Eating to prep for job interview

The saying goes that you only have one chance to make a first impression. Job interviews have always been an important time to take this advice to heart. For the first time in a long time, unemployment rates are holding steady and job openings, especially for part-timers, are starting to appear. This is also an active time of year for students interviewing for college admission or for summer internships. What you eat and drink before the important interchange can make a difference. If you're a morning person- ready and raring to go with the rising sun- but scored a late afternoon appointment with career destiny, you can structure your meals and snacks to help keep you alert later in the day. The same goes for heeding advice on what you should avoid eating before a face-to-face interview -- uh, not the time for garlic or onions!

So, what’s the best thing to eat before an interview to stay focused and calm?

Meal Choices Can Make or Break Your Brain Power. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study compared two groups who ate either a high-protein or high-carbohydrate breakfast. Two hours later the carb group had levels of the sleep inducing amino acid tryptophan that were four times higher than the protein group. A job interview is no time to nod off! So make sure to add an egg to that breakfast biscuit or drink a glass of nonfat milk and add some peanut butter or smoked salmon to a bagel to boost the protein power of your morning meal. Lean protein foods such as eggs, chicken, turkey, fish and beans help your brain stay alert by supporting the production of neurotransmitters needed for smart thinking.

Brain cells crave choline

Found in egg yolks, peanuts, soybeans and flaxseeds the nutrient choline helps support the brain’s messenger service, called neurotransmitters. It’s also linked to new memory cell production. And chances are you're not getting enough choline in your diet, especially if you're an egg white omelet fan. According to Boston-based nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, “In fact, fewer than ten percent of older children, men and women meet the recommended Adequate Intake for choline.” Ward says one egg, which contains 125 milligrams of choline, can help close the gap.

B Alert – B vitamins, such as folate or folic acid, play a key role in forming the brain’s memory cells and have been shown to improve alertness in adults. Found in orange juice, green vegetables, cantaloupe and whole grain foods including those enriched with folic acid such as breads, cereals, pasta and rice.

Pay Attention with Tea

Coffee may be the go-to beverage for most who want to add some pep to their step but, too much caffeine can cause nervous jitters -- not a good look during a job interview. So maybe you should switch to tea today. New research on drinking tea highlights its effect to calm us down so we can concentrate better and focus on the task at hand. John Foxe, Ph.D. Professor of Neuroscience, Biology and Psychology at City College of the City University of New York found that theanine, an amino acid present in the tea plant increases alpha brain-wave activity, which induces a calmer, yet more alert, state of mind. Theanine is found in green, black and oolong teas.

Water for the Brain

If your brain feels a bit fuzzy or you feel irritability coming on you might just be thirsty. Dehydration can make you feel listless, lethargic and contribute to concentration problems. Make sure to drink water or other thirst-quenching drinks to keep your brain hydrated -- but keep an eye out for restroom signs at your interview location!

Chew Gum While Waiting

While gum chewing during an interview is not advised because it may detract from what you’re saying, research shows that gum can help you stay focused and alert. Researchers at Baylor University found that chewing gum improved students’ scores on math tests. And in a lab setting participants who chewed gum showed reduced stress and improved mental alertness.

What if it’s an interview during a meal? If it’s a dinner interview and the others are having glass of wine; it’s OK to follow suit but remember you’re the one in the spotlight. And let’s just say you’re a vegetarian or have strong feelings about your low-carb diet. This is no time to share your passion for dietary concerns, especially if the boss-to-be is digging into a rack of ribs or big bowl of pasta. Choose easy to eat foods such as soups and salads or simple entrees of chicken or fish so you can keep up with the conversation during lunch. Chomping corn on the cob or swirling spaghetti noodles might be a bit distracting.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.