The Relationship Between Nutrition & Cognitive Performance
Your brain is your most important and complex organ. It is responsible for producing every memory, thought, action and feeling we have. Food is the fuel on which our brain runs; so depending on what you consume, you can either be feeling alert, sharp and focused or sluggish, slow and tired. Below we explore how diet can impact the way we function:
Our memory is like the filing system in our brain. It is our ability to be able to store, retain and recall information, as well as past experiences. Diet can directly affect our ability to remember. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy function of the brain and nervous system. Your brain uses omega-3’s to build nerve cells, which are essential for learning and memory. They can also slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer's disease. One study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25084680) found that people who regularly ate baked or broiled fish (rich in omega 3’s), had more gray matter in their brains. Gray matter is mainly comprised of the nerve cells which control decision making, memory and emotion. Other omega rich foods include; flaxseed, salmon, sardines, anchovies and oysters.
The moment your brain feels even mildly dehydrated; it’s most important functions begin to suffer. Dehydration does immediate damage to your mental abilities. It even shrinks your brain. Without water; it takes a lot more energy to accomplish the same tasks. All it takes is say, losing a litre of fluid due to perspiration; and you begin to experience a negative shift in mental balance. Are you feeling thirsty? If the answer is yes, then you have already waited too long to rehydrate. Stop what you are doing and get up and drink a glass of water. A good indicator of whether you need some h2O is your urine colour. You should be aiming to see a pale yellow colour. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated your body is.
When we push ourselves too hard, we drain the mental muscles needed to stay focused, think creatively and to persevere when faced with stumbling blocks. We can lose momentum. What looks like laziness, is often exhaustion. Enter the powerful blueberry. There’s a good reason why blueberries usually feature at the top of the list when it comes to brain food. They are antioxidant-packed, they fight off disease, reduce bloating, keep cravings at bay and enhance cognitive ability. During a study ( https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328326490_The_effects_of_acute_wild_blueberry_supplementation_on_the_cognition_of_7-10-year-old_schoolchildren ) at the University of Reading, researchers monitored schoolchildren's memory and attention-spans. After the consumption of flavonoid-rich blueberry supplements, they demonstrated an increase in significant cognitive improvements, especially when asked to complete a task. But they aren’t the only superfoods when it comes to increasing productivity. Strawberries, spinach, kale, avocado as well as tomatoes, are also beneficial in this area.
Your emotional state throughout the day, is conducive to how well you work and how you interact with the people around you. But how does food affect mood? Too many refined carbohydrates, processed and sugary foods can lead to depression. A 2009 study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2801825/ ) published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, had researchers assessing more than 3,000 people’s eating habits. They found that those who ate the most processed foods experienced the highest levels of depression. In turn; the participants who ate the most fruits and vegetables, were least likely to feel depressed.
For an athlete; it is their job to ensure they are in peak physical and mental condition. Rarely will you see an athlete smoking, eating fast-food or binge drinking. This is because bad nutrition can lead to injury, fatigue and poor muscle recovery, and all three factors can hinder how well an athlete performs. A professional sportsman or sportswoman, must plan their diet meticulously in order to reach their daily recommended vitamin and mineral needs. Including enough protein is also highly important as it promotes muscle repair and growth. Some of the best foods to meet the nutritional requirements for athletes are listed below:
Beans and legumes: Pinto beans, kidney beans, peas and lentils all provide plant-based protein without the saturated fat but with the added bonus of fibre; helping you feel fuller for longer.
Bananas: This low calorie fruit is also a natural source of electrolytes; which is important for post workout or sporting events. They are also potassium-rich and regulate your fluid intake. High in magnesium; they can protect you from muscle spasms and cramps.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Dark leafy greens, as well as cauliflower, brussel sprouts and broccoli, are incredibly rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. High in vitamin A, K, B6, calcium and iron; they fight inflammation. The iron content is also beneficial in helping to supply oxygen to the muscles.
Oatmeal: The oat is one of the most complex energy and nutrient sources. It’s an excellent source of energy carbs for athletes and can favourably alter metabolism and enhance performance when ingested 45 minutes to 1 hour before exercise of moderate intensity.
Chocolate: A recent British study (https://www.kingston.ac.uk/news/article/1640/18-apr-2016-eating-dark-chocolate-every-day-could-help-boost-athletic-performance-kingston-university-research-reveals/) published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, demonstrated that eating dark chocolate as a daily snack could help boost athletic performance. The study was based on the theory that dark chocolate may be similar to beetroot juice which contains a substance called epicatechin (a type of flavonol), which may increase nitric oxide production. They found the dark chocolate helped our bodies to use less oxygen, thus increasing endurance and boosting performance.
Clearly nutrition plays a crucial role in how we function daily and in the long-term. If you struggle with diet and are unsure of where to start; why not enlist the help of a nutritionist? Make an appointment and reap the rewards as they can teach you how to utilise food to heal and nourish your body. A professional will devise the best plan for you, by using specific foods in order to make sure you are operating at your peak level.