Having mental clarity and the energy to remain focused during the day has a big impact on productivity, health and how effective we are at our careers and taking care of our bodies. Are you like most people and feel a dip in energy and mental clarity in mid-afternoon? If so, then this article is for you. There is a reason why we feel tired or become mentally foggy throughout different points of the day and there are also solutions to combat daily fatigue. We all have different circadian rhythms and some people mentally perform best in the mornings, afternoons or late into the evenings.
When discussing mental clarity and energy, the chemical messengers in our brain called neurotransmitters play a big role. Neurotransmitters are responsible for our mood and energy levels and to a large extent can be controlled by the food we eat and the amount of exercise and rest we attain. The production of our neurotransmitters begins in the small intestine and travel via the bloodstream to the brain where they dictate how we feel throughout the day. We have two neurotransmitters, dopamine and acetylcholine, that promote focus, mental clarity and mental drive. A dominance of these neurotransmitters would be ideal before activities that require a large amount of focus; workouts, business meetings, sales presentations or a sport such as golf. When dopamine and acetylcholine are high, productivity and motivation are at peak levels. Research has shown the types of food we consume have an impact on neurotransmitters and which chemical messenger dominate the brain after a meal. Meals containing protein and fats have been shown to produce more dopamine and acetylcholine, and in turn, increase mental focus and drive. My mentor Charles Poliquin who teaches strength training and health to coaches worldwide coined the Meat and Nut breakfast. He promotes this to all his athletes and students. To learn more about the Meat and Nut breakfast click here. Through experience I can honestly say it works for better mental clarity when adopting a meat and nut breakfast. One of my personal favorites being a medium-rare steak and macadamia nuts for breakfast.
On the opposite spectrum, we have neurotransmitters GABA and Serotonin which promote relaxation, calmness and tranquility. These neurotransmitters are dominant after eating carbohydrate-rich meals. Serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter and is dominant after eating foods including, grains, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. This is a major cause of drowsiness. I have found too often that people consume too many meals daily that are large in quantity of carbohydrates, producing a dominance of serotonin in the brain. The rise and fall of blood sugar levels is another common effect of sleepiness and fatigue. In order to avoid this energy crash, balance your meals appropriately by choosing meals with protein and vegetables. Structuring your meals around meat and vegetables keeps your blood sugar levels stable and furthermore supplies healthy protein and ample essential vitamins and minerals promoting fat loss and detoxification. GABA and serotonin are beneficial and must be the primary and dominant chemicals in the brain to ensure proper sleep. Spending your evening watching television, movies, or checking emails and social media can disrupt your calming brain chemistry and promote the former Acetylcholine and Dopamine neurotransmitters to dominate, creating a poor mental environment for sleep and rest.
Now that we understand a little more about the science of neurotransmitters here are 15 tips to help you perform at your best:
1. Eat a palm-sized source of protein at each meal to drive dopamine for improved mental focus and drive
2. Avoid over-eating carbohydrates an hour before important meetings and events and limit to hand-cup sized amount
3. Maintain a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fresh fruit
4. Energize by taking a 10-15 minute brisk walk
5. Take a probiotic daily to increase neurotransmitter production
6. Sit somewhere quiet and practice 20 deep breaths
7. Focus on quality over quantity of restful sleep – screen yourself for sleep apnea
8. Avoid excessive alcohol before bed
9. Manage and channel stress with regular strength training 2-3x/week
10. Stay hydrated – dehydration can affect mental function
11. Limit caffeine to mornings to avoid sleep disruptions
12. Read before bed to exercise your mind and encourage relaxation
13. Meditate and visualize with deep breathing upon awakening or before bed
14. Learn a new language to challenge your mind
15. Practice yoga, tai chi or other moving mediations 2-3 x/week
Owner, Fit Culture Inc.