As athletes, we generally take better care of our bodies via training and following a good diet. All of us need additional carbohydrates (simple on the run, complex during the day) for energy, protein for muscle repair, and fats for energy and cell insulation. When our nutrition is in balance, we often feel and perform better. We recover faster, and are more physically able to perform tasks due to having energy available to us when we take in good nutrition.
What about fueling for mental performance? Obviously, if we're hungry, we lack energy and cannot concentrate. On a deeper, more cellular level, what we eat can assist in maintaining or even enhancing our focus during practice and competition. Besides the "big 3" macronutrients of carbs, protein, and fat, what else can enhance an athlete's concentration?
- L-Theanine: Often found in Green Tea, it enhances psychological well-being by adding neurotransmitter support (those chemicals in your brain helping you focus, feel, problem-solve, etc.), including Dopamine, the nerurotransmitter guiding attention and concentration.
- Carbohydrates during exercise: Provides an energy source for both body and mind-the brain is greedy when it comes to carbohydrate utilization, taking in approximately 10% of your daily intake for functioning. Carbs have also been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can wreak havoc on mind and body. Want to stay focused? Try grabbing a sports drink while performing your activity. The brain runs on glucose, and often 120 g are needed per day to prevent "bonking". Notice that when the body gives, so often does the thought processes as well.
- Caffeine: Coffee lovers, rejoice! Studies have shown that a moderate intake of caffeine (say 25-75 mg) prior to activity not only blocks sensations of exertion, but increases blood flow to the brain, allowing for you to focus when it counts.
- B-Vitamins: B12 has been shown to keep what you have and generate more neural cells and tissues. Found often in yogurt, milk, cheese, fish and poultry.
- Omega-3's: Boost focus by producing more Dopamine and keeping inflammation levels down. Also Omega-3's allow for good communication between nerve cells, equaling more mental clarity. Recommended at least 2000 mg per day via fish oil, fatty fish such as Salmon (author favorite!), avocados, nuts, and flaxseed.
- Protein: The building block of hormones and other bodily chemicals-including neurotransmitters. Protein intake of at least 1-1.5 g per lb. of body weight has been shown to build and rebuild Dopamine stores. Also, protein staves off hunger, which has an added benefit for concentration.
Note: consistent intake of the above nutrients produces the best results. By feeding the body, we also can feed the mind. When both are fueled properly, an athlete is on the way for peak performance.
Source: M. Ryan, in VeloNews.