an insufficiency of water can seriously disrupt the body’s biochemistry. This generally happens without any conscious sensation of being thirsty.
Stress and caffeine can both influence the amount of water available to the body’s systems and the speed with which the body loses it.
Any of these factors, alone or in combination, may cause small but critical changes in the brain, which can impair neuromuscular coordination, decrease concentration and slow down the thought processes.
The average amount of water loss per day is equivalent to two cups through breathing, two cups through invisible perspiration, and six cups through urination and bowel movements. This equates to a total of ten lost cups per day that need replacing, without taking into account perspiration from exercise or hard work, air conditioning or caffeine consumption.
Furthermore, travelling by air can entail a loss of as much as one litre of water during a three to four hour flight. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the daily recommended intake of water is around two litres. When working in an air conditioned office or in very hot weather, your intake should be even more.