Many athletes are often aware of how what they put in their bodies affects their physical performance. The old credo (and forgive the language) "eat like crap, play like crap" is often instilled in competitors at an early age. High level athletic programs, such as college and elite teams, have nutritionists on staff ready to address the athletes' most specific nutritional needs.
Quality of nutrition also plays an important role in how one focuses during training and competition. The cleaner and less processed the diet is, the better. Certain nutrients have important benefits in sharpening focus. Perfection is not warranted, however mindfulness regarding what we take in and how it affects our thought processes should be noted. Here are a few focus-enhancing dietary strategies to try:
- Protein: already a staple in many athletic circles for muscle building and recovery; it also contributes to building key neurotransmitters in the brain, such as Dopamine (DA) which guide attention. Choose lean sources such as chicken, soy, beans, and fish. A 150-lb individual may require 90-135g per day.
- Amino Acids, including Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) include Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine) help balance out energy levels and balance serotonin levels-another neurotransmitter affecting concentration.
- Foods containing few extra ingredients (i.e. non-processed or organic) allow for less free radical damage and focus-compromising blood sugar spikes. Reading labels becomes a must for this. The closer to the Earth, the better.
- Back to the topic of fish, Omega 3's also play an important role in mental clarity and focus. Aim to get in at least 2000 mg per day in the form of fish or fish oil, flax, avocados, nuts and/or pharmaceutical-grade supplementation.
- Antioxidants: free radical damage from training and life in general raise the body's level of inflammation, decreasing neural functioning and therefore affecting your concentration. This increased stress on the body's systems can destroy healthy cells in most bodily systems, the nervous system included. Increased intake of antioxidants fights this inflammation by protecting nerve cells from damage. Examples are Vitamins A (in Beta Carotene), E, C, and Selenium.
- Other powerful antioxidant nutrients include quercetin and anthocyamin. Quercetin can be found in apples with skin, cruciferous vegetables (spinach, broccoli, etc), and leeks. Anthocyamins can be found in berries, egg plant, beets, and apples with skin.
- Teas also can also enhance focus with their antioxidant properties; notably green and white teas.
- Also, to combat otherwise unexplainable energy and concentration lags, water consumption is very important. Hydration is related to chemical reactions in the body and nerve impulses. I myself struggle with this, however it is vital and probably the most basic listed.
This was intended to be a short list of some things to try and incorporate into your nutrition and training regime. Implementing dietary changes to enhance your focus will take some time for effect, but are definitely worth it.
Blomstrand, E. (2001). Amino acids and central fatigue. Journal of Amino Acids, 20, 25-34.
Porter, K. (2003). The Mental Athlete. Human Kinetics.