The link between athletic performance and nutrition is obvious, but when it comes to mental performance, we don’t always make the same connection. To be clear: Your brain is fueled with the same food as your muscles! In fact, our brains are the gas-guzzling Hummers of the body’s organs using up over half of the glucose in our bloodstream. That means what you eat has a huge impact on your cognitive functioning.
There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting science out there about proper nutrition, but you don’t have to go paleo or keto or become the Sad Salad Person at work to avoid mental fatigue in the middle of the day. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining sufficient energy levels throughout the day without sacrificing too much:
Cut down on refined sugars. While there’s no evidence of an increase in mood or cognitive functioning from eating sugar even in the short-term, sugar consumption does decrease alertness within an hour and increases fatigue within 30 minutes. In other words, the sugar rush isn’t real, but the sugar crash is.
Make a plan for what you’ll eat in advance. If you wait until you’re hungry, you’re already low on energy and willpower and are more likely to crave a quick hit of energy in the form of yummy sugar.
Don’t skip breakfast. If you usually skip breakfast and then crash in the middle of the morning, try eating a breakfast that will sustain your energy levels until lunch.
Snack. Try giving your body consistent fuel with mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks at a minimum.
Stay hydrated. Studies show that even mild hydration can negatively impact cognitive performance.
Figure out what makes you feel best. When it comes to nutrition advice, you should always be skeptical. Even the basic advice above won’t work for everyone. Experiment and stick to what works best for you.