How to Eat to Improve Your Thinking

By Casey Ames, Head Trainer at Optimal Soccer. See Original Post

Soccer is more than simply being physically capable of outperforming others, we also take on a mental toll whenever we get out on the field. While we can train our bodies to become stronger, there is not an easy way to train our minds. This is where the diet kicks in. Changing the way you eat will have significant effects on your ability to think. By optimizing how your mind works, you can become a serious threat on the field.

There are four main areas we should address when we apply nutrition to optimizing our cognitive performance. The first is how we can eat to improve our mood. The second, how the diet will keep us alert. Third, nutrition and its effects on concentration. Last but not least, how the Optimal Soccer Diet can improve memory.

The effects of diet on the brain in these four categories is important for soccer players looking to take their game to the next level because they change the way we play. With an improved mood, you can step out onto the field with a stronger confidence and take down other players that much easier. With a heightened alertness, you can make snappy decisions quicker, and react to the changes in the game that much faster. With a stronger concentration, you won’t make mistakes, you’ll drop into a rhythm that puts you on an entirely different plane of playing than the other players. With improved memory, the work you put in outside of the match will be that much easier to access making you a huge threat on the field.

So let’s get into these categories and see which foods can optimize your mental performance.

EAT TO IMPROVE MOOD

The mentality that we step out onto the field with plays a huge role in our performance. As soccer players, we need to understand why we feel confident, and how nutrition can actually trigger this mental state.

Hormones play a huge role in the way we think, especially in regard to our mood. The two hormones that we need to address in regards to confidence are dopamine and serotonin.

DOPAMINE

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in regulating movement and emotional responses.[1] More specifically, it helps you see rewards and work to achieve those goals. This is huge for soccer players as it creates a mental state in which we can move better, and we are better motivated. Motivation is important going into a game. You want to step out onto the field motivated to win, no matter what. Triggering dopamine will make it easy to get into this mental state.

There are a number of ways to maintain healthy dopamine levels, including getting more sleep and taking certain drugs to trigger it. However, dopamine can be safely triggered by simply changing the way you eat.

Certain foods produce the chemicals that trigger dopamine, and these chemicals are found in foods that are already part of the Optimal Soccer Diet. Specifically, ingesting fish oil, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, and phosphatidylserine.

FISH OIL

Fish oil can be supplemented, or you can simply include more fish in your diet. Salmon, tilapia, and tuna have good fats, protein, and omega-3s in addition to these fish oils that will improve your performance.

L-THEANINE

L-theanine is a supplement that should be added to your morning cup of coffee. It produces a calming effect like drinking a cup of tea that triggers dopamine.[2]

L-TYROSINE

This can also be supplemented and is accredited to providing a stimulant effect on the body.[3] When purchasing, be sure to look at the dosage, some recommend taking multiple doses throughout the day equaling to a total of 150 mg of L-tyrosine. The best time to take this is 30-60 minutes before the game to ensure it is fully digested and working through your system.

PHOSPHATIDYLSERINE

As with the other ways to trigger dopamine, phosphatidylserine can be supplemented with doses of 100 mg taken 3 times a day.[4] As it is taken throughout the day, making sure you have been supplementing it for at least a week will help you to see results and change your cognitive performance.

With these nutrients in your diet, your performance as a soccer player will greatly improve.

SEROTONIN

Serotonin is responsible for regulating mood swings and is generally attributed to treating depression. With regards to soccer players and motivation, the last thing you want to be is gloomy when you step out onto the field. Instead, look to optimize serotonin to come out feeling confident and motivated to win.

There are a number of ways to trigger serotonin through the diet, but fruits and nuts appear to have evidence behind their ability to trigger serotonin.

FRUITS

Specifically, the fruits you want to be eating are bananas, kiwis, pineapple, and plums. These fruits contain the amino acid l-tryptophan which is critical in the creation of serotonin.[5] Adding these to a smoothie is an easy way to trigger the serotonin you need to stay in the game.

NUTS

Along with fruits containing l-tryptophan, the body needs carbohydrates to trigger serotonin production.[6] Good sources of carbohydrates can be found in pistachios, almonds, peanuts, and cashews.

Eating these as a light snack before the game will help push your mind in the right direction. Not only are they easily digested, but they also won’t make you feel heavy before your game.



EAT TO IMPROVE ALERTNESS

Alertness is very important to soccer. You need to be able to react quickly to a changing game, and the way to do this is to change your diet.

Physiologically, alertness is caused when our bodies produce adrenaline. The problem with adrenaline production is that it is often accompanied by cortisol. Cortisol, in high doses, makes you feel lethargic and will not improve your performance.

The solution to this is caffeine in addition to l-theanine.

COFFEE AND L-THEANINE

The addition of l-theanine to coffee is best attributed to bulletproof coffee. While the coffee acts as a stimulant through the caffeine, the l-theanine establishes a calming effect that maintains the alertness without giving you the jitters or leaves you feeling anxious.

If you don’t like coffee, don’t worry. Caffeine can be accessed in a number of ways aside from coffee. It can either be supplemented, or you can drink tea. Either way, making sure you get caffeine and l-theanine into your system an hour before your soccer game will leave you feeling alert and ready for anything.

EAT TO IMPROVE CONCENTRATION

Concentration relies on the mind’s ability to send and receive messages between brain cells. In order to do this effectively, brain cells need oxygen from blood sugar.

The best ways to provide the mind with the nutrients it needs to concentrate is to cook with olive oil, eat fish, and to eat nuts.

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil contains oleuropein which is important due to its anti-oxidative properties.[7] Anti-oxidants are important for cell function and overall nutrition. By cooking your meals with olive oil, your mind stands to gain a lot.

FISH

Fish contain oils and the precious omega-3s which make them essential to concentration. Omega-3s help build maintain myelin which is a fatty substance your brain cells need to communicate effectively.[8] By simply increasing the amount of fish you eat, your concentration on the field will improve.

NUTS

Along with fish, nuts also contain omega-3s. Taking in walnuts and flax seed is a good way to get omega-3s. I suggest eating these before your game if you want a small snack before you get out on the field.

EAT TO IMPROVE MEMORY

At the heart of learned behavior is memory. A sharp mind can access skills built from memories and execute actions quicker than a mind that has neglected the maintenance of its memory. To improve memory, soccer players can look to their diet.

There are many foods that have been credited with memory improvement, but only a few are suitable to the Optimal Soccer Diet. Of these foods and nutrients, a soccer player looking to take their game to the next level should begin eating eggs, quinoa, broccoli, and start either cooking with coconut oil or adding it to your morning cup of coffee/tea.

EGGS

Eggs are already an important source of nutrients because they are packed with protein and fats that soccer players desperately need in order to pack on muscle and fuel endurance. However, they also have an essential B vitamin that studies show improve memory.[9]

Eggs not only provide soccer players with the nutrients needed to optimize physical performance, but the research suggests they also can play a key role in your cognitive function. Implementing eggs into your breakfast will do wonders for your performance on the field.

QUINOA

Quinoa is an excellent source of carbohydrates. For soccer players, the intake of carbohydrates is especially important because cells break them down into glucose. Glucose is essential for brain cells to send messages to each other effectively.[10]

This makes it very easy to recommend including quinoa in the Optimal Soccer Diet. It is easy to cook, and it can be added to just about anything. The nutrients you stand to gain and the versatility of this food make it essential for soccer players looking to step up their game.

BROCCOLI

Broccoli should already be a part of your diet. It is particularly nutrient-dense as it is full of calcium, vitamin C, fiber, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin K.[11] Soccer players are surprisingly deficient in these micronutrients due to the amount of stress we put on our bodies, but broccoli also is important for the mind.

With regards to the brain, broccoli helps keep the blood clean, allowing the free flow of oxygen and other chemicals in the body allowing brain cells to work more efficiently. If you were wondering which vegetables you should be eating, then turn toward broccoli.

COCONUT OIL

Coconut oil is popular among Paleo diets and is gaining traction among nutritionists everywhere. There are medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil that the body uses for energy, allowing the brain to tap into our precious glucose stores.[12] Not only that, coconut oil is also anti-inflammatory.

Soccer players stand to gain a lot from implementing this into their diet. It is easy to put in coffee or tea, and cooking with it adds a sweet taste to whatever you’re cooking.

Most soccer players tend to focus on the physicality of the sport, but there are many nuances to the game and your performance that training hard only does so much. The diet is particularly important in stepping your game to the next level, in regards to both your physical performance as well as your mental performance.

Soccer is a fast-paced sport that requires a great deal of snappy decision-making and impeccable reaction-time. In order to train your mind, your diet must be addressed. As you can tell from the foods suggested to improve your cognitive function in each of the four categories, the nutrients required overlap with foods essential to improving your physical performance. Our bodies are complex machines, and it is our job to make sure they are given what they need to perform well.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this. If you want to continue the conversation or start a new one with me, I invite you to leave a comment below.

Best,

Casey Ames

Head Trainer at Optimal Soccer

Resources:

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/dopamine
[2] http://www.drugs.com/npc/l-theanine.html
[3] https://examine.com/supplements/l-tyrosine/
[4] https://examine.com/supplements/phosphatidylserine/
[5,6] http://nootriment.com/serotonin-rich-foods/
[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002804/
[8] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1276881/The-brain-diet-Eating-right-foods-improve-memory-lift-mood-help-concentrate-longer.html
[9] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2065732/Chicken-eggs-boost-memory-Scientists-discover-nutrient-slow-ageing-brain.html
[10,11,12] http://www.sunwarrior.com/news/brain-foods/