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Powering Your Brain for the Mental Game

You had another lousy day on the court. You keep yourself physically fit and practice dinking diligently, but for some reason your mind hasn’t been in the game. Maybe it’s time to focus on how you’re fueling your brain.

Decades of research supports the fact that people who eat healthfully feel better mentally. Athletes who regularly consume the following foods may just get the cerebral edge over a less kitchen-savvy player.

Water: Dehydration can affect psychomotor learning, exercise performance and mood. Simply staying hydrated will help you stay alert and may keep you from becoming that grouchy club member no one will play with anymore.

Best Bets: Your kidneys will thank you for drinking plain water, but most drinks count toward staying hydrated, including milk, juice, tea and even coffee. Sports drinks can be a good choice on longer-play days when you’re sweating a lot, especially if you’re not taking the time to replace electrolytes with foods.

​Healthy Fats: Omega-3 fatty acids help the nervous system run smoothly and can reduce inflammation in the brain. In the long term, this aids in prevention of mood disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

Best Bets: Walnuts, Flax Seed Meal, Chia Seeds, Canola Oil, High Omega-3 Eggs, Sardines and Salmon.

Carbohydrates—yes, they can be good: Carbohydrate is the brain’s preferred fuel source. Simple carbohydrates are easily digestible and can offer quick energy. This can be beneficial when athletes are using a lot of fuel on tournament days. However, too many simple carbohydrates can lead to health problems over time, including unintentional weight gain. Complex carbohydrates are slowly digested, doling fuel into the body steadily, thereby helping to control mood swings.

Recent research shows an incredible connection between gut health and mental health. A healthy gut has a balanced variety of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria. Many complex-carbohydrate foods are also “prebiotics” or “microbiota accessible carbohydrates” (MACs), fancy words for foods that feed probiotics. Without MACs, our probiotic friends can’t thrive and produce neurotransmitters that promote mental well-being.

​Best Bets for quick energy: Fruit, Pasta, White Rice, White Potatoes, Sweetened Sports Drinks.

​Best Carbs for Gut-Brain Health: Bananas, Apples, Raisins, Berries, Beans, Lentils, Jicama and Whole Grains.

​Other MAC Foods: Asparagus, Dandelion Greens, Tomatoes, Spinach, Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Artichokes, and Jerusalem Artichokes.

​Vitamins and Minerals: Along with the rest of your body, the brain depends on a wide variety of nutrients to function well, including vitamin E, B vitamins, and flavonoids. Our bodies generally process these best when they come directly from food. Scientists know there are a great number of nutrients in food that we haven’t yet discovered, which means you couldn’t possibly get the same benefit from a vitamin pill or powder that you would from a serving of broccoli. Think about supplements as the back-up plan, not as your main source of nutrients.

​Best Bet: A plant-strong, varied diet. The Mediterranean Diet and The Mind Diet are both excellent, scientifically proven diet plans.

​Routinely adding these foods to your kitchen can volley the clarity needed to drop the third shot, execute that Erne, and maybe even remember the score.

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