Anyone who has ever run a race can tell you that your mental strength is just as important as your physical strength. If your mind starts to give out during a run, your legs are likely to quickly follow suit. Luckily, certain foods can help build that mental capacity and improve your overall brain health. By incorporating these five foods into your diet, you can help beat mental fatigue and get one step closer to reaching that PR.
I don’t think I need to twist your arm to get you to add more avocados to your diet, but if you’re one of the select few that need convincing, let’s take a look at the facts. Avocados are virtually the only fruit with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, or the ‘good fats.’ Those ‘good fats’ are what make avocados so great for the brain. Recent research has found that people who consume one avocado per day for six months show significant improvements in cognition, as measured by improvements in memory. And if the creamy taste and mental health benefits aren’t enough to convince you to pile avocados onto your plate, these facts might help. One-third of a medium avocado contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals to your diet, and the healthy fat in avocados helps the body better absorb fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D, E and K.
According to the California Walnut Commission, nine out of 10 people are scared of consuming dietary fat! With all that we know about the benefits of healthy fats, this is an alarming number. Here are the facts: Walnuts are rich in polyunsaturated fats, or omega-3s, which have been shown to help with mental health. A very large observational study found that people who ate walnuts on a daily basis scored higher on several cognitive tests. Another study showed that consuming a Mediterranean diet with about one ounce of nuts per day can improve cognitive function in adults over 65 years of age. Plus, you only need to eat a small amount of these tasty nuts to see an impact.
Walnuts are perfect as a midday or post-run snack, but they taste even better in this homemade Maple Blueberry Walnut Trail Mix (because trail mix can be delicious without the M&Ms).
In addition to being a great source of protein, eggs also contain a nutrient called choline, which is essential for brain health. Unfortunately, most people have never heard of choline, and 90 percent of Americans don’t get the recommended 550 milligrams per day, according to recent research. Choline plays a huge role in developing the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, and it protects the brain from the oxidative stress that occurs with aging. The reason that many people don’t eat enough choline is because it’s in foods that aren’t eaten often, like lima beans and liver. But, it’s also in eggs, which one can cook quickly and easily after a long run. Eggs also have the added bonus of providing protein to repair worn or tired muscles.
Obviously, we’ve all had eggs with brunch, but have you ever added them to homemade Veggie Fried Rice?
This golden spice has created a lot of buzz in the health world lately, mostly for its role as a potent antioxidant. Many researchers are looking at the health benefits of supplementing popular dishes with curcumin, the active component of turmeric. In doing so, they’ve found that turmeric may help ease inflammation in the brain and could potentially prevent the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. That reduction of inflammation in the brain is good news for runners, since it keeps your brain happy and healthy while strengthening your mental game. Although the effects may not be as profound when you’re dusting your food with this spice, it’s still worth adding to your diet.
Add this spice to scrambled eggs, roasted veggies or this delicious Turmeric and Coconut Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque after a chilly run.
Kefir is a tangy cultured milk product that is becoming increasingly popular due to its natural probiotic content, also known as the ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut. If you’re wondering what gut health has to do with mental health, the answer is that it’s closely related. Research in Alzheimer’s patients has shown that the addition of probiotics to the diet may increase memory and cognitive ability. Plus, kefir is rich in calcium, vitamin D and protein, all of which are important for joint health. A runner can’t function with creaky knees or a wandering mind!
Use kefir in smoothies or any other place you might use Greek yogurt, like this Chocolate Banana Kefir Chia Pudding.