Performance in both sport and at work require optimum cognitive function for sharp decision making, concentration and problem solving. Find out how your dietary choices can significantly impact your cognitive abilities.
FOOD TO FUEL YOUR BRAIN
Your brain requires fuel to perform, and this fuel comes from food. Restrictive eating or the latest fad diets will probably not support performance. However, a balanced and nutrient dense diet will support memory, concentration, and cognitive abilities – all vital for strategic thinking and problem solving on the run.
Research into evolution has found that a better-quality diet is associated with larger brain volume, grey and white matter volume, and hippocampal volume. It was not the consumption of a single food group alone that supported brain development, it was an overall high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, dairy and fish.
Some nutrients are particularly key for brain function, and they include:
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. O3 fatty acids are essential for brain development and function, and key for memory and learning.
- B Vitamins found in whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. B vitamins support the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the maintenance of cognitive function.
- Complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains, vegetable and fruit. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for the brain and help maintain focus and mental clarity.
- Antioxidants from fruit and vegetables. Antioxidants help protect the brain from inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Water. Dehydration impairs cognitive function, even as little as 2% dehydration.
- Caffeine. In moderate amounts and from coffee and tea, caffeine enhances alertness and cognitive function.
How To Improve Your Gut Health
We also know that there is a direct link between the brain and the gut, and healthy gut bacteria support mental health and brain function. So, eating a diet that supports gut health by including a variety of plants (at least 15 per week), pre and probiotic foods and high fibre will boost gut health and well-being, nourish your mental health and optimise brain function.
Of course, diet is only one aspect of your lifestyle, you also want to consider your sleep, mental stimulation, social connections, stress, physical activity, and overall physical health. They are all key components of overall mental health and contribute to your cognitive performance.
5 Tips to Fuel Your Brain
- Prioritise health and wellbeing. No one else can do this for you. So, prioritise the areas of your diet that you feel you want to work on and make time for it in your schedule. Start small and address one thing at a time.
- Plan your meals for the week. A few minutes planning on the weekend will ensure your meals are nutritious and support your goals.
- Shortcuts. Life is busy, so use precut veggies or salads and pre-made meals if you are unable to cook or outsource the tasks you are unable to complete. Whether it is some of the food prep or other household tasks, this will free up time and help you stay on track.
- Keep it simple to stay consistent. If you make it too hard, it will just not happen, simple but nutritious meals will trump MasterChef creations once a week every time.
- Keep regular: carry a water bottle and drink regularly throughout the day, aiming for two litres per day and eat every 4-5 hours to support brain function.
Whether you are focusing on your career or your performance on the court/field/track, being on top of your game mentally will make a huge difference to your performance.
Work smarter by taking time to support cognitive function and performance by eating well and giving your brain the fuel it needs.
You can also with a registered dietitian to customise a plan to meet your unique needs or goals.