Whether you’re a competitive athlete or active individual, eating for brain health should definitely be on the forefront of your radar! According to a Harvard Study, there are potential brain health risks with diets that are too high in cholesterol and contain the wrong kinds of fat. Dietary habits such as these may cause the formation of beta-amyloid plaques to build and speed up damage in the brain over time. These changes are proving to be responsible for damages seen in the brain in association with those in Alzheimer’s disease. (1)
When talking about a diet to promote health of the brain, omega-3’s are essential due to their rich source of anti-inflammatories. This type of fat is broken down into EPA and DHA, two acids that are crucial for brain development and function! They are abundantly found in cell membranes of the brain, and help with communication and preservation of the cell membrane itself. When omega-3’s are taken out of the diet, research has shown a decline in memory and learning. (2)(3)
As either an athlete or active individual you may be trying to learn new skills at practice, work, or on your own in a new endeavor. Below are 10 foods to help you boost brain function, gain quicker memory recall, and sharper focus. Recipe included if you need help including these foods into your diet!
Looks like a brain, ever wonder why? Walnuts are great for our health because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, manganese, and copper. These minerals are beneficial for focus and memory, and when combined into one food…you can call it magic!
This is a type of mushroom with the unique ability to stimulate the synthesis of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) levels in the brain and may help improve the brain’s synaptic plasticity. Nerve growth factor aids in growth and survival of the neurons, and improving synaptic plasticity has shown positive long-term effects on memory, cognitive function, and mental focus. (4)
Contains magnesium which may help improve memory and cognitive function. This is thought to occur because magnesium plays a large role in nerve transmission and neuromuscular coordination. In addition, oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate meaning glucose is slowly released to the brain allowing attention levels and focus to be maintained!
Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and more are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. As noted above, omega 3’s are essential for positive brain health, and are thought to help sharpen cognitive function. This is because omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce neuron damage in our brains caused by excess and chronic inflammation. One risk factor for Alzheimer’s is inflammation, however, much more research is currently being devoted to this topic and more knowledge is needed.
Also known as raw dark chocolate! Cacao contains flavanols, an antioxidant, and may help boost memory and blood flow to the brain. Now, be aware when shopping that cacao and cocoa are different! I always recommend getting 100% cacao powder or very high % cacao dark chocolate to retain many of the key nutrients and antioxidants that are lost in cocoa.
A root powder originating from the central Peruvian Andes, and used for centuries in traditional medicine. Maca is a natural energizer that contains no caffeine, and is sometimes referred to as “Puruvian Ginseng”. This amazing root offers a wide range of minerals and vitamins, and may help improve focus, learning, memory, energy, and cognitive function. Research on maca is still in the early stages, but some show studies have shown positive results for its impact on the brain. (5)(6)(7)
Chalked full of magnesium and monounsaturated fats, avocados are an excellent choice for supporting nerves that carry information to the brain. The rich monounsaturated fat content helps increase blood flow, allowing more oxygen to reach your brain. Try adding more avocado to your plate by pairing it with breakfast eggs, toast, veggie burgers, and more!
Inside the yolk of an egg is a B vitamin called choline. Choline plays a prominent role in neurological development and function. If eggs are in your diet, they’re one of the best sources to get it!
Small but mighty, these little seeds have magnesium, antioxidants, and omega fats to help improve memory and focus while also reducing inflammation and oxidation. Additionally, since hemp seeds originate from the Cannabis sativa plant, they contain components of CBD which may have neuroprotective effects. (8)
The darker the better! Berries rich in color contain anthocyanins, flavonoids, and other anti-inflammatory properties which may boost memory function (eatright), help prevent age-related memory loss, and reduce inflammation which contributes to neuron damage. Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are just a few examples! (9)
Last words, ALWAYS check with your doctor before trying out ANY new supplement or food! There are reactions that may occur with current prescription medications you might be taking. Also, all athletes should get NSF certified supplements to ensure safety during play.
Energy Bites Recipe
(Makes 10 Bites)
1/2c pitted dates
3 Tbsp cacao powder (more for rolling if desired)
1.5 Tbsp hemp seeds (more for rolling if desired)
1.5 Tbsp creamy almond butter (or other nut butter of choice)
1/2 Tbsp melted coconut
Place all ingredients except for walnuts into food processor and mix until combined. Add in walnuts and mix again. Mixture should be doughy, if not add more cacao powder or hemp seeds until proper consistency is reached. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes and scoop into ~10 balls. Roll in hemp seeds or cacao powder and store in fridge or refrigerator for 1 week or 1 month respectively!
(1) Harvard Health Publishing. (2012, August). Boost your memory by eating right. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/boost-your-memory-by-eating-right
(2) Sinclair, A. J., Begg, D., Mathai, M., & Weisinger, R. S. (2007). Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain: review of studies in depression. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17392137
(3) Innis, S. M. (2007, April). Dietary (n-3) fatty acids and brain development. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17374644
(4) Seims, D. (2016, July 8). Top Brain Foods for Mental Focus. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from http://thenvl.com/2016/07/brain-foods-for-increased-athletic-focus/
(5) Gonzales, G. F. (2012). Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21977053/
(6) Guo, S.-S., Gao, X.-F., Gu, Y.-R., Wan, Z.-X., Lu, A.-M., Qin, Z.-H., & Luo, L. (2016). Preservation of Cognitive Function by Lepidium meyenii (Maca) Is Associated with Improvement of Mitochondrial Activity and Upregulation of Autophagy-Related Proteins in Middle-Aged Mouse Cortex. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27648102
(7) Rubio, J., Yucra, S., Gasco, M., & Gonzales, G. F. (2011, October). Dose-response effect of black maca (Lepidium meyenii) in mice with memory impairment induced by ethanol. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21780878
(8) Maroon, J., & Bost, J. (2018, April 26). Review of the neurological benefits of phytocannabinoids. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938896/
(9) Moore, M. (2019, October 11). 4 Types of Foods to Help Boost Your Memory. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/memory-boosting-foods
(10) Jennings, K.-A. (2017, May 9). 11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#section1
(11) Palsdottir, H. (2016, October 30). 9 Benefits of Maca Root (and Potential Side Effects). Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-maca-root#section1
(12) Bjarnadottir, A. (2018, September 11). 6 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds. Retrieved November 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-health-benefits-of-hemp-seeds