Eat to Lead

April 8, 2018 Author: Shrujal Joshi

Common challenges business leaders face includes increasing productivity, successfully completing projects, prioritizing a heavy workload, and communicating clearly and concisely.1 While many challenges focus on productivity and communication, one overlooked criterion for successful leadership is a healthy diet. The influx of grab and go lunches, lack of healthy snacks, frequent consumption of coffee, and skipping breakfast are some byproducts of a hectic schedule that can impact the ability to lead individuals.1 Ever heard the phrase, “you are what you eat?”

Researchers are finding that what we ingest can have an impact on our brain functions.2 Why? Our bodies do not respond well to stress. As we get stressed out, our bodies release inflammatory cytokines and cortisol, which are linked to anxiety, increased risk for heart attacks, decline in cognitive performance, and a decreased capability to make effective decisions.2 The presence of this symptomology can impact our overall capacity to be an effective leader and impact relationships in the workplace. Consequently, healthy eating habits do far more than merely improve overall health; your diet influences your leadership, which can impact your company’s performance and productivity, as well as your own management style.

Our digestive system aids in the body’s immune responses and keeps inflammation in check.3 The hormones that reside in our digestive system enter our brain and influence our cognitive abilities (i.e. understanding new information, staying focused, etc.).3 Another prominent neurotransmitter that resides in our digestive system is serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for mood regulation and cognition. Moreover, roughly 90% of the body’s serotonin receptor sites are found in our digestive tracts.3 That means that our diet plays a crucial role in managing our mood, energy levels and cognitive functions. An important role of an effective leader is making sound decisions that can have an impact on productivity.1 Food rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins, and minerals support protection from brain diseases, as well as, offering vast amounts of productive energy to use throughout the day.3 As such, by focusing on what we eat and the amount we eat, we are inherently controlling both our minds and bodies.1

A transferrable skill that can help in promoting effective leadership is scheduling healthy meals throughout the day. Time management is vital to be a successful leader. Therefore, knowing when to eat and what to eat is useful for every leader. For instance, breakfast is often skipped in the morning. Instead of rushing to grab an unhealthy snack or fast food in the morning, try scheduling more time to eat a proper breakfast. Eggs are an incredible source of good cholesterol (HDL) which can boost heart function and make you more productive throughout the day. Incorporating more foods with a low glycemic index can help maximize output by increasing the efficiency by which our bodies use the carbohydrates we ingest. This means better mood, better cognition, and avoiding the dreaded lull following a big lunch or dinner. Therefore, foods such as whole grains, legumes, sweet potatoes, and most fruits and vegetables can drastically impact how leaders perform in a day to day setting. An example of a good breakfast would include prepared eggs (i.e. scrambled, omelets, hard-boiled), peanut butter and chia seed toast, and a berry and yogurt smoothie.

Other foods that are great for making leaders more efficient and effective throughout the day include avocados, beets, broccoli, kale, and spinach. Avocados are a great source of vitamin K and folate which are both essential for improved cognitive function.4 Beets contain natural nitrates which boost blood flow to the brain and may increase mental performance.4 Broccoli contains high amounts of vitamin C, which is linked to better immune system functionality.2 Kale and spinach are both great sources of beneficial copper.5 Copper is important for our metabolism and it activates an enzyme in our blood cells that can help boost our performances by converting our nutrients to energy.5

Instead of going to the vending machine, try taking some time to cut up some fresh fruits and vegetables. Green, leafy vegetables (i.e. kale, spinach), as well as, hard green vegetables (i.e. cucumbers) are great sources of nutrients and easy to prepare. Berries, mangoes, and grapefruit are examples of great healthy snacks that offer many essential vitamins and minerals. Rather than eat red meats, try focusing your diet on lean meats (i.e. chicken) because they break down more efficiently and are processed better by the body. Finally, consider including more fish rich in omega-3 fatty acid (i.e. salmon, mackerel) due to the multiple benefits that arise from ingesting essential fatty acids. By making the time to form healthy eating habits you are becoming a better leader.

If you are looking for information on how to maximize your leadership potential, please feel free to reach out to HigherEchelon.


1) Sperry, L. Effective Leadership Strategies for Maximizing Executive Productivity and Health. London: Routledge, 2014. Print.

2) Zhang, J.M., and J An. “Cytokines, Inflammation, and Pain.” International Anesthesiology Clinics, vol. 45, no. 2, 2007, pp. 27–37., doi:10.1097/aia.0b013e318034194e.

3) Gomez-Pinilla, F. “Brain Foods: the Effects of Nutrients on Brain Function.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol. 9, no. 7, 2008, pp. 568–578., doi:10.1038/nrn2421.

4) Wu A, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation restores mechanisms that maintain brain homeostasis in traumatic brain injury. J Neurotrauma. 2007;24:1587–1595.

5) Tremblay, MSc Sylvie. “The Health Benefits of Eating Kale, Spinach & Dandelion.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 3 Oct. 2017,