Staying on top of your game is key to making it through that daily to-do list, but fatigue and a lack of mental alertness can sabotage your plans. Smart diet choices can help to keep you clear headed and at your best. While eating a well-balanced, low-fat diet all the time is the best option to feel your best physically and mentally, you can get an alertness boost for the short term by choosing the right foods.
Protein is key to promoting mental acuity and alertness. Good mental function requires two key brain chemicals, epinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals are made from tyrosine, an amino acid found in protein. Choose lean proteins, as high-fat meals will make you feel more sluggish. Chicken, turkey, vegetable protein or eggs cooked without added fat are all good choices. Low-fat dairy products, like yogurt and cottage cheese, are another good protein option. Small servings of 2 to 3 oz. are adequate to provide the needed tyrosine for mental alertness.
Carbohydrates do provide an energy boost and may increase serotonin in the brain. Increased serotonin levels can lower anxiety and sharpen focus. Choose healthy carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Too many carbohydrates or refined carbohydrates at a meal may cause you to crash and slump after you eat, causing fatigue. Balance carbohydrates and protein, keeping calories appropriate for your daily needs depending upon body size and activity level for a meal that encourages you to stay alert, aware and ready for your afternoon.
Fat, Sugar and Caffeine
Fat should be avoided if you need to stay alert. High-fat meals focus your body’s attention on digestion, not your work day. Save higher fat foods for evening when you are ready to slow down and relax, if you must indulge. Sugar provides a temporary energy burst. Combine sugars with protein to reduce their impact on your mental well-being. Caffeine, in moderate amounts, can improve your energy level; however, excessive caffeine consumption is not helpful.