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KEY POINTS:

1. Neurotransmitters are signalling proteins in the brain that create thoughts, memories, and critical thinking. What you eat significantly affects these neurotransmitters and therefore how your brain functions. 

2. The amino acid tyrosine is a building block for the neurotransmitters that wake you up, help you concentrate, focus, and problem solve. Foods that are high in tyrosine include protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans, tofu, and lentils.

3. Eating foods that are very high in simple carbohydrates and very low in protein increases the amino acid tryptophan, which has the opposite effect. Tryptophan increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps relax the brain.

4. Go for protein-rich, low-simple carb meals when you need to concentrate, problem solve, or deal with stress.

Key #7: Eat Healthy Protein

Back in my early days of consulting with people in finance, I had a group that I was working with that were going in to a negotiation with another group of people in the industry. The negotiations were important and my team expected that the discussions were going to be confrontational and very difficult.
 
I was a pretty competitive young guy at that point in my life and so I was determined that my team would do great in this meeting. I wanted to set the stage for a brilliant performance by the people that I was working with and then I did my best to create a problematic scenario for the people from the other company.
 
I asked that the meeting be scheduled between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the afternoon because that’s the time of day when most people have their afternoon crash and their energy levels are the lowest. I asked my group to show up at 12:00 and told them I’d have lunch ready.
 
For lunch I gave them water to make sure they were hydrated, green tea to give them a small dose of caffeine, chicken salad to make sure they had lots of protein in their system and some avocado salad on the side so that they would have some quality fats in their bodies and they would have long term energy for the entire afternoon.
 
The key to this lunch was that I made sure that they had mostly proteins, some fats, and a little carbohydrate. I wanted this combination because I knew that the amino acid tyrosine has been shown to help increase the levels of the “alertness” neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. (Amino acids are the components that make up proteins).
 
Neurotransmitters are small bundles of protein that work in the brain to carry signals from one nerve to another. This creates thoughts, memories, and basically controls the way the brain is functioning. I wanted to increase the amount of the amino acid tyrosine in my team and keep the levels of that transmitter as high as I could during the important meeting.
 
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is an essential precursor (a building block) to neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which have stimulatory effects on the body and brain. Basically they wake you up and help you concentrate. Higher levels of tyrosine help you feel good, they improve your mood and can also improve concentration and mental performance. Sources of tyrosine include protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, beans, tofu and lentils. They should be consumed with a minimum of carbohydrates. Hence the chicken salad for lunch!
 
With my team primed for excellence I welcomed the group from the other company to our conference room where I had prepared a buffet of croissants, muffins, bagels, coffee, tea, and soft drinks. It was a smorgasbord of simple carbohydrates and caffeine. They were most appreciative and loaded up since I think most of them just came straight to the meeting having skipped lunch or quickly eaten something at their desks.
 
By eating foods that were very high in simple carbohydrates and very low in protein I ensured that I changed their brain chemistry right before the negotiations were to begin. By eating those foods, the result was an increase in the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan has been shown to increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps relax the brain. Great stuff if you want to take a nap. Not so much if you need to concentrate for 3 hours.
 
As the meeting began the members of the other group were jacked up on sugar and caffeine. They were aggressive and energetic. For about 45 minutes. And then they began to tire. They began to slump down in their chairs. They became irritable and distracted. By 2 hours in they were really struggling. The last hour was a train wreck for them. My team was calm, cool and consistent for the entire time. We rocked the negotiations. My team felt great, had excellent energy for the whole time, and were able to perform at their best – giving them a great advantage in their business.
 
The scary and sad part of this whole story is that I essentially changed the internal chemistry of the bodies and brains of the people that came in to negotiate with the group that I was working with. I changed it so that they felt tired and couldn’t concentrate. And I did that by feeding them the typical North American diet.
 
Imagine now that you know about food and brain neurotransmitters how crazy it is that we feed our workforce the way we do. Think about what is offered to students in schools. Even worse, consider what people are fed when they are sick and in the hospital. For you personally reading this just think about your own energy levels and ability to concentrate during the day. Can you see a relationship between your food intake and your energy, performance and ultimately your health?
 
You are not likely to choose every meal based on amino-acid composition. That makes life just a little too complicated. But if you need to be alert – to perform at a work event or for an exam – go for a protein-rich, low-simple carb meal. If you need to wind down and get to sleep at night, enjoy a higher carbohydrate meal such as bowl of yogurt with a handful of sunflower seeds sprinkled on top. Use your food to help you perform better. The outcome will be that you’ll be healthier too. Here are a few ideas for you:

o    Add eggs to your toast
o    Be generous with your nut/seed butters on crackers, wraps or bread
o    Bring along a can of tuna fish to add to your meal
o    Add hemp hearts to just about anything!
o    Choose quinoa instead of rice
o    Add nuts/seeds or legumes (lentils, chick peas or beans) to salads
o    Have hummus with veggies instead of ranch dressing
o    Choose poultry, fish or meat for a blast of complete protein

High quality, nutrient-dense foods are the optimal fuel for our brains and bodies and help to deal with stress. In addition to eating healthy carbs and healthy fats, healthy proteins are critical because they have such a powerful influence on our brain neurotransmitters, which can help us concentrate, focus and problem solve.

Today's POWER-UP: Add healthy protein sources to your nutrition plan

1. HEALTHY PROTEINS ARRIVE IN THEIR MOST BASIC FORMS – NOT PROCESSED OR BATTERED.

2. WE NEED ABOUT ½ OUR WEIGHT IN GRAMS OF PROTEIN EACH DAY TO SUPPORT OUR IMMUNITY, DIGESTION AND MUSCULATURE. WHILE IT’S CONVENIENT TO REACH FOR A STARCHY SNACK (LIKE COOKIES, CRACKERS, CHIPS, CANDY OR A SANDWICH), THESE CARBS WON’T KEEP YOUR ENERGY CONSISTENT THROUGHOUT THE DAY. TRY TO GET GOOD QUALITY PROTEIN IN WITH EVERY MEAL.

3. HERE ARE SOME GREAT EXAMPLES OF HEALTHY-PROTEIN FOODS:

NUTS AND SEEDS: PUMPKIN SEEDS, SQUASH SEEDS, WALNUTS, ALMONDS, PINE NUTS, PISTACHIOS, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, CASHEWS, HEMP SEEDS, FLAX SEEDS.

VEGETABLES: CORN, TOMATOES, SOY BEANS, BLACKEYE PEAS, NAVY BEANS, GREEN PEAS, LIMA BEANS, BRUSSEL SPROUTS, SPINACH, BROCCOLI, POTATOES, ASPARAGUS, CHICK PEAS, TEMPEH AND TOFU, EDAMAME, LEAFY GREENS.

FRUITS: APRICOTS, PEACHES.

CEREALS AND GRAINS: OAT BRAN, OATS, EGG NOODLES, BUCKWHEAT, COUSCOUS, BULGUR, MILLET, LONG-GRAIN BROWN OR WILD RICE, QUINOA, SEITAN.