Are you using your brain properly?
Loaded question…I know.
But if you haven’t noticed, your brain kind of calls the shots; almost as if it is independent of you.
Think about it. Say you are just exhausted from the day, and you KNOW you need to workout and you even WANT to, but you just can’t do it. Or maybe it’s early in the morning and you just don’t want to get out of bed and workout…
Luckily, there is something you can do about it (and you can start today).
Plugging the Holes in Your Brain
What “holes” am I talking about?
Obviously, I am not talking about actual holes in your brain. I am talking about holes in you diet & lifestyle which may not be fueling your brain to the best of its ability.
A lot of people will talk about what consists of a good pre-workout meal and a good post-workout meal…but what about mental performance??
The brain is a calorie hog.
In fact, while the brain only makes up about 2% of our body-weight, it uses up to 20% of our body’s energy resources.
If you aren’t fueling it properly, then everything will suffer.
But what fuels the brain?
Energy travels to the brain via blood vessels in the form of glucose. Studies confirm, when neurons in a particular brain region fire, local capillaries dilate to deliver more blood than usual, along with extra glucose and oxygen.
So eating a bunch of sugar (glucose), is great for mental performance, right?
Not so fast.
Scientists aren’t convinced that increased brain power demands a whole bunch of extra sugar, and research actually contradicts that theory. One study had students workout before a test, and the other students simply sit and read quietly before the test. The ones who burned more sugar (worked out) did better on the test.
If mental effort and ability were a simple matter of available glucose, then the children who exercised—and burnt up more energy—should have performed worse.
Also, I can guarantee you are getting enough sugar in your diet, as is.
So what holes should you be looking to plug?
Plugging Holes…with eggs?
Now, I am about to get a bit technical in my explanation, but the answer is very simple and easy. This isn’t a trick, a hack or anything like that – just simple science.
We have to look closer than macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein) to increase brain power. We have to look at neurotransmitters…I know…BORING! Keep reading, I will make this as painless as possible, because I am no professor.
Anyway, certain foods contain precursors (starting materials) for some neurotransmitters. If a diet is deficient in certain precursors, the brain will not be able to produce some neurotransmitters.
*Yawn* So we need to focus on getting our brain what it wants to be healthy, balanced and ready for performance. What neurotransmitters should we be looking at??
Here are three to jump start performance:
- Aspartic Acid —> Used to make aspartate —> found in peanuts, potatoes, EGGS and grains. Research shows higher levels of this stuff could be indicative of you being more well-equipped in the cardiorespiratory realm of fitness.
- Choline —> Used to make —> acetylcholine —> found in EGGS, liver and soybeans. This stuff promotes and regulates proper metabolism for increased energy and endurance, enhances the sending of messages between the brain and muscle fibers for more efficient and precise movements, and improved coordination, and even better, choline’s aid in maintaining the nervous system delays the onset of central fatigue during strenuous activity.
- Phenylalanine —> Used to make dopamine —> found in beets, soybeans, almonds, EGGS, meat and grains. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays an important role in motivation and effort, as well as movement, memory, pleasurable reward, behavior, cognition, attention, inhibition of prolactin production, sleep, mood and learning. Dopamine does A LOT and plays an important role in almost every function of your daily life.
I said the answer was simple: Eat eggs.
Am I saying it’s that simple? Yes. Eat eggs and you’ll be perfect 🙂
Ha! Nothing is that simple. But a lot of people shy away from eggs due misinformation and myths, when they can actually prove to be quite helpful and healthy.
If you start adding eggs to your daily breakfast you may just see a spike in performance.
That was just performance talk; brain health, of course, is more complicated than that. You should also:
- Eat a lot of veggies and some fruit with vivid colors for a full range of brain-healthy phytochemicals and antioxidants.
- Consume high quality animal proteins to keep B12 levels high.
- Consume low-glycemic carbs to keep glucose levels steady throughout the day.
- Add healthy fats like omega-3 and -6s to boost brain power, while cutting the bad fats like saturated and trans fats that may harm the brain.
And if you want to know more about vitamins, minerals and the nervous system, I have a cool chart linked in the sources of this post.
Plugging Holes with Timing
Now, the next hole we have to “plug” isn’t through nutrition. It’s a matter of how you use your brain, or rather, work with your brain, as opposed to against it.
If you are like me, how your day goes (good day/bad day) can affect everything…motivation, intensity, productivity, etc.
It’s the daily grind which gets us all, wears us down and give us mental fatigue. This mental fatigue gives us a lack of motivation. You process a ridiculous amount of information each day while you drive, when you read, while you work, during workouts…Your brain is constantly running and processing, developing opinions and drifting off to other tasks.
By the end of the day your brain is quite fatigued.
Research shows that if you exercise while mentally fatigued (which could be everyday), you will reach a state of perceived exhaustion more quickly and mental fatigue will lower your brain’s inhibition against quitting.
Perhaps that’s the bad news. The good news is that the same studies found your perceived level of exhaustion, or level of mental fatigue, had NO correlation to your heart or muscles; they still possess the same level of readiness and ability to operate at a high level whether you are mentally rested or fatigued.
So the secret…You ARE NOT tired!
Well, your brain is, but your body isn’t. Basically, your brain is tired of working but your body is ready to go. So what do we do?
1.) If you do high intensity workouts, you need to do them early in the morning when mental fatigue is low and intensity can be high.
2.) If you workout at a moderate intensity, you just NEED TO DO IT.
Not exactly ground breaking information, but it is so important that you harness your timing and when your brain is most ready for exercise. Better timing = Higher Intensity = Faster AND Better Results = Better Human.
If you can’t do early, actually doing the exercise, regardless of fatigue, will help improve mental performance.
Now, it is good to know that mental fatigue leads to perceived physical exhaustion, but reducing mental fatigue is better.
How you can do that in your life is specific to you and your day. Some quick ways are to limit stimulants, take breaks, limit visual inputs (screens), limit decision making, spend time outside, etc.
How can YOU reduce your mental fatigue in a day?? C’mon, just one thing! You can do it!
Here’s to becoming a better human with a better brain!
P.S. – I write on the brain from time to time, whether it is about neurotransmitters or motivation, here are some of the top End of Three Fitness “brain articles”:
- The Lost Art of Mental Toughness, and How to Find it
- The Freakin’ Awesome-Morning Breakfast Hack
- The Art of Weight Loss
- Simple(ish) Ways to build Mental Toughness
- Use a Fighter Pilot’s Brain to Conquer High Intensity Workouts
Sources from this article:
Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories?, What the Ultimate Organ Needs to Stay Healthy, Nutrition and the Brain, Aerobic Fitness and the Brain, Cerebral Metabolic Effects of a Verbal Fluency Test, Why Eggs are Good for You, Mental Fatigue and Physical Endurance.
Chart: Nutrient Effects on the Nervous System
photo credit: themonnie, spike55151, Ian Sane