RODALE NEWS, LENOX, MA—Many of the people I work with are high achievers. But although they are smart, driven, and successful, they don’t always function at their peak. Like all of us, they sometimes experience fatigue, distractibility, and difficulty concentrating. Frequently, I help them develop a plan to maximize their performance. Here are 10 of my most effective strategies that you can use to optimize your mental performance. They will help to nourish and stimulate your brain, so you can improve your concentration and function at your peak.
# 1: Feed your brain. Glucose is the fuel your brain runs on. So to maintain optimal mental functioning, you need to maintain a consistent blood sugar level. Eat three meals and two small snacks, each of which combines protein and complex carbs. Complex carbs that contain fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, release glucose more gradually and consistently than the refined carbohydrates in foods full of sugar and white flour. Favor complex carbs and avoid refined sugar so your brain has a steady, consistent fuel supply all day long.
# 2: Notice how you feel after meals. If you feel foggy after a big pasta meal, keep pasta to a minimum. If you crash an hour after eating a slice of cake, choose fruit for dessert when you need to be mentally alert and focused. Learn how your body reacts to different foods, and adjust your food choices to optimize mental performance.
# 3: Get an oil change. Since your brain is composed mostly of lipids—fats—you need to nourish it with healthy fats and oils in your diet. You can get the brain-boosting benefit of fish oil by eating salmon, mackerel, or herring a few times a week, and by taking daily supplements that supply you with omega-3 fatty acids.
# 4: Drink smart. Often we pay attention to the foods we eat but forget that the beverages we drink also affect our health. If you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages, keep it to a minimum. One cup may perk you up; two or more cups will cause an initial spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash that leaves you feeling tired and dull. Drink at least 64 ounces of fluids a day; staying well-hydrated boosts your energy level and alertness. Filtered water is ideal. Avoid sugar-laden and artificially sweetened sodas. Save alcohol for times of relaxation, not concentration. Forgo wine with lunch if you want to focus in the afternoon.