There may be days when you feel like you are running on two cylinders but you hit the gym anyway. That’s not a good idea— you have to be on top of your game mentally to train effectively, and have laser focus and clear thinking for the best workouts. What’s more, if you are not focused, you could drop a 45-pound plate on your foot. While some people might tell you to get more sleep, nutrition could be the key to flexing your mental muscle. Are you eating the wrong foods that shortchange your focus and mental energy— and ultimately do a number on the most important part of your body, your brain?
Healthy Brain, Healthy Body
Perhaps you are not thinking about your brain when you set foot in the gym— more likely, you are sizing up which body part to train— but brain health can be your most important training partner. The right food choices can do much more than impact the shape and size of your body; some foods help our brains stay sharp, as New York Times bestselling author Max Lugavere describes in his book Genius Foods. Lugavere recently did a live stream interview, “Capture the Moment,” sponsored by Cognizin® Citicoline and moderated by science journalist Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.
“You’re never too young or too old to make a brain-healthy choice,” said Lugavere, a filmmaker, TV personality, health and science journalist and director of “Bread Head,” the first documentary about dementia prevention through diet and lifestyle. “You can power your brain for a more productive life and greater mental energy.”
Educating people about brain health and how food and supplements affect thinking is the life goal of Lugavere, whose personal story of his mother suffering from dementia was the catalyst for his work as a brain health educator. One of his takeaways is that without proper nutrition, your brain health might be compromised even if you don’t realize it. “One of the most shocking things I learned is that changes begin in the brain decades before the first symptoms,” he said.
Eggs: Nature’s Multivitamin
What should a “brain-healthy” diet look like to help you stay focused during workouts? Lugavere’s grocery list of “superfoods” to help boost your brain health includes eggs (“eat the yolks, definitely”) and sardines. Such foods are high in a myriad of nutrients that benefit the brain.
Many fitness-conscious people eat egg whites but throw away the yolks, but this isn’t the healthiest choice for your brain. “Whites are protein dense but nutrient poor,” Lugavere said. “Egg yolk is nature’s multivitamin, and contains everything that nature has deemed important to grow a brain. The egg yolk contains every ingredient required for healthy brain function.”
Grass-fed beef also contains a number of important nutrients and conditionally important nutrients that make the brain work better, Lugavere said. “Lack of consumption of red meat has been linked to depression in women,” he added.
Avoid Bread and Pasta
“Most heart attacks have probably been caused by bread and pasta rather than by eggs and meat,” Lugavere said. Cultivated, modern grains and fruits should be avoided. “I would not say they are toxic, but grains are energy dense and nutrient poor.”
Lugavere also said to avoid grain and seed oils (canola, corn and soybean oil) as well as added sugars, “which we are consuming by the boatload, which keeps insulin chronically elevated, and elevated insulin might be responsible for 40 percent of Alzheimer’s cases alone.”
Cut Your Carbs
“If you have one message to give your parents, it would be that they should reduce their carbohydrate intake, and these oils [canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil] are not benign; they’re actually very unhealthy and they should get them out of the kitchen,” Lugavere said.
Supplements for Brain Health
Lugavere acknowledged that brain-healthy, whole food choices are not always readily available, and there are ways to help your brain through supplements. One key strategy is to boost your body’s levels of citicoline, a nutrient that increases levels of phosphatidylcholine— essential for healthy brain function— and increases the levels of several important neurotransmitters that help regulate cognitive function.
For a competitive edge in and out of the gym, look for brain-boosting supplements that contain Cognizin® Citicoline— a branded form of citicoline that provides vital nutrients that help care for healthy brain cells and protect neurons from free radical damage. Supplementing with citicoline also maintains normal levels of acetylcholine, a nutrient that regulates cognitive function; supports the healthy mitochondria activity required for brain energy; and aids in the synthesis and maintenance of cell membranes. Nature’s Bounty Active Mind is one supplement that contains Cognizin® Citicoline.
Help Your Brain Work Better
“At the end of the day it’s not about one food or one meal; it’s about a dietary pattern that also incorporates vegetables such as dark, leafy greens (a genius category) that are nutrient dense (kale, spinach, arugula), Lugavere said.” Research has shown that people who eat a bowl of dark, leafy greens a day have brains that look 11 years younger on scans and tests.”
Lugavere is especially interested in getting the message about brain foods to a younger audience, and this was the basis for “Bread Head.” Lugavere said, “I wanted to present it as a topic that young people would listen to, talking to them about foods that will shield your brain against dementia and Parkinson’s disease, potentially. Also actually help your brain work better in the here and now.”
Food for Thought
Max Lugavere is a man on a mission: to educate people how to power their brains for a more productive life and greater mental energy. You hit the gym regularly and watch your macros, but how “smart” is your lifestyle? Lugavere answered some questions about nutrition, brain health and optimizing performance.
Fitness-minded people who do their meal prep like to have packed portions set aside in advance. What are some portable, brain-healthy food staples that fit people should include?
Max: Sardines are my go-to travel food because they’re already prepped and ready to go! I’m also a fan of avocados, which travel well, and nuts and a form of sugar-free beef jerky called biltong.
Are there any mental games or exercises that we can do to keep our minds sharp?
Max: The general consensus is that brain training software does not work but I’m hopeful that some games, particularly those that draw on a robust set of cognitive abilities, may have some spillover effect in everyday life. Some games have been shown to boost different types of memory, and it’s probably a good idea to challenge yourself regularly with tasks like playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. These build cognitive reserve, which can help the brain maintain resilience as it ages.
If a family member or loved one might be experiencing memory or brain problems, where should they go for treatment or help? You mentioned that your mother had to leave New York.
Max: If you suspect memory problems, definitely see a doctor who can rule out a medical issue.
To Learn more about Cognizin® Citicoline and find additional products containing Cognizin visit: https://cognizin.com/
You can also watch “Capture The Moment” on-demand here