Are you suffering from poor memory, tiredness, fogginess and a lack of concentration?
Being mentally fit and focused is a huge asset to anyone, but for entrepreneurs and business owners alike, boosting mental performance is an underestimated element to greater business potential and overall long-term goals. Experiencing any of the above symptoms on a constant basis is a sign that your body, not just your brain is feeling the pressure and nutrition and lifestyle may be the underlying factor.
An efficient brain can achieve a lot more, in a shorter amount of time and with more precision. Like a muscle, the brain becomes more efficient and resilient by consistently being flexed or exercised, rested and replenished with nutrients and hydration. A drop in any of the above elements can impact neurological function and poorer mental performance can ensue. In this article we take a look at nutrition and its powerful role in mental performance.
A lot of people get used to the idea that their memory is not what it once was, or their poor focus and motivation is just a part of the ‘norm’, so they walk around knowing that their brain isn’t functioning optimally, but aren’t really sure what to do about it so, they just accept it and press on.
Don’t settle and start taking control of your health and the exciting potential of what your body and mind is capable of achieving.
Your poor mental performance could be stemming from chronic stress levels and poor lifestyle balance? Often stress is the biggest causative factor, but there are things to help you handle stress so much better and this article will provide you with some key nutrients to consider! Could your poor concentration be linked to a lack of good quality sleep? Are you low or deficient in a certain nutrient or maybe more than one? Is it your digestive health – potential poor absorption or assimilation of food?
There are a lot of underlying reasons as to why someone may be experiencing these symptoms or feelings. Working with a practitioner who knows their stuff can help uncover so much about yourself and your overall health so that you can optimise your health and have your brain powering through your next meeting with still enough energy to back it up to enjoy your time with family, friends and the things you truly love doing.
No matter what your age is, you have the ability to boost your brain power. As previously thought by medical experts, the brain is not ‘fixed’ and can be rewired to create better habits and increased productivity. You might know that our brain is plastic, we have the ability through ‘neuroplasticity’ to reorganise and structure the brain based on our environment and lifestyle. You have the power to set the course for these neural pathway connections through your daily lifestyle habits. Pretty cool stuff!
What you eat directly impacts your mental performance
If your motivation and focus is lacking chances are you aren't fueling your body with the right key nutrients needed for optimal mental performance. The foods you eat from the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed directly impact your brain power. Nutrients provide the materials for our enzymes, neurotransmitters, cell and nerve linings. With the right fuel, the brains mental response slows down, and with the right nutrition you can have your neural connections firing at a faster, a more efficient rate.
Boost it with fat
The brain is made up of 60% fat, the delicate myelin sheath that protects and covers our nerve cells (our brain messengers) is primarily made of fat. With this in mind, it’s clear that fatty acids or the fats we obtain from our diet are key in optimising our mental performance. Omega-3 influences both communication between cells and cell function.
When it comes to fat, there is one you shouldn’t cut back on; omega-3. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat, the other being Omega-6. We get plenty of omega-6 in our diet, but omega-3 often lacks. This fatty acid not only enhances mental performance but reduces inflammation and supports other heathy processes in the body. Studies show a diet enriched with omega-3 can slow down or reverse slow down or reverse cognitive decline. Including healthy fats daily is a great mental boost. You might add sunflower or pumpkin seeds to your salads, add MCT oil to your morning smoothie, eat a delicious breakfast omelet with a hefty hit of fibre-packed vegetables and avocado to keep you sharp and full.
Healthy food sources of Omega-3 include:
- Cold water oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
You might be familiar with the macronutrient “protein”, but did you know that not getting enough of it in your diet can be part of the problem as to why you can’t keep motivated? Our brain relies on protein and a diet without a sufficient amount of it may be impacting your potential to unlock some serious brain power. We need protein-rich foods to be able to break down into amino acids and utilise these amino acids to create optimal level of brain chemicals.
Your morning food choices can directly affect your work output for hours to follow. Including a protein source for breakfast (natural yoghurt, nuts, eggs, etc.) is not only beneficial to your waistline and energy, but it assists the production of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to learning, motivation and attention. Lower levels of dopamine can be linked to more procrastination. DNA profiling can biohack your way to knowing your baselines where you can then work with a practitioner to optimise your potential.
Blood sugar balance
The brain is a very busy organ, primarily relying on glucose for fuel as its the preferred source of energy, although they aren’t the only macronutrient that supplies energy to our cells. With that said, not just any carbohydrate will optimise your mental performance. For most healthy individuals, a moderate consumption of ‘slow-releasing’ complex carbohydrate is the key. The slow releasing carbohydrate keeps you fuller for longer, while ‘fast releasing’ carbs can bring a spike and crash in blood sugar which can impact learning, concentration and motivation.
Obviously, this is very dependent on an individual’s goals, but for the majority of people who want to simply include a more healthful approach to their diet, including more slow-releasing carbohydrate sources of the unrefined kind - i.e. beans, lentils, vegetables, etc. is a really good start. If you truly want to optimise your mental performance and to support blood sugar levels the easiest way to do this is to start swapping soft drink, fast food and other processed foods for better options.
Getting the balance right is a powerful tool to keep you sharp. Eating foods that are low-GI throughout the day will provide sustained ‘slow-released’ energy. When you eat foods with a high glycemic index (refined flours, pasta, muffins, white bread, chips, etc), blood sugar spikes and often drops leaving you sluggish and with a lack of energy. Thinking smartly about your food choices and including lower GI foods can keep your blood sugar levels more stable. The easiest way to add more low GI foods is to include a fibrous array of vegetables to meals.
The best types of cognitive enhancers will always be natural and made up entirely of natural ingredients. Cognitive enhancers are available in supplemental form, which mostly contain vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, amino acids, herbs and antioxidants which can boost mental performance and brain health, but also may contain other health benefits too. For example, vitamins assist neurotransmitter production and maintain the nervous system by helping to metabolise fatty acids.
Now it may not specifically fix the root cause of your sleep deprivation or underlying energy issue, but with the right guidance from a practitioner, natural cognitive enhancers can provide a significant cognitive energetic boost. Be mindful of the wider term for cognitive enhancers, in my books natural is always best and I know there are some ordinary choices out there. Below is a list of some and effective natural cognitive enhancers (don’t self-prescribe supplements and consult with your GP or practitioner).
- Bacopa monniera boosts memory and cognitive performance by increased communication between neurons and benefits brain health long-term. (ref)
- Schisandra can reduce brain fog and increase concentration
- Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen which can help the body better handle stress. It has a stimulant effect to naturally boost energy.
- Turmeric (curcumin) you might find this spice in your pantry. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory herb and brain protective. Add black pepper to turmeric to boost its healthful properties.
- Rhodiola Rosea. This adaptogen has been shown in many studies to reduce brain fog and enhance mental performance. It may also help with mood and stress relief.
- Ginkgo Biloba leaves have been used in Chinese medicine for many years to improve cognitive performance by increasing acetylcholine and protecting the mitochondrial membrane.
- Lions Mane is used in traditional Chinese medicine to enhance mental performance. Studies show that this mushroom may work by increasing nerve growth factor (NGF)
- L-Tyrosine: this amino acid is a key part of the production of dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are key mood modulators and supplementation prescribed by a practitioner can lift mood and concentration
- L-Theanine found in green tea may reduce feelings of stress and anxiety
- Creatine may improve working memory
- Tryptophan an amino acid which acts as a precursor of serotonin is essential for optimal brain function and mood
- Acetyl- L Carnitine is an amino acid and can assist mental performance
Restore brain power
Peak mental performance comes with meeting essential nutrients needed for optimal brain function. Deficiencies or simply not getting enough of certain nutrients can impact concentration, motivation and memory. If an individual’s diet isn’t met with key nutrients needed for optimal brain function, professionals prescribed supplementation can be light and day when it comes to energy, motivation, focus and mood. You can check-in with your GP to run some blood tests to check your levels or conduct a Microscopic Blood Analysis with Tanya, our pathology expert at Merge Health. Some key nutrients to keep in mind are:
- B vitamins knows as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin. Vitamin B12 (salmon, liver and tuna) and folate (spinach an avocado) which are essential for brain health and the nervous system. Not getting enough vitamin B12/folate, or potentially not absorbing it efficiently may cause some symptoms such a brain fog, poor memory and anxiety. Low levels of B-vitamins can cause fatigue and low energy, as well as a poorer resilience to stress.
- Vitamin B6 (turkey, grass-fed beef, chickpeas): Vitamin B6 plays a role in creating the happy hormone ‘serotonin’ and norepinephrine, assisting mood and energy.
- Omega-3 (oily fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds): as mentioned above this should be a weapon of choice for optimising mental focus, performance and getting the tasks tick off the list!
- Perhaps one of the more obvious nutrients, but possibly the most neglected. The brain is made of around 75% water (study), even slight dehydration can impact brain power. To get the switch firing quicker, remember to keep hydrating. Water provides the electrical kickstart and charge to produce energy. The neurotransmitters and hormones serotonin and norepinephrine responsible for executive functioning need water to be able to execute effectively! How do you get enough water throughout the day? Get creative, think of ways that will increase the likelihood of you meeting your quota. Whether you flavour your water with citrus fruits and natural berries to encourage you to drink more or set reminders on your phone throughout the day. Staying hydrated will boost your mental performance. Although optimal hydration is dependent on the individual, a roundabout aim is 2.5-3L per day. The best way to keep this behaviour consistent is to track - make note of your daily intake throughout the week.
- Antioxidants: nerve cells in the brain need antioxidants to protect it from oxidative stress and to keep the brain young. Some example antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and A, as well as selenium, CoQ10 and the master antioxidant glutathione. You can find antioxidants in an array of whole foods, such as organic vegetables, fruits (blueberries, raspberries), herbs and spices (ginger, ground cloves), green tea, etc.
- Magnesium (dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, almonds): the OG ‘chill pill’ to reduce tension and stress. This mineral gets zapped up during stress so replenishing it with dark leafy greens
The key message is to eat nourishing wholefoods first and foremost to support the intrinsic pathways in our body to optimise brain function and mental performance. Move daily, hydrate well, get restorative sleep, take time out to chill and switch off, use mindfulness as a personal and professional tool and