The designer's guide to eating the right food

Is your diet helping or hindering your creative output? In-house and freelance designers give us the skinny on what they eat to fuel their design day.

Aaron Miller

Despite this example of his work, freelance illustrator Aaron Miller avoids junk food

You're on a tough deadline. You've already worked 10 hours on a piece of vector art or a tricky data visualization and it's not even nearly time to knock off. When you're so involved in a project it's extremely easy to forget about fuelling your brain in the right way.

Whilst junk food such as crisps, sausage rolls and even burgers are okay once in a while, to maintain your brain and keep yourself focused, you need to eat properly.

Maintain your brain

"As designers we have to maintain our brains," agrees Alexei Boronnikov, head of UI and UX at award-winning mobile design firm Apposing. "I usually have bananas, hazelnuts and almonds during the day. And some salmon with asparagus and rice on lunch.

"Also during the day I consume a huge amount of water, instead of coffee. I'm not much into sweets really. Maybe just some dark chocolate in the morning."

Alex Frech, creative director at the same company has a similarly healthy approach - but has to contend with his diabetes: "I have to keep on top of my food and take care of myself as much as possible," he explains. "Saying that, it's always easier said than done when your head is spinning like a top, full of impending deadlines or new projects.


Alexei Boronnikov and Alex Frech of Apposing have a healthy diet

"My morning starts with cereal and a small black coffee, a Graze snack for mid morning snack and usually a decent lunch," he continues. "When I say decent I don't mean a slap up meal, more a good freshly made sandwich or salad and a Diet Coke. The sandwich will be on brown or rye bread and I usually steer away from leafy salads and go for more lentils and maybe a potato salad. Mid-afternoon is usually spent blitzing work so sometimes have another coffee or water."

Freelance lunches

Aaron Miller, a freelance illustrator known for his quirky and playful character designs is a self-proclaimed foodie. "I'm all about my freelance lunches, something warm at lunchtime to get me through these Autumn days," he says. "There's nothing better than a hot meal rather than soggy old sandwiches. A few favourites have to be homemade soup, something simple yet delicious. Tomato and chilli made with chicken stock from that weekend roast - throw in some crispy garlic croutons for some crunch.

"Usually when deep in thought and tackling a project head on I find myself working past my lunchtime so I usually try and eat a large meal to keep me fuelled for the night ahead as we all know when you are in the zone it's hard and irritating to stop."

Studio Mister

Studio Mister, aka Mike Sullivan, is a health-conscious eater (apart from the odd Monster Munch)

Miller has the right approach - and what he eats sounds nothing but delicious. "Usually it's something high in protein and low in carbs," he adds. "Pan-fried chicken breast, adding some dried herbs and spices for variety, some roasted buttered asparagus and some brown rice."

The latter is obviously not your everyday desk meal, as Miller admits, but he reveals that this way he doesn't snack on sweet things and get a crazed sugar rush: "It's easy to demolish a whole pack of Hob Nobs," he laughs. Snacks at Miller's desk include things like nuts and seed mixes, fresh fruit or berries - "something easy to eat, no fuss."

Healthy breakfast

Mike Sullivan - a designer otherwise known as Studio Mister - reveals his breakfast and lunch routine to be a healthy one. Breakfast is two boiled eggs with two slices of wholemeal toast; lunch is tiny, mayo and sweetcorn roll or a bowl of homemade leek and potato, vegetable or ham soup; and for snacks? "The best crisps known to man - pickled onion Monster Munch."

Andy Cooke

Andy Cooke craves sugary foods, but tries to retain a balanced diet

Andy Cooke takes a similar approach: "Coco Pops or porridge is breakfast," he says. "I discovered crumpets with honey this week, which is pretty good."

Lunch for the fittingly named Cooke is a brown baguette with Italian chicken, halloumi and chargrilled veg. "Cheese and onion crisps interspersed," he laughs. He's also guilty of craving anything with too much sugar for snacks - "Chocolate raisins, cake, biscuits."

The expert view

Yvonne Bishop-Weston from Foods for Life points to the importance of regular hydration

Do these menus seem familiar? Are you eating the right thing? Well, we spoke to leading UK health and nutrition consultant and author Yvonne Bishop-Weston from Foods for Life to find out what you should be snacking on during your busy day designing.

"Probably the most important thing to have at hand is water - your brain can't work at 100 per cent if it's dehydrated," begins Bishop-Weston. "Get a stainless steel bottle with a sports cap to avoid spillages and make sure it never leaves your side."

But what about food? And particularly snacks when at your desk? According to Bishop-Weston, there are three kinds of food you should be snacking on during the day:

01. Brain building

Protein and fat rich nuts and seeds provide much more sustainable energy than nutritionally depleted sugary foods such as doughnuts. Hemp seeds, flax and walnuts are especially good sources of omega 3 but you'll need other nuts and seeds for plenty of the minerals such as zinc and b vitamins to convert basic Omega 3 into brain fuel EPA and brain builder DHA.

02. Brain boosting

Vitamin rich vegetables. As well as water and essential fats your brain thrives on a number of key vitamins that found in fruits and vegetables. Grab a pot of hummus and a pack of dipping vegetables such as mange tout, green beans, celery, carrots, baby sweetcorn, apple slices, red pepper pieces or just roll up a lettuce leaf to dip in.

03. Brain protection

Berries bursting with antioxidants. Because berries are sweet people often mistake them for a fattening food but they are probably one of the healthiest treats you can eat. They are not a great source of long term sustainable office energy but they'll help protect your immune system and your vital organs and they are a delicious kick start - a vital extra app!

Words: Rob Carney

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What do you eat during your busy design day? What are your favourite snacks? Let us know in the comments below...