With thousands still living with the mind-numbing effects of long Covid, brain fog is something that we’ve heard more and more about in recent years. If you struggle with concentration, energy and productivity, you might want to tweak your diet to give your brain the best chance of clearing the clouds.
’Brain fog’ might not be a medical term, but that doesn’t make the foggy feeling any less real. It’s the name given to a range of mental stressors that affect your ability to think clearly. Direct culprits include: disrupted sleep, too much caffeine, excessive amounts of screen time and not enough movement. And, you might also be feeling the effects if you caught Covid; scientists are looking into the role that the virus is playing in long-lasting mental lethargy.
Throw on top of all that the fact that we’ve all survived a turbulent couple of years and it’s not surprising that there’s been a rise in the number of people overcome with fogginess – regardless of having had Covid or not.
Brain fog can lead to physical slowness and low energy
“According to the World Uncertainty Index, we are currently living in the most uncertain time in human history,” neuroscientist Katherine Templar Lewis, of The Uncertainty Experts, tells Stylist. “It is driving anxiety – and with it, brain fog – through the roof.”
But along with brain fog having a direct impact on our mental wellbeing, it’s also having a knock-on effect on our physical health.
“Often brain fog comes from an inability to think clearly when our body is worn or under stress,” Lewis says.
“Inability to think as well as you need to leads to frustration and a lack of productivity, which can lead to a negative spiral that can affect your emotional wellbeing. Because we also tend to feel physically slow when we feel mentally slow, our energy levels slump and we can get caught in a cycle of low energy and low motivation.”
How to overcome mental and physical sluggishness
Here’s the good news people – brain fog can be overcome. And it can be done so in a number of ways, including by getting some good quality sleep, exercising and nourishing our bodies with a balanced diet.
“The brain needs energy, so proper nutrition, iron and vitamin B-12 are required in order to function optimally,” Lewis adds. “A poor diet and low B-12 levels can cause memory loss, which can add to the problem.”
To help you banish brain fog and get your exercise back on track, we’ve enlisted the help of Jasmine Carbon, a qualified dietitian registered with the British Dietetics Association and founder of Carbon Nutrition & Dietetics. We’ve asked her to share the best foods for keeping energy, motivation and productivity levels sky-high.
Foods to boost energy levels
According to Carbon, each major food group – so those are carbohydrates, protein and fats – plays a role in keeping our energy levels up and in check. She says: “Our brains work better from the energy released from carbohydrates and this helps to keep our concentration levels.
“Protein foods provide the building blocks for making tissue, muscles, organs and other cells, such as those in the immune system, and enzymes that help to break down food to release energy so the body can use it. And fats are essential for hormone production which help to co-ordinate loads of systems in the body including mood and digestion. A diet with insufficient fat intake will lead to low energy levels.”
Carbon adds: “It is important to keep a varied and balanced diet to ensure that you are taking in vital vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron.”
The four best foods for increasing motivation
If you’re lacking motivation, Carbon says there are four main food groups that could help you up the motivational ante.
“Foods such as bread, oats, pasta or yams are rich in starchy carbohydrates, which, once they’re broken down by digestion, are a source of glucose – this is the brain’s favourite energy source,” Carbon tells us.
“Lower fibre carbohydrates such as white rice, ripe plantains or potatoes can be broken down into glucose and absorbed by the body quicker than higher fibre carbohydrates.”
“Caffeine is a stimulant that can boost energy levels, increase feelings of alertness and counter the feeling of fatigue,” Carbon says. However, here’s a word of warning: “It can however also lead to adverse effects such as irritability and headaches in people who are not used to it.”
With autumn in full swing, getting your vitamin D via the sun can prove tricky. However, according to Carbon: “Eating foods fortified with vitamin D, such as eggs or mushrooms, and/or taking a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms a day) supplement” can also contribute to a boost in motivation and energy levels.
Vitamin B is the gift that keeps on giving. Along with it being proven to benefit our mental health, it can also help out on the motivation front, too.
Carbon explains: “Animal protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy are a great source of B vitamins, specifically thiamin, niacin and Cobalamin B12 which help prevent feelings of irritability and lack of concentration.”
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The five best foods for boosting productivity and meeting fitness goals
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or herring can help fitness productivity as it is a source of protein and omega-3 oils. Carbon tells Stylist: “Omega 3 supports the development of mitochondria membrane – these are the powerhouses where energy is produced to allow cells to function optimally.
“We find more mitochondria in muscles that need more energy and as we train, more mitochondria is produced to fuel the muscles that need a quick supply of energy.”
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are a vegan sources of protein, but they also contain slow-releasing carbohydrates which make them ideal for eating just before an exercise or gym session.
Carbon adds: “They’re also flexible enough to be incorporated into a lot of meal types.”
“Fruits and smoothies provide potassium which aid muscle contractions,” Carbon says. “They are also a source of easily digestible energy.”
However, as Carbon warns: “It’s important to be mindful of the sugar – although naturally occurring – in smoothies. You can control the sugar content by making them yourself and adding in some veggies.”
“It’s full of healthy carbohydrates and protein, helping muscle recovery,” Carbon says. “It’s also a source of calcium and phosphate, which are important for bone health.”
A humble bowl of oats can deliver slow-release energy, making it an ideal pre-work out meal.
“It’s incredibly easy to make, just add your preferred dairy or non-dairy milk or hot water. It’s inexpensive too,” Carbon says.
Check out some of our other nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the Strong Women Training Club library.
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