Food vs mood: how what we eat impacts how we feel (and train)
As Hippocrates once said: “Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food”. The father of modern medicine was right - what you eat plays a huge role in the way you feel. Since then, we’ve seen incredible progress in the research of exactly how certain foods influence our chemical, psychological and physiological state.
From that strong morning coffee to your salmon dinner, every mouthful interacts with mood-altering chemicals in your body. The right foods can help you perform and feel on top of the game, the wrong ones can sideline results. Get to know the impact of these key food groups on your own body and start feeling positive effects on your own mood:
Carbs are often touted as bad guys, but you shouldn’t banish them from your diet. Instead, eat ‘smart’ carbs, such as whole grains, vegetables and legumes. When you eat carbohydrates, levels of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin are boosted, thanks to the release of amino acid tryptophan. This can explain why you feel more fatigued on a very low-carb diet and less motivated to work out. Including foods like sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa into your diet can give you the boost to amp up your fitness routine, providing a slower glucose release and steadier level of energy.
Everyone knows the spike of energy you feel enjoying a sweet snack, such as a sugar-laden donut. But what you’ll also be aware of is the crashing low that comes with it. That surge of energy is what makes sugar so addictive - it stimulates the release of feel-good hormones dopamine in the brain. A little stimulation now and then is harmless, but when we activate this rewarding response too often, it can lead to intense cravings of the sweet stuff. When that sugar crash kicks in, i.e. your blood sugar levels dip back to normal, you can often find yourself feeling irritable, anxious or even depressed. Still tempted to reach for the cookie jar? Make sure you regularly work out - exercise lowers blood glucose levels.
Fish, eggs, poultry, red meat, nuts and seeds all have one thing in common - they’re made up of chains of amino acids, i.e. the building blocks of protein and the precursors to neurotransmitters. When we consume protein, we help control blood sugar - lowering the effects of anxiety or depression caused by high blood sugar levels. At the same time, protein ups our happy hormone, serotonin - improving sleep, mood and tendency to overeat. Protein may also boost your alertness and help you concentrate, thanks to amino acid tyrosine. The effects of protein are highly beneficial for your fitness regime - giving you more energy, detoxifying the body and producing hormones that regulate your mood.
Fats and oils
The majority of your brain is made up of fat - the superstars are omega-3 and omega-6, found in nuts, avocado and fatty fish. Eating the right kind of fats can have a positive effect on your mood and also boost your brain power. This is thanks to omega-3, which blocks inflammatory chemicals, protecting your brain from mood-distorting toxins and encouraging the exchange of feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. For a better workout, try incorporating good fats into your diet multiple times a week and use healthy saturated fats such as coconut oil or avocado oil to cook with.