The Five Pillars of human health and performance

by Dr Phil Clarke - lecturer, researcher and consultant in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology

When it comes to supporting performance, we utilise a health and performance pyramid approach made up of mindset strategies at the top, environmental factors in the middle, and the five pillars of human health and performance act as the foundation.

In this article we are going to introduce the foundation layer of the pyramid.  

One of the biggest misconceptions in the performance space is time management.

Often when thinking about our day we focus so much on management of time. However, have you ever managed your time so well that you have managed to gain more time?

Most performers I work with in business have managed their time really well in terms of setting time aside in the day to do tasks, but still find that at the end of the day they struggle to achieve everything they had planned to do.

So, what we propose is that no matter how well you manage your time there will only ever be 24 hours in a day.

Therefore, it is not about how we manage our time, but how we manage our energy so maximise the time we have. This is where the five pillars of human health and performance come into play.  

The five pillars include nutrition, physical activity, sleep, downtime, and hydration.

Research suggests, that when neglected, each of these factors can have negative implications on our health and performance outcomes. For example,

• when we don’t fuel ourselves properly it can lead to a negative impact on our energy levels

• when our physical activity levels are low, and we are more sedentary we tend to feel more lethargic

• when we have a poor night sleep our ability to concentrate and manage our emotions are impaired significantly.

• Being dehydrated can lead do a decrease of cognitive ability

• a lack of downtime can lead to increased rumination and burnout.

Assessing how an individual is doing on the five factors combined is often a strong indicator of individual performance levels in terms of output and consistency. Our ability to perform, and our energy levels, are all influenced by these pillars.

So, if you want to improve your health and performance – the first step is to look at how you are doing on your pillars.

What we should be aiming for?


Focus on ensuring that you are getting enough calories in a day to ensure you are fuelling yourself properly (roughly 2500 a day for males, 2000 a day for females). A step further is to consider fuelling yourself with the highest quality sources for our energy and concentration levels – for example fish, nuts, eggs, green leaves etc. can be a great fuel source for concentration.

Physical activity

As many of us work in office roles, it may not surprise you to hear that we are more sedentary than ever. Trying to increase physical activity throughout our day is important as it aids in the flow of glucose, oxygen and blood – which are all important for concentration – particularly glucose which is the main fuel source of our brains. Literature suggests 75 minutes of intense, or 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week is beneficial.


This is one of the most poorly attended to of the pillars – we are the only species on this earth who choose not to sleep. Poor sleep quantity and quality hinders our ability to problem solve, we make riskier choices, disrupt our ability to perform tasks efficiently (i.e., taking more time and effort to do tasks) and surprising to most, is that poor sleep can lead to an extra consumption of between 200-500 calories a day – so make sure you are prioritising your sleep.


Human beings are most effective and productive between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal. As such, if you are trying to speed up with your performance, it is equally, if not more important, that you plan and prioritise slowing down. Downtime means having time in a day to do something you choose that fills you up, rather than takes away. Effective downtime needs to be something you choose (and plan to do), even if that is doing nothing. This way you are prioritising the time.


Being well hydrated is essential at helping us to not only be effective but to be efficient. A drop in as little as 2% in hydration status significantly impacts cognitive ability (e.g., 3lbs of water in a 150lb person).  A useful thing to remember is that if you’re already thirsty, then you’re already dehydrated. So, make sure to keep yourself hydrated, to keep your energy levels high.  Evidence suggests 3.7lt of fluid a day for males, and 2.7lt of fluid a day for females is required.

The great thing about the pillars is that you will notice the impact of prioritising these straight away, unfortunately though, if you neglect the pillars you don’t notice the impact of doing so until much later down the line.

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