Fuel Your Mood: Food for Mental Health and Athletic Performance

Published by Ańna on

As athletes, we constantly seek ways to enhance our performance. Our diet plays a pivotal role not only in our physical health but also in our mental well-being. Extensive research has been done on the connection between food and mental health and performance.

One groundbreaking study, the SMILES trial, sheds light on the profound impact of nutrition on mental health. In this article, we’ll explore the key findings of the SMILES trial and provide practical dietary guidelines tailored for athletes to optimize their mood through nutrition. The SMILES trial can be found here, and we’ve included some additional links below to more studies on nutrition and mood.

The SMILES Trial: The Link Between Food and Mental Health

The SMILES trial, a groundbreaking study designed to evaluate the impact of food on mental health, revealed compelling results. In the treatment group, 32% of participants recovered from depression and discontinued all medication. This highlights the potential transformative power of dietary choices in influencing mental well-being. The SMILES trial suggests some of the following nutritional guidelines for mood enhancement.

Increase Intake of Plant-Based Foods

Prioritize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall health, including mental well-being.

Limit Ultra-Processed Foods

Minimize the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are often high in additives, preservatives, and unhealthy fats. Opt for whole, minimally processed foods to support both physical and mental health.

Embrace Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. These essential fats have been associated with improved mood and cognitive function.

Prioritize Fiber

Ensure an adequate intake of dietary fiber through whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber supports digestive health and helps regulate blood sugar levels, contributing to mood stability. Some research suggests that some female athletes eat excessive amounts of fiber. Like almost everything, there’s a sweet spot- not too much, not too little. Women should get 24g per day and men should consume ~35g of fiber per day. How much is too much fiber? Some studies suggest 75g per day can block the absorption of nutrients like calcium and iron.

Mindful Approach to Red Meat

Consume red meat in moderation and choose lean cuts. Avoid processed meats, as they have been linked to various health issues. A balanced and varied diet reaps the benefits of meat without the drawbacks.

Include Healthy Fats

Incorporate extra virgin olive oil and other polyunsaturated fats into your diet. These healthy fats support brain health and can positively influence mood.

Limit Saturated Fat

Keep saturated fat intake in check, as excessive consumption has been associated with negative impacts on both physical and mental health. Our Myths and Misconceptions article tackles a myth on eating fat too.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can affect mood and cognitive function. Adequately hydrate throughout the day, especially during intense training sessions. We’ve done a few articles on hydration- check them out here and here.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption

While occasional moderate alcohol consumption may be acceptable, excessive alcohol intake can negatively impact mood and overall health. Practice moderation and be mindful of the effects on your mental well-being. Click here for our article on how alcohol consumption impacts athletes.

Meet Energy Needs

Ensure you are consuming enough calories to meet your energy needs. Inadequate calorie intake can lead to fatigue and negatively impact both physical and mental performance. Also, low energy intake can reduce production of feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Final Food for Thought (Food for Mental Health and Performance)

The SMILES trial and subsequent research underscore the profound connection between food and mood. As athletes, optimizing our nutrition goes beyond physical performance – it’s a key factor in nurturing our mental well-being. By embracing a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods and following these guidelines, we can harness the transformative power of nutrition to fuel both our bodies and minds on our athletic journey.