Will this be your best day ever? Or your beastliest? What you put in your mouth will have a lot to do with the answer. Food can help fuel body and mind to ensure that you perform at the peak of your abilities.
Or it can sabotage your best efforts, leaving you panicked, drained, and floundering. Are you eating your way to disaster, or triumph? Let’s go through your daily menu of foods and tasks to help you snack, slurp, and sup your way to success.
6:43 a.m. Eat This: Bacon or ham and fried eggs
You’ve just rolled out of bed. You need to be on the road by 7:20. Big day of work ahead.
Benefit 1: Fullness and energy
The protein in this power meal will keep you feeling full throughout the morning. A University of Illinois study found that people who eat more protein and less carbs than in conventional meals find it easier to stick to a diet. Protein is satiating and may also boost calorie burn, the study authors say.
Benefit 2: Relaxed blood vessels
When you digest eggs, protein fragments are produced that can prevent your blood vessels from narrowing—which may help keep your blood pressure from rising. In fact, Canadian scientists found in a lab study that the hotter the eggs, the more potent the proteins, and frying them sends their temps soaring.
Not That: Pancakes, or a bagel with cream cheese
These carbohydrate-loaded options will send your blood glucose skyward, and you may feel ready to tackle anything. But don’t be fooled: That soaring blood sugar will lead to a crash, and you’re bound to feel hungry again before lunch. Resist the tempting ease of most high-carb breakfasts, and go find some protein.
Extra tip: Eat now at home, not later on the road. A University of Massachusetts study found that eating breakfast out instead of at home more than doubles your odds of obesity. Not only are restaurant meals often bigger than home-cooked ones, but you’re also vulnerable to an impulse buy at a drive-thru or convenience store.
7:37 a.m. Try This: Chewing gum
You’re caught in stop-and-go traffic. Figures it’d happen on the day you need to arrive early to prepare for the big meeting.
Benefit: Stress relief
Stop pounding the steering wheel and reach for a pack of gum. In a British study, people who chewed gum while taking math, memory, and concentration tests reported an average 13 percent drop in stress. The study authors believe that the act of chewing might lead to subconscious associations with positive social settings (like mealtimes), which may reduce tension.
Not That: Coffee
Caffeine can trigger a spike in the stress hormone cortisol. It’s not the best choice in a situation you can’t control. Have your caffeine fix at the office, to help you power through problems.
9:42 a.m. Drink This: Peppermint tea
Your to-do list is tedious and never-ending. You’re having trouble staying on task.
Researchers in Cincinnati found that periodic whiffs of peppermint increases people’s concentration and performance on tasks requiring sustained attention. (Sniff: “I can do this.”) Now, we know most guys don’t keep peppermint tea in their desks. So here’s your Men’s Health–approved shopping suggestion. The brand Stash has made MH’s Best Foods for Men list for the last 2 years. Brew a cup and impress coworkers with your focus.
Not That: Soda
British researchers discovered that sleepy people who downed a sugary, caffeinated drink similar to soda had slower reaction times and more lapses in attention after 80 minutes than people who drank a sugar-free beverage.
12:00 p.m. Eat This: Grilled salmon
Lunchtime. You can’t stop stressing over the big meeting in an hour. You have to give a presentation—and stay awake through your colleagues’ presentations. You’re not sure which challenge is more daunting.
Salmon contains tyrosine, an amino acid that your brain uses to make dopamine and norepinephrine—neurochemicals that keep you alert. The brain-balm omega-3s in salmon may also help tame your neurotic tendencies. Halibut and trout are good alternatives to salmon.
Add This: Spinach or arugula salad
Benefit: Improved mood and memory
Leafy greens are a good source of the B vitamin folate, used by the brain to make the mood controllers serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Folate shortages have been linked to depression. Add carrots: Beta-carotene may help reduce the effects of oxidative stress on your memory.
Not That: Tea with milk
Tea can cut stress. In a British study, tea drinkers who performed stressful tasks had a 27 percent lower level of cortisol afterward than those who drank a placebo. But those effects disappear when you add milk to the mix. The proteins in milk may bind with the tea catechins, reducing their blood-vessel-relaxing benefits.
Extra tip: Preserve your gray matter by eating these foods:
1. Even more salmon: People who eat fatty fish three or more times a week have a 27 percent lower chance of developing brain lesions associated with cognitive decline and stroke.
2. Blueberries: Their polyphenols may shield your brain against oxidative stress. 3. Garlic: It may increase the brain’s levels of serotonin, linked to better memory function.
4. Steak: High blood levels of vitamin B12 (found in meat, milk, and fish) may combat age-related brain shrinkage.
5. Brazil nuts: The selenium in the nuts spurs antioxidant activity that helps preserve cognitive functioning.
2:17 p.m. Try This: Cayenne pepper
Meeting’s over—finally. Too bad you’re completely drained and you have a pounding headache.
Benefit: Migraine relief
A report in Alternative and Complementary Therapies says capsaicin, the source of some chilies’ heat, can deplete the neurotransmitters that trigger headaches. Not if you eat it, though.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of fresh cayenne powder to a few ounces of warm water. After the powder settles to the bottom, dip a swab into the solution and apply it to the inside of your nostril on the side of your pain (or both sides, if needed). This should burn a bit, but it’s worth a try.
Not That: Diet soda
Caffeine and aspartame have both been linked to aching heads. Steer clear if you want the pounding to subside. (Not to mention that diet soda is 100 percent nutrition free. The more of it you drink, the less good stuff you put in your body.)
3:11 p.m. Eat This: Ginseng
That headache is still there—and you’re getting over a cold and need something for that cough. And you have a date tonight.
Benefit: Immunity boost
In a Canadian study, people who took 400 milligrams of ginseng extract a day had 56 percent fewer recurring colds than those who popped placebos. Studies suggest ginseng can boost the activity of key immune cells. Another benefit: Ginseng might boost your brainpower. British researchers found that people who swallowed 200 milligrams of the extract an hour before taking a cognitive test scored significantly better than when they skipped the supplement.
And This: Kiwi, oranges, red bell peppers
Benefit: Symptom relief
All three are packed with vitamin C. Studies suggest that taking in at least 200 milligrams daily may help shorten the duration of your symptoms the next time you’re under the weather.
Quick tip: If you’re really hacking up a lung, try downing a spoonful of honey. Penn State scientists found that honey is better at lessening cough frequency and severity than dextromethorphan, the most common active ingredient in over-the-counter cough meds.
5:20 p.m. Eat This: Half an apple and a shot of espresso
You’re prepping for a predate workout—maybe 20 minutes of cardio, followed by a weight circuit. But you’re feeling peckish.
Benefit 1: Preworkout energy fix
It’s low-calorie enough not to fill you up, but it has the carbohydrates you need for energy. You’ll hit the gym with added vigor.
Benefit 2: Postworkout muscle fuel
Australian researchers found that when cyclists combined carbs with caffeine after a workout, their supply of muscle glycogen refilled at a 66 percent faster rate than it did for cyclists who downed only carbs.
Not That: Nothing
If you don’t fill up before working out, your body will burn muscle tissue, not just fat. If your goal is to bulk up, exercising on an empty, rumbling stomach is the worst thing you can do. Give your body something to work with.
Quick tip: Make sure your drink is cold, not just lukewarm. Drinking cold water before and during exercise can improve your endurance, British scientists found. Cyclists drinking cold water were able to bike 23 percent longer than riders who drank warm liquids.
8:50 p.m. Eat and Drink This: Steak and Wine
You’ve picked up your date and you’ve just been seated for dinner. Time to order.
Benefit 1: Relaxation
A glass of wine really does take the edge off. University of Toronto researchers discovered that one alcoholic drink causes people’s blood vessels to relax—but the second drink begins to reverse the effect, so limit your intake. You’ll be even more relaxed knowing that that glass of red contains resveratrol, an antioxidant linked to everything from cancer prevention to heart-disease protection. One variety that’s packed with resveratrol: pinot noir.
Not That: Whiskey
A small 2007 study says that more than twice as many people with alcohol or drug problems had prematurely gray hair as those without. Long-term abuse may speed the aging and loss of melanocytes, cells that give hair its pigment.
Benefit: Libido boost
Protein can boost levels of brain chemicals that heighten arousal. Steak also contains zinc, which may help maintain testosterone levels.
Or Maybe This: Oysters
Two forms of an amino acid in oysters have been linked to testosterone production in rats, but it’s unclear whether oysters have any true libido-boosting influence. Go for the suggestive effect.
But Not That: White chocolate
White chocolate has no cocoa solids, so it lacks the methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine) found in dark and milk chocolate. These stimulants can make you feel more energetic and alert.
Quick tip: Dark chocolate is a foreplay food. A woman becomes more aroused from the melting of dark chocolate in her mouth than from kissing, British scientists found. The chocolate not only raises her heart rate, but brain-wave monitoring shows it also makes her more relaxed and alert. Opt for 60 percent cacao.
11:20 p.m. Drink This: Cherry juiceYou’re at home. Alone. It’s been a long day, but you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing.
Benefit: Sleep-inducing serotonin
Carbohydrates help boost your brain’s production of serotonin, a neurochemical that can help induce sleepiness. We’re guessing you don’t have any in your fridge. So buy Lakewood Organic Pure Black Cherry juice, which has only one ingredient: juice from organic black cherries. There’s no added sugar, and a 4-ounce glass contains just 70 calories.
Not That: Warm milk
Contrary to popular belief, warm milk will keep you up, not knock you out. Blame the protein in the milk, which can reduce serotonin levels and delay the onset of sleep.
- Fight Stress With Healthy Foods (amog.com)
- How to eat and exercise your way to higher IQ (thesun.co.uk)
- Long-term risks exist for youth seeking jolt of energy drinks, warn experts – London Free Press (lfpress.com)
- Stress Awareness Month Tips (massageenvy.com)