Will this be your best day ever? Or will it be your “beastliest”? What you put in your mouth will have a lot to do with the answer. Food can help fuel your 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 food and tasks to help you snack, slurp and sup your way to success.
[ 6.43am You’ve just rolled out of bed. You need to be on the road by 7.20am. Big day of work ahead.]
EAT THIS Bacon or Ham And Fried Eggs
Benefit 1: Fullness and energy
The protein in this power meal will keep you feeling full throughout the morning, as it is digested at a slower rate than carbs, says nutritionist and Men’s Health advisory board member Vidya Bhat. A University of Illinois study in the US also found that people who eat more protein and less carbs in conventional meals find it easier to stick to a diet. Protein 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 that the hotter the eggs, the more potent the proteins. And frying them sends their temperatures soaring.
NOT THIS Pancakes or A Muffin Slathered With Cream Cheese
These carbohydrate-loaded options will send your blood glucose skywards, 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 temptation of most high-carb breakfasts and go find some protein.
EXTRA TIP: Eat at home, not later on the road. A University of Massachusetts study in the US found that eating breakfast out instead of at home more than double your odds of obesity. Not only are restaurant meals often bigger than home-cooked ones, you’re also vulnerable to an impulse buy at a drive-thru or convenience store.
[ 7.37am You’re caught in a crazy traffic jam on the PIE. And it has to happen on the day you need to arrive early at the office to prepare for the big meeting.]
TRY THIS Chewy Mints
Benefit: Stress relief
Stop pounding the steering wheel and reach for the Mentos. In a British study, people who chewed gum while taking maths, memory and concentration tests reported an average of 13 per cent 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. Since you can’t buy gum to chomp here, get yourself some chewy mints instead. (Be mindful of your sugar intake, though.)
NOT THIS 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 instead, to help you power through problems.
[ 9.42am Your to-do list is tedious and never-ending. You’re having trouble keeping up with the task.]
DRINK THIS Peppermint Tea
Researchers in Cincinnati in the US found that periodic whiffs of peppermint increases people’s concentration and performance on tasks requiring sustained attention. So brew a cup of peppermint tea and impress co-workers with your focus. “Most herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free and highly satisfying, whether you take them hot or cold,” says Vidya. “Both peppermint and chamomile teas help you relax and feel revitalised. Peppermint, especially, has a calming effect on your body, and is often used to soothe symptoms
NOT THIS Soft Drinks
British researchers discovered that sleepy people who downed a sugary, caffeinated drink similar to soft drinks had slower reaction times and more lapses in concentration after 80 minutes, compared to people who drank a sugar-free beverage. “Sugar and caffeine is a combination that sends bodies and minds on an uncomfortable, biochemical roller coaster ride,”says Vidya.
[ 12.00pm Lunchtime. You can’t stop getting stressed over the big meeting coming up. You have to give a presentation – and stay awake through your colleagues’ deliveries. You’re not sure which challenge is more daunting.]
EAT THIS Grilled Salmon
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. (Sardines and tilapia 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. Also, broccoli or carrots have the same benefits: Beta-carotene may help reduce the effects of oxidative stress on
NOT THIS Tea with Milk
It’s a fact that tea can cut stress. In a British study, tea drinkers who performed stressful tasks had a 27 per cent lower level of cortisol afterwards than those who drank a placebo. But these effects disappear when you add milk into the mix. The proteins in milk may bind with the tea catechins, reducing their blood vessel-relaxing benefits.
EXTRA TIP: Preserve your grey matter by eating these foods.
1 Salmon: People who eat fatty fish three or more times a week have a 27 per cent 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.
[ 2.17pm Meeting’s over – finally. Too bad you’re completely drained and have a pounding headache.]
EAT THIS Cayenne Pepper
Benefit: Migraine relief
A report in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Therapies says capsaicin, the source of some chillies’ heat, can deplete the neurotransmitters that trigger headaches. But not if you eat it. So do this: Add ¼ teaspoon of fresh cayenne powder to about 100ml 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 THIS Diet Soft Drinks
Caffeine and aspartame have both been linked to aching heads. Steer clear if you want the pounding to subside. (Note: Diet soft drinks are 100 per cent nutrition-free. The more you drink, the less good stuff you put in your body.)
[ 3.11pm That headache is still there – and you’re getting over a cold and need something for that cough. And you have a date tonight.]
EAT THIS Ginseng
Benefit: Immunity boost
In a Canadian study, people who took 400mg of ginseng extract a day had 56 per cent 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 200mg of the extract an hour before taking a cognitive test scored significantly better than when they skipped the supplement.
AND THIS Kiwi, Oranges, and Red Bell Peppers
All three are packed with vitamin C. Studies suggest that taking at least 200mg 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 University scientists in the US found that honey is better at lessening cough frequency and severity than dextromethorphan, the most common active ingredient in over-the-counter cough meds.
[ 5.20pm You’re prepping for a pre-date workout – maybe 20 minutes of cardio, followed by a weight circuit. But you’re feeling peckish. ]
TAKE THIS Half an Apple, and a Shot of Espresso
Benefit 1: Immunity boost
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 vigour.
Benefit 2: Post-workout muscle fuel
Australian researchers found that when cyclists combined carbs with caffeine after a workout, their supply of muscle glycogen refilled at a 66 per cent faster rate than it did for cyclists who downed only carbs.
NOT THIS 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 who drank cold water were able to bike 23 per cent longer than those who drank warm liquids.
[ 8.50pm You’ve picked up your date (she looks even better than you remembered), and you’ve just been seated for dinner. Time to order. ]
DRINK THIS Wine
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 a 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 THIS Whiskey
A 2007 study says that more than twice as many people with alcohol or drug problems had prematurely grey hair as those without. Long-term abuse may speed up the ageing process as well as the loss of melanocytes (cells that give hair its pigment).
EAT THIS Steak
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
Benefit: Libido Boost
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 THIS White Chocolate
This type of chocolate has no cocoa solids, so it lacks the methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine) found in dark and milk chocolate. These stimulants are reported to make you feel more energetic and alert.
QUICK TIP: Dark chocolate is a foreplay food. A woman becomes more aroused from the melting of this item 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 per cent cacao.
[ 11.20pm You’re back home. Alone. It’s been a long day, but you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing.]
TAKE THIS Cherry Juie
Benefit: Sleep-inducing serotonin
Carbohydrates help boost your brain’s production of serotonin, a neurochemical that can help induce sleepiness. Besides, cherry juice can soothe the sore muscles from your earlier workout session. In an eight-day study of men who train with weights, University of Vermont researchers in the US discovered those who imbibed a tall glass of a cherry juice blend twice a day retained more strength (18 per cent) and experienced faster pain relief (one day sooner) than men who downed a cherry-flavoured drink mix. A concentration of inflammation-fighting antioxidants inside cherries helps erase the ache, says study author Declan Connolly, PhD. “They minimise the microscopic muscle tears that occur during forceful contraction.” Look for a brand made with “tart” cherries, but
without added sugar.
NOT THIS 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.