You’ve likely heard of the phrase “brain food,” but what exactly does the list include? Can we actually turn to food to enhance our mental clarity and sharpen our focus? Are there really foods that will help us boost retention and memory? The latter is super enticing for dancers since retaining choreography is essential to not just a solid performance, but also a successful audition.
But first, let’s uncover the obvious: diet culture likes to use this idea of “brain food” to sell us an eating regimen that oftentimes moralizes some foods and demonizes others. Honestly, there’s no single food that can completely make or break your brain health and functioning. And we know that the obsessions born from restrictive food rules can easily divert our attention and impede on our ability to focus.
But we can utilize aspects of gentle nutrition to ensure that our body receives a variety of building blocks that support focus, retention, and overall mental clarity. The keyword here: gentle. I’ve previously discussed the importance of gentle nutrition when walking along a journey of fueling our body intuitively. In this article, we’ll dive into 7 foods that can help to provide those building blocks. Disclaimer: these 7 foods are NOT the end-all-be-all of your brain’s health and functioning. In fact, if you’re craving chocolate cake, then the best thing for your here and now brain functioning will likely be to eat and enjoy that chocolate cake!
Flax is rich in polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-6 and omega 3 fatty acids. The brain’s physical structure is comprised primarily of a balance of these two essential fats (an “essential” nutrient is one that needs to come from food… our body cannot produce them on its own). Of these essential fatty acids, omega-6 fats are abundant in most foods. Flax, however, is predominantly high in omega-3 fats. Adding flax to your day helps to maintain the delicate balance of your brain’s structure between these two fatty acids.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is a preferred fuel source for both your dancing and for your brain functioning. But your body’s storage capacity of carbohydrates is limited and depletes after a single 90-minute class! Incorporating a source of carbohydrates at all of your meals and snacks not only supports the execution of your movement but also supports your ability to retain choreography and corrections. To learn more about the critical role of carbohydrates in your body, read this article.
#3. Colorful Veggies
Vitamins A, E, and C are found in basically all fruits and vegetables. These vitamins are potent antioxidants, acting as direct scavengers of oxidants, natural byproducts of metabolism. Vitamin A, which includes beta-carotene, is found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like peaches, apricots, mangoes, squash, carrots, and yams, along with eggs, milk products and vegetable oils. Vitamin E from sources like wheat germ, almonds, safflower oil, soybeans, peanuts, broccoli, and spinach, helps to prevent the direct oxidation of the brain’s fatty structure. Vitamin C is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, lemons, oranges, spinach, grapefruit, tomatoes, pineapple, and apples.
Leafy greens such as spinach are particularly potent with a variety of these vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A quick tip: a simple way to increase your leafy green intake for the day is to add a handful of frozen spinach into your recovery smoothie.
Lentils are a great source of complex carbohydrates and as mentioned earlier, provide the body with glucose, a dancer’s preferred fuel for both movement and cognition. With most dance schedules ranging from 3-5 hours daily, your energy expenditure surpasses the “normal” energy requirements set forth by average guidelines. As a complex carbohydrate, lentils can be prepped in advance and make for a great salad base. Lentils are also rich in B-vitamins, which are critical to prevent buildup of homocystteine, a byproduct of metabolism that might impair brain function.
#5. Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate is rich in both polyphenols and flavonols, which alongside other antioxidants, help to repair and protect against naturally occurring oxidative damage. Dark chocolate is also a source of caffeine, which in small amounts, can sharpen focus and reduce your perceived level of effort while dancing.
Walnuts are high in a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can convert into EPA and DHA: two essential nutrients for brain development and functioning.
Egg yolks are rich in choline, a nutrient known to produce acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating memory and cognitive function. Choline is often grouped alongside B-complex vitamins because of its chemical similarities. If you’re not an egg person, consider including codfish, wheat germ, cauliflower, spinach, or quinoa.
Key Takeaways for Dancers:
- There’s no magic pill when it comes to foods that enhance mental performance.
- Restricive food rules will impair attention and increase the liklihood of overwhleming thoughts aboout food. Therefore, repairing your relationship with food should always be a priority… especially when it comes. to supporting cognition!
- Carbohydrates supply the brain with glucose, a preferred source of fuel. Consider easy-to-pack snacks like trail mix, bars, fruit, crackers, and hummus for long rehearsals. For a detailed and downloadable list of snack ideas, check out this article.
- Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, & fatty fish can help to support brain function.
- Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants work collectively to combat the natural wear-and-tear and inflammation that occurs from metabolism.