The Right Food is Great for Body and Mind! by Claire Jarrow

Nutrients to Support both Your Training and Mood

Whether you’re someone who works out to improve your fitness, increase your muscle mass or to lose weight, regular training has another advantage; it helps to boost your mood. Both cardio and resistance exercise triggers the release of natural mood enhancers such as endorphins and serotonin and you don’t need to be training for hours to lift your mood, as within 30 minutes the majority of people feel the benefit. With around one in ten of us experiencing problems with low mood, regular exercise provides a simple, safe and effective alternative to medication to manage mild to moderate depression. Although mood disorders can reduce your motivation to exercise, there are a range of tactics proven to enhance motivation and get you on track. There are a number of dietary components known to improve mood and these have the added bonus that they will also support your training efforts too.

Low GI carbs

The brain’s preferred fuel is glucose, so an adequate intake of carbohydrate is important. However, some types are more beneficial than others and opting for a sugary snack won’t provide anything other than a short-lived boost to your mood. Opting for those with a low glycemic index has been shown to be preferable to support your mood than those that release their sugars more quickly; they also help to sustain your energy levels and therefore promote your exercise performance. Low GI carbs include oats, brown rice, grainy bread, pasta, sweet potatoes, non-starchy vegetables, pulses, most fruits, milk and yogurt. Include low GI carbohydrates with each meal and incorporate them into snacks too.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Although these essential oils might be most commonly known for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, as the brain has a high content of omega-3 fatty acids and the body cannot synthesize them itself, a diet that doesn’t provide sufficient of these can impact upon mood. Evidence suggests these essential fatty acids are particularly beneficial for treating depressive symptoms in older adults, as factors such as isolation and changes in circumstances such as bereavement and retirement can place seniors at risk of low mood. An enhanced circulation is also beneficial for efficient energy release and omega-3s offer anti-inflammatory benefits to maintain the health of the joints and help you to recover more easily from injury. The best source of these from the diet is to eat an oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout or fresh tuna at least weekly. Certain oils such as canola and flaxseed oil also offer omega-3s but they are more difficult for the body to use, so vegetarians or anyone else who doesn’t eat fish are advised to take an omega-3 supplement derived from algae.

Folate and vitamin B12

These two B vitamins aren’t just vital for energy release and protein synthesis to support muscle repair and growth, but they are also beneficial to your mood. Although it is not exactly clear how they do this, one theory relates to their ability to lower levels of a substance in the diet known as homocysteine, as people with raised levels of this are more likely to be depressed. Folate is found in greatest quantities wholegrains and fortified breakfast cereals, green vegetables, pulses, citrus fruits, berries and liver. While it is easy for strict vegetarians to get enough folate from their diet, they tend to struggle with vitamin B12 as this is only found naturally in foods of animal origin; meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce are all rich sources. However, some items have vitamin B12 added to them such as milk substitutes, cereals and yeast spreads, though a supplement may still be required to meet your full requirements.

Iron

A deficiency of iron won’t just impair your ability to work out, as without sufficient oxygenation your brain cell function is affected. Iron is also essential for the formation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, so together this may explain why low iron is associated with low mood. Iron deficiency is still relatively common in the US, particularly among women. While lean red meat provides an excellent source of iron, eggs, dark fleshed fish and poultry also offer useful amounts. Anyone who avoids animal produce can source iron from fortified cereals, pulses, dried fruit, leafy greens and wholegrains, though the iron from these sources is not as effectively absorbed. This can be enhanced by incorporating vitamin C rich foods into meals, as well as avoiding tea and coffee near mealtimes, helping both your performance in training and your mood.