Nutrition For Focused Management Meetings

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All day management meetings can be challenging to stay focused throughout the whole meeting. It is not unusual for one to run for 12 hours. But even an 8 hour meeting can leave participants drained of energy and inspiration.

Fortunately, nutrition can be used to ensure energy and focus at all times by avoiding an often quoted myth:

The Myth: You have to Keep Your Blood Sugar High for Energy

During a coffee break at a recent management meeting in Shanghai, I heard somebody say “you have to keep your blood sugars up to stay focused”. This is referencing the assumption that a high blood sugar is equal to high energy levels.

This assumption is indeed correct if you are about to embark on a physical activity that would require the use of that glucose running through your bloodstream. 

However if you are about to sit still in a meeting and use your brain to focus on presentations or brainstorm some ideas, this is the opposite of what you should be doing.

Why Elevated Blood Sugar From Carbohydrates Crashes Your Brain Energy

Let me try to explain this in a bullet point process:

  • Carbohydrates are the only non-essential macronutrient. Meaning you do not need them to survive.
  • Carbohydrates are processed and stored in your body in this order:
    1. In your blood as sugar for immediate physical energy release .
    2. In muscles as glycogen awaiting physical activity.
    3. In your liver as energy back-up.
    4. Overflowing into the blood where insulin needs to be released from the pancreas to help with storage. 

If you follow that logic, you can begin to understand where the issues are with regards to blood sugar levels.

If you are always eating carbohydrates, it is likely your natural storage systems (a, b, c) are constantly overflowing. 

This means your pancreas is working overtime to release insulin and convert that overflowing energy into blood sugar. And a continuously overworked pancreas will eventually shut down and be unable to cope with the constant bombardment of sugar from carbohydrates.

The Fact: You Need to Keep Your Blood Sugar Levels Low for Brain Energy

Why?

  • Your office job requires brain energy. Not physical energy
  • While your brain is only 2% body mass, it uses 20% of your energy. So you need to reserve as much total energy as possible for your brain to work optimally.
  • The digestive system takes around 5-15% of your total energy, depending what you eat. So the more you use your digestive system, the more you take energy away from your brain.

The Blood Sugar Crash

For sustained focused brain energy levels, you need to keep your blood sugar levels low. It is literally the opposite of the much promulgated myth.

If you eat carbohydrates without physical activity, you will pump glucose into your body without it having anywhere to go. This will ensure your blood sugar levels increase, which will overwork your pancreas as it fights to distribute the overflowing glucose into your blood. And once the elevated blood sugar levels come down, you will feel your energy crash and your head nod-fishing as you fight to stay awake during the next presentation.

Two Nutrition Strategies For Sustained Brain Energy Levels

I have practised both of these methods, and they both work well. With both methods, there is one underlying rule, being: Do not eat carbohydrates.

Strategy 1: Fasting

This is actually my preferred method where I felt the most benefits and was 100% sharp and focused throughout a 12 hour management meeting session earlier in 2023. It is also arguably the easiest to follow, because you literally don’t have to do anything.

The biggest challenge to fasting if you have never practised it is overcoming hunger signals. I write about the practice of fasting in my blog here. This is something which you may or may not like to try before you enter a management meeting trying to fast your way through it. I would suggest you practise during regular office hours first so you can understand your body and what it’s doing to you.

Hunger signals come from a hormone called ghrelin, which rises based on your body’s expectation of food.

The beauty of ghrelin, and something very important to know, is it doesn’t hang around long. All you have to do is get through a maximum of 30 minutes of feeling hungry. Then if you do not feed yourself, ghrelin disappears and you will find yourself not feeling hungry after a very short time.

Strategy 2: No Carbohydrates

The reason I feel strategy 1 is easier, is because you do not have to think any further than your decision to not eat.

However, I also recognise that the lunch time of an all day management meeting is an important opportunity to talk to colleagues in a more casual environment. What makes management meeting lunch breaks ever more challenging, is they are often held at buffet restaurants where you can choose anything to eat..

The key here is to know this is not your opportunity to stuff yourself as you would at a private gathering of friends and family at a buffet. You enter the restaurant clearly knowing what you are going to do.

What To Eat at a Management Meeting Buffet Lunch

No carbohydrates means in general no rice, noodles, pasta or bread, as these are high glycemic foods which will raise your blood sugar levels fast. And most importantly, no sweet desserts.

Indeed fruit and vegetables are mostly carbohydrates. But these are healthful foods full of nutrients and low on the glycemic index. Therefore they can be part of an energy fuelling lunch.

The key is in the dose. 

  1. Starter: A plate of salad with some fish cold cuts or sashimi.
  2. Main Course: Seafood or fish protein, with some green vegetables. Meat is also protein, but as it takes longer to digest, this means your digestive system takes energy away from your brain. I therefore stick with seafood.
  3. Dessert: A small plate of whole fruits.

By following these simple rules, you will feel focused and energised throughout the whole day of management meetings.

Added Bonus: Dinner

By eating smart, or not eating at all during the management meeting, this allows you the evening to relax and not worry too much about your brain. You can enjoy dinner with colleagues and eat more or less what you like. 

Strategy 1 of fasting in particular allows this as you have not eaten any calories throughout your day. Leaving you more scope to enjoy your dinner in the knowledge you are likely still eating in a daily caloric deficit.

Eat smarter. Live stronger. Live Longer!

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