IMD International

On the road – Keeping fit away from home

Nutrition wisdom keeps energy levels high

June 23, 2015

The life of an executive is full of rewards, but it has its price as well. One of the major factors of stress is the amount of travelling that a position of responsibility requires. That's why IMD's Orchestrating Winning Performance
invited a nutrition specialist to help participants combat the effects of poor eating habits when on the road.

Birgit Boislard is a certified holistic nutrition coach who custom-tailors her presentations. Travelling, she said, puts a terrible strain on the body due to time differences, prolonged seating, lack of sleep and lack of exercise.

"It is the worst case scenario for good cognitive performance."

But there is one area in which we can help improve it fairly easily and that is what we eat. "Just as planes transport people, your body transports your brain, so you need to look after yourself."

The coach started by asking what people had had for lunch and said that if they had started the day with a chocolate croissant, chances are they would crave sugar all day long. This is result of hypoglycemia that occurs when sugar levels plummet in the blood. Drowsiness then sets in.

The less carbohydrates (starches and sugar) you eat, the longer your energy will last, she repeated.

"Breakfast can influence the entire day. It needs to be protein-rich in order to get your metabolism going." Furthermore, adding vegetables and fruit that contain antioxidants helps combat lack of sleep.

Useful tips

When travelling to countries where it is not safe to eat fresh produce, Boislard recommends taking along a powder mix of greens that contain all the necessary vitamins and phyto-substances. "It's green juice in powder form," she said.

Another word of advice is to request vegetarian meals during flights. "They are usually more tasty and don't feel like you're chewing cardboard."

And always remember to drink a lot. "The more you drink, the better you are hydrated and the better the brain works!"

For longer stays abroad, she recommends securing accommodation with a kitchenette in order to prepare one's own meals.

Because it is often difficult to find good food when travelling, Boissard shared recipes for what she calls a "survival kit." She suggests making a homemade organic trail mix before leaving home and distributing the mix between smaller self-sealing plastic bags.

Useful recipes

Trail mix should contain more nuts and seeds (80%), than fruit (20%) and can be made up, for example, of almonds, pecans, raisins, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and can be spiced with cayenne, garlic powder, cumin, chili, sea salt, or curry, Mexican or Cajun mixes.

In the activity room, the 40 or so participants, of which there were an equal number of men and women, milled around the four tables tasting the various mixes and flavorings that they had been invited to make with the available ingredients. There was a lot of nodding heads.

Stefan Heitmann, a German national who has been living in Asia for 23 years, the last four in Malaysia, says that he hasn't eaten any added sugar in 15 years. But he travels a great deal and jests that each ten flights adds a centimeter to his waist. He likes the idea of the trail mix, but points out that it would be virtually impossible for him to find organic produce where he lives.

Because she is no fan of health or cereal bars that invariably contain too much sugar, Boislard wrapped up the session by showing how she made her own slow sugar energy bars in a food processor.

She suggested the following mix: dates (but make absolutely sure that they are pit-free or the mixer will be ruined), brazil nuts (that contain high doses of selenium that is good for stress), apricots (that must be sulphur-free to avoid histamine reactions), sunflower seeds (that contain high levels of vitamin E, a great antioxidant), mango, dried pineapple and chia seeds (that are not only high in iron, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, but also serve as a glue for the other ingredients).

The ingredients are mixed a shorter time for a crunchy mix, and longer for a truffle-like smoothness. Serving-spoon size balls are made of the mix and rolled in raw cocoa powder or shredded coconut. The mixture keeps for two weeks in the fridge.

Madrid-based Ignacio de Benito Secordes, who has attended IMD four times and earned a Certificate of Lifelong Learning, said he was impressed by the workshop. The life of executives is risky, he said, referring to the recent sudden deaths of top executives at American Express and Morgan Stanley, despite being fit.

Boislard warns against a new phenomenon among high performance, trim individuals who appear to be in great condition. They overload their system with too many carbohydrates without realizing they are also overloading their hearts and provoking invisible inflammations.

The coach came to share tips for travelling but may have inspired some changes in lifestyle as well.

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