Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Eating for Daily Alertness at Work

It is important to stay alert and work at full throttle at work. Eliminate the morning blahs and the afternoon doze at work by eating a high protein diet for breakfast and a low fat, low sugar, high protein diet for lunch.

I am a retired Professor in the Department of Biochemistry of the Medical School of the University of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. There I taught nutrition for 12 tears and explored eating for my own daily alertness.

I think it is important to discover how to increase alertness at work.


Avoid the midmorning slump and the morning blahs. The cause of the midmorning slump differs in different people. Research has indicated that a low-calorie, low-protein breakfast, or a high-carbohydrate breakfast causes it. You need to experiment with different breakfasts to find out what helps you.

A high carbohydrate breakfast produces short-lived alertness as the food raises the glucose level in your blood. This increase in glucose triggers an insulin flood into the bloodstream causing glucose levels to fall precipitously, and your alertness drops.

About an hour to two after you eat a high carbohydrate breakfast, your blood glucose drops so low that you probably feel irritable, and your midmorning slump sets in. To counteract this slump, many people take a break, drink a cup of coffee, and eat a “Danish” or a candy bar.

This starts the up-and-down alertness cycle again. Thus, most mornings start with you feeling good, followed by a “crash” in blood glucose levels, with a consequent decrease in your alertness and work effectiveness.

Evidence also exists that a high fat breakfast can also cause a midmorning slump.

Experiment with a high-protein breakfast containing at least 25 to 30 grams of protein to see if this helps your alertness and decreases your midmorning slump. Here are some sources of protein for your breakfast:

1 glass skim milk (8 grams)

8 oz low-calorie yogurt (8g)

2 eggs (12g)

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) low-fat cottage cheese (7g)

1 tablespoon (1 ounce) tuna fish (7g)

1 chicken thigh (remove skin before cooking) (15g)

3 oz lean steak (15-20g)

1 oz 100 % whey protein powder (15g)

I/2 cup soybeans (10g)

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) wheat germ (9g)

Other high-protein foods include fish, shrimp, milk, etc.

Sounds like too much effort? Not convinced? Almost everyone I know, including myself, reports greater alertness and increased work effectiveness after a high-protein breakfast. The midmorning slump and the hunger for a “Danish” or a candy bar disappears. Try it and see.


Stay alert and prevent drowsiness after lunch. The cause of drowsiness after lunch differs between people and at different times in the same person. Experiment with different foods to find out what affects you. People report the following foods as the most frequent causes of lower alertness after lunch (the afternoon doze):

– Too much fat (butter, hamburger, meat, gravy, salad dressing, etc.).

– Too much sugar (desserts, cakes, ice cream, cookies, candy, etc.).

– Not enough protein.

– Not enough, or too many, calories.

To help you find out what produces your mid-afternoon drowsiness, the following approach can prove useful:

For lunch, eat a large salad with no dressing (dressing has 100 calories per tablespoon due to the fat in the oil), or with a small amount of low-cal dressing.

Also drink a glass of skim milk (8-10 g protein with no fat).

You may also eat a hard boiled egg (5-6 g protein).

If you are still hungry, eat some fruit, such as an apple or a pear.

Afternoon Snacks: Later in the afternoon, if you are hungry, drink a glass of skim milk and eat fruit (apple, pear, etc.).

If eating these foods helped you avoid drowsiness during the afternoon, you may discover the cause of your drowsiness by adding back your regular lunch foods, one at a time. Then if you feel drowsy, you will know the cause.

Seems like too much effort? The potential result, feeling alert in the afternoon, certainly makes it worth it. Besides, you do not have to experiment. Most people report that a lunch of a salad (with little or no dressing), skim milk, and a piece of fruit together with a mid-afternoon snack of skim milk and an apple or a pear does not cause drowsiness, and increases work effectiveness.

I am not aware of any research on the effect of food on creativity. Do you?

This article was taken from Ed Glassman’s book:

SENIOR CITIZEN’S GUIDE TO LOSING WEIGHT:  You Do Want To Lose Weight, Don’t You,” which is available here AND HERE.

A Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for 34 years and taught NUTRITION for 12 years in the medical school.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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