The Link between Sports Nutrition and Sport Psychology
Food is Mood
We’ve all heard of the expressions ‘Food is Mood’ and ‘You Are What You Eat’ but what do they actually mean? In the modern world, most people understand that their physical health is affected by their diets, but there is an increasing amount of evidence that what you eat can significantly affect how you feel, mentally and emotionally as well as physically. For elite athletes, this is one more stone to turn over in the quest for reaching their maximum potential. Sports Nutrition and Sport Psychology are inextricably linked.
Sports Nutrition and Sport Psychology
The expression PMA, Positive Mental Attitude, might be a bit of a buzz word, and is overused, but it is one with lots of truth in. No one performs at their best if they are feeling a bit low or have a negative attitude. Self-belief and confidence are crucial traits for elite athletes to reach the top of their game, in some cases, take boxing for example, even arrogance.
Sport Psychology is another big win which is relatively new, and it ties in very closely to Sports Nutrition. All elite athletes are used to working with both Sport Psychologists and Performance Nutritionists alongside their skill and fitness coaches. They understand that proper Sports Nutrition can help their minds as well as their bodies.
Basketball players Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan both worked with a Mindfulness Meditation Coach throughout their careers. Leading Sport Psychologist Sylvain Guimond claims that athletes’ success is 80% mental. He says: “I’ve seen many people with so much talent but never succeeded… because they don’t have the brain that goes with their talent.”
In order to perform at their very best an athlete must prepare their mind as well as their body. Their attitude must be right, and their brain must be functioning at it’s best to make the split-second decisions which could be the difference between winning and losing. Getting the brain right is certainly a big part of success, and, of course, food can help.
Nutrients affecting Mood
Even something as simple as not eating regularly can make us feel fuzzy, tired and lacking in energy. A heavy meal just before exercise can make us feel sluggish and lethargic while the stomach does its digestive work.
However, with the developments in science and having a raft of test results now available at their fingertips, Sports Nutritionists are able to be much more specific than this about how foods affect us. Nutrients in the food we eat affect brain chemistry, which in turn impacts mood, memory and cognitive function.
Neurotransmitters, Mood and Food
Neurotransmitters are a type of chemical messenger which transmit signals between nerve cells, also known as neurons. The best-known neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Most people have heard of these and all three have a role to play in how we feel, but Sports Nutritionists have a much deeper understanding of their function and of how to help them help the athlete.
Serotonin plays an important role in regulating and modulating mood, sleep, anxiety and appetite. Dopamine is also involved in reward and motivation as well as concentration and learning. Endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals and promote feelings of euphoria. There are also many other, less well-known neurotransmitters carrying out vital roles in the body and they are all impacted by diet.
Good Nutrition for Healthy Neurotransmitters – Serotonin
Serotonin, via its by-product melatonin, is responsible for promoting good sleep, so much of the advice about which foods to eat to aid sleep is also relevant for regulating mood. Serotonin is made by the body from the amino acid tryptophan which is found in most protein-based foods, with particularly high concentrations in eggs, cheese, meat, fish as you would expect. Less obviously, there are also high levels in chocolate, oats, seeds and nuts,
Good Nutrition for Healthy Neurotransmitters – Dopamine
Dopamine is formed from amino acids called tyrosine and phenylalanine which are also found in protein-rich foods, just like serotonin; dairy, fish, meat, fruit and vegetables (especially bananas). A lack of these amino acids in the diet causes the dopamine levels in the brain to drop, leading to demotivation, mood swings, tiredness and a lack of focus.
Good Nutrition for Healthy Neurotransmitters – Endorphins
Most people have heard of endorphins, and the best way to release them into the bloodstream is with vigorous exercise, which elite athletes get plenty of! However, some foods can boost their production further: cacao (high cacao content, dark chocolate); spicy food (the capsaicin makes the brain think it’s in pain so releases endorphins); ginseng, and vanilla beans.
Food Combinations for Performance
Simply eating lots of foods rich in protein isn’t enough, by itself, to significantly raise the levels of these important neurotransmitters in the body and brain. The foods we eat with the protein have a vital role to play in the chemical processes which need to take place. The combination of a Performance Nutritionist, providing sports nutrition advice, and a Performance Chef can ensure that all of the elements are included in the diet.
High tryptophan foods won’t boost serotonin levels on their own but paired with high fibre, complex carbohydrates they will. The carbohydrates cause the body to release more insulin which promotes the absorption of amino acids and the fibre fuels healthy gut bacteria which also have a positive impact on the serotonin levels in the gut-brain axis. The healthy gut bacteria (probiotics) can also be reinforced by eating yoghurt and fermented foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
It is well known that they are good for us physically, but certain vitamins and minerals have also been shown to influence mood following a range of studies, both within sport and in general mental health medicine. Sports Nutritionists follow the outcomes of such studies and are able to include any new information in the sports nutrition advice they provide.
In particular, a deficiency in vitamin B12 is known to correlate closely with instances of depression. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in meat, fish and dairy products.
Folate is another vitamin which is thought to impact mood. Folate is mainly found in fruit and vegetables, especially broccoli, oranges and leafy greens.
Enjoyment of Food
Of course, not everything can be or needs to be explained by science. Sometimes just the simple pleasure of enjoying a delicious meal can make you feel better. Comfort eating is exactly that… using food to make yourself feel better, to satisfy emotional needs rather than physical hunger. We are all programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain, in the most primitive part of the human nervous system. When you eat, you are seeking the pleasure of food and avoiding the pain of hunger.
Elite athletes live in a world where many elements of their lives are controlled and defined by what they do, so how nice must it be for them to just be able to enjoy the foods they prefer without having to worry about whether or not they ‘fit’ the programme.
Discreet and Delicious Performance Chefs
Understanding the science behind nutrition is one thing but being able to translate that knowledge into tasty food which simply makes the athlete ‘feel good’ is quite another. This is where Discreet and Delicious come in. Our Performance Chefs already have a good understanding of sports nutrition, but we also like to work with the player’s personal or club Nutritionists to ensure that we are providing exactly the food that they need and none of the food they shouldn’t have.
A lot of the food recommended by nutritionists, whilst undoubtedly good for the player, can be rather dull and uninspiring. What we do is add the cheffy know-how to make those foods interesting and tasty without diluting the nutritional value.
They don’t need to worry about understanding the nutrition advice they are given and what food they are eating, they can trust us to feed them the right food and make it taste delicious. We work with them to make tweaks to flavour and texture until it is just as they like it… spicier, sweeter, thinner, crunchier.
Improve your performance, minimise injuries and prolong your career. Contact us for more information.