Today’s athletes are stronger, faster, and more flexible than ever before. Whether it’s Olympic competitors shattering world records, college athletes winning national championships, or retired individuals swimming laps at the local pool, these people are benefitting from better diets supplemented by carefully selected nutrients designed to provide their bodies with maximum stamina, strength, and endurance. [This article, “think fast: The 12 best nutritional supplements for improving mental clarity, focus and concentration” was originally published in NewsHealthWatch]
In order to take full advantage of their improved physical prowess, these athletes also need supplements to sharpen their minds and to clear away the mental fog that can hamper their thinking processes. As their bodies move faster, they face split-second decisions that can mean the difference between success and failure in all sorts of physical activities. Cyclists, skiers, skateboarders, and surfers are just some of the athletes who are moving at breakneck speeds, so mental clarity and focus can determine whether they will experience victory or have a very painful accident. Improved concentration is also a key component in winning on the tennis court, the golf course, and the softball field.
Scientists have found that mental fog affects us in ways that go beyond mere fatigue. Studies looking at mental performance during the low points of the daily cycle show that mental and emotional abilities are far more impaired than many people realize. Research conducted at the University of Oxford shows that the drop in mental performance during these down times can be equivalent to drinking the legal limit of alcohol. Findings from Duke University indicated that hospital workers were four times more likely to make a mistake during their mental drop-off periods. And researchers at Cornell University who looked at half a billion tweets found that people worldwide are more pessimistic and cynical during this low mental valley.
Plenty of research is being done into other ways that athletes can sharpen their mental clarity and maintain mental focus. More information can be found here from The Ohio Center for Sports Psychology:
Giving nature a helping hand
A healthy diet is a great start on the road to better brain activity, but not everyone can get enough of all the right ingredients every day. That’s where nutritional supplements can make a big difference, especially when they are taken every day to ensure that athletes can stay at the top of their game at all times. A wide variety of products is marketed with the promise of improving mental clarity, with an even wider variety of ingredients found in each one. Here’s a list of a dozen nutrients that have been shown to be especially helpful when it comes to maintaining mental acuity and concentration:
The Asian ginseng plant has been used as a key ingredient in the folk medicine of China and neighboring countries for more than 2,000 years, treating a variety of conditions ranging from cancer to diabetes to cardiovascular diseases. The National Institutes of Health says various compounds found in ginseng have been shown to promote the functions of the body’s immune system and central nervous system. Researchers also believe it has the potential to boost mental capacities such as memory and mood, while also providing additional health advantages such as inflammation reduction. The NIH cites studies showing that the use of ginseng improved people’s learning ability as well as their memory acquisition, consolidation and retrieval.
Derived from a tropical fruit called the acerola cherry, this nutrient has a higher concentration of vitamin C than either oranges or strawberries. Vitamin C has been linked to significant improvement in mental acuity, attention, concentration, memory, and response time.
This is a plant native to the Amazon region of South America. Like coffee and green tea, it’s a good source of caffeine, which works by stimulating the central nervous system, including the brain. Guarana also contains theophylline and theobromine, which are chemicals similar to caffeine.
This substance, found in green tea and other plants, has been shown to help increase mental acuity, response quickness and memory. A recent study demonstrated these benefits in older individuals as well.
This trace element is credited with improving the body’s enzyme reactions, energy generation, neuron activity, and blood pressure management. Research has indicated that low amounts of magnesium may lead to worse cognitive function and response speed, as well as an increased chance of developing cognitive impairment in the future. A study of adults aged 60 and over showed that those with greater magnesium levels performed better on tests of cognitive skills such as attention and memory and had a reduced risk of cognitive impairment than those with lower magnesium levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Taking concentrated supplements containing omega-3 may enhance brain health and alleviate some of the symptoms of brain fog such as difficulty paying attention and remembering things. One trial demonstrated that the daily consumption of these supplements for six months led to improved episodic and working memory when compared to a placebo group.
Because it includes amino acids and fatty acids, phosphatidylserine is beneficial in the treatment of mental fatigue. These have the potential to improve a person’s mood while also promoting cellular activity in the brain.
Lecithin, a form of lipid found in cells of the body, has been shown to improve memory and the capacity to acquire new abilities, which can help to enhance brain function. It also has additional benefits for nursing mothers and moisturizing the skin.
Vitamin B complex
Research has shown that low amounts of vitamin B can lead to memory issues, trouble concentrating, and other symptoms of brain fog . Getting enough vitamin B 12 through supplements improved cognitive functions in 84 percent of participants and improved memory and attention scores in 78 percent of participants, according to another study.
Already a key component in many dietary supplements for its proven role in immune health, Vitamin C has been shown to improve brain health as well. One study of generally healthy people revealed that those with appropriate vitamin C levels in their blood scored much better on attention, concentration, memory, and response time tests than those with low vitamin C levels.
Vitamin D has been shown to be needed for the health of the brain, the operation of the immune system, and a variety of other body activities. Vitamin D deficiency can impair cognitive function and contribute to the symptoms of brain fog. People who display symptoms of depression frequently experience brain fog indicators such as poor focus and memory problems. Deficits in various vitamins, including vitamin D, are more common in those who suffer from depression.
Taken in appropriate amounts, Vitamin E can improve brain health by lowering oxidative stress levels in the body. Some types of vitamin E, such as DL-Alpha-Tocopherol Acetate, operate as antioxidants, reducing free radical damage and aiding in the battle against inflammation. Since it is possible for the body to get too much vitamin E, people should speak with a doctor or other medical professional before taking a supplement.
While these dozen supplements stand out from the rest, research continues into other compounds that may soon join them on the well-stocked athlete’s shelf. You can find out more about these and others through this link to the Cleveland Clinic:
The need for speed
Just over 10 years ago, a young competitive skier named Kalen Caughey was one of those athletes who needed help staying sharp throughout a day on the slopes. He came up with the idea of developing a healthy and convenient product made from all-natural “superfoods” that would help him keep his mental clarity as he mastered his demanding sport. He teamed with his father – who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry – to research ingredients shown to improve a person’s mental focus, memory, metabolism and physical stamina. They named their combination the “Voke Blend” and were soon marketing it worldwide to a core clientele of athletes, explorers, and other professionals who need to keep sharp focus for extended periods of time.
“There’s a lot of applications for our product, and we have a very diverse customer base ranging from special force operators to investment bankers to surgeons,” Caughey said. “We find that people that want to perform mentally really value our product, and because it’s so convenient and quick to take, and it doesn’t have side effects, it really helps with mental acuity, mental focus, and cognitive function.”
Good nutrition helps with good mental clarity
Athletes can also achieve better mental alertness and sharper focus by keeping a close watch on their daily diet. Naturally occurring nutrients are found in a wide variety of foods, and adding them to their daily regimen is a good way for athletes to achieve these goals. Nutritionists have identified a number of foods that contain compounds that are especially good for the brain.
Blueberries, often listed as a superfood, contain many healthful compounds, including antioxidants that accumulate in the brain and improve communication between brain cells. They have also been shown to improve memory and cognitive processes in children and older adults.
Broccoli contains large amounts of vitamin K, which aids in the formation of sphingolipids, a type of fat densely packed into brain cells.
Coffee, of course, is a good natural source of caffeine, which has been shown to promote increased alertness, sharpened concentration, and improved mood.
Dark chocolate and cocoa power
Dark chocolate and cocoa power are full of compounds considered good for brain health, including antioxidants, caffeine and flavonoids.
Eggs provide a good way to get several important nutrients for brain health such as vitamins B6 and B12 along with choline and folate.
Fatty fish such as herring, salmon, sardines and trout are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to promote brain health and improve alertness.
Green tea is another good source of caffeine, and it has been shown to improve mental alertness, focus and memory.
Oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C, which has been associated with an improved ability to do work involving mental attention, decision speed, focus and memory.
Pumpkin seeds are a good source for several minerals that are key to good brain health, including copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Turmeric, a spice often used in curries, contains an ingredient with the ability to cross directly from blood vessels into brain cells, where it can help them work more efficiently.
Keep on keeping on
Because many nutrients need to be resupplied to the body on a regular basis, a key factor in maintaining mental clarity and sharp focus is to take supplements daily and add nutritional foods to the daily regimen as well. Kalen Caughey of Voke Blend says his customers are learning this lesson for themselves.
“I keep asking our customers, how are you using this product, and they kept saying we’re using it at work, we’re using it in the afternoon, and we’re using it daily,” Caughey says “That’s really what Voke’s purpose is, to help people get through their entire day at peak mental performance.”
Plenty of good foods are available to help maintain mental clarity and alertness. Here’s a link to a good article from researchers at Harvard University:
Avoiding the bad stuff
Nutritionists say that adding supplements and good food to the diet is helping athletes gain mental clarity, but they also need to eliminate bad dietary habits and avoid products that are counterproductive. A breakfast heavy in fats, bad carbs and too much sugar can weigh down athletes before they even get to the training room or the playing field, and a lack of focus can lead to the dreaded “brain fog” that many people fear.
One of the worst things any athlete can do is relying on popular energy drinks to make up for the nutrients they are missing. These drinks are often laced with extremely large amounts of caffeine, which can pose a number of health hazards in high doses. They can also contain lots of sugar, which provides temporary energy but can lead to an even more severe energy crash long before the workout has ended.
The National Institutes of Health found that a single 16-ounce container of an energy drink may contain 54 to 62 grams of added sugar – more than the maximum amount of added sugars recommended for an entire day. Instead of providing mental clarity, these products can bring on a loss of focus and concentration – and losses on the playing field.
There is plenty more information available about dietary and nutritional supplements designed to improve mental clarity. Here are some good articles from reputable sources:
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.