It Doesn't Have to Be This Way Anticipating a hell week at the office? You can survive--even thrive--by sticking to a painstaking regimen.
(Business 2.0) – During a tough week at work, most people do an odd thing: They take the worst care of themselves exactly when they must be at their best. Huge mental efforts paired with long hours and the endless use of a Starbucks card make a person's energy spike and plunge like a penny stock. Sleep deprivation diminishes the brain's processing power. Skipped meals take a toll on reasoning acuity. "When the gas tank is low, you don't say, 'Suck it up, car,'" says Nancy Clark, a nutritionist based in Brookline, Mass. "The same goes for your body."
Though Clark's main focus is endurance athletes, not office jockeys--the third edition of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook came out last year--she's also worked on diet plans for numerous executives. "It doesn't matter whether you're an aspiring Olympian or a busy person trying to survive the marathon of life," she says. "Everyone performs better if they treat themselves optimally."
Her key advice? Timing. During deadline crunches, adhere to a highly disciplined program: Drink coffee, move your joints, and sleep in step with your body's circadian rhythms. As for eating, the schedule is downright strict, with meals coming every four hours to provide your brain synapses with the glucose needed to think straight. "This is no time to count calories or start a weight-loss program," Clark says. Here's a morning-to-near-midnight game plan for giving your gray matter and your boss exactly what each of them needs.
7-11AM When you awaken, your blood sugar is 25 percent below its optimal level. So eat ASAP, and chow down: eggs, oatmeal, leftover pizza, whatever. Limit your intake of sweet fare like Krispy Kremes, since sugar causes a spike that can send you crashing down within 30 minutes. A cup of coffee is fine.
11AM-3PM Four hours later, eat again. Since less-processed food has less sugar, try a tuna sandwich on whole wheat or a chicken breast with salad. Avoid a physiological slowdown in the early afternoon--your temperature and heart rate naturally decrease this time of day--by stimulating your circulatory system with some stretches or exercise. When you break for coffee, why not take the stairs? Speaking of java, more will undoubtedly perk you up. But during this stretch, limit yourself to one or two Americanos. Caffeine highs are followed by precipitous falls.
3-7PM You're grumpy--you have piles of work to get through, you're stressed out, and 3 in the afternoon is a weird time to eat. But have some soup or chili, and if you must splurge on dessert, now's the time--a cookie might lift your spirits enough to compensate for the havoc it wreaks on your blood-sugar levels. Be good to your tiring eyes too: Looking away from your screen every 10 minutes causes you to blink (which moistens your eyes) and refocus (which reduces strain).
7-11PM How's your back? Those supportive office chairs encourage you to sit--and stiffen--for hours on end. Let your arms dangle to relieve your shoulders, and roll the soles of your stocking feet over a golf ball to stimulate nerves throughout the body. Eat a healthy dinner (a veggie wrap, perhaps?), but stay away from coffee: Even six hours after that last cup, your bloodstream carries caffeine. So, what do you do now that it's 9:30, you're tired, and you still have more work? Go home by 11, and please, resist the temptation to drown your sorrows. A late-night glass of wine or scotch undermines deep rest, and sleep experts insist that you'll operate best with eight hours of shut-eye. Much less and you'll be facing a subpar tomorrow--and a missed deadline. -- STEVEN FINCH