Last week, Josh Simpson asked a question about staying sharp and on your feet for the duration of a long day of tournament games. There are a number of factors involved, and I’ll be looking at them all over the next little while, but today I’ll be looking at one of the least discussed – what you should eat on the day of a tournament to maximize concentration.
The work done by the brain accounts for 10-20% of the body’s energy consumption (Though, notably, still requires 800,000 times less than the world’s best supercomputer, and does twice as many FLOPs). Neurons are in a constant state of metabolic activity, continuing to do work even while you sleep, and spend a whole lot of energy shooting lightning at each other.
You think by making lightning inside your skull. It was awesome to me as an eight year old, and it’s still awesome now.
In order to do all of that hard work, the brain requires glucose. Glucose is the only thing which the brain burns for energy, and low levels of circulating glucose are associated with loss of concentration and memory function. As such, on the most basic level, to maintain the ability to think clearly through a day of Warmachine, you need to keep a steady level of glucose.
The best foods for this are complex carbohydrates. They are long chains of sugar molecules which the body breaks down into glucose over time, meaning there is a steady release of energy. You want to start the day with a good breakfast containing a lot of these, so turn to natural foods – bagels, bananas, porridge, or muesli. Or some combination of the above. You want to add some protein to the mix as well, and just for sheer deliciousness I suggest a Canadian Breakfast – fried banana, bacon, and pancakes. It has all of the above, and is way more awesome than I could ever have predicted (For best results, make the pancakes yourself and use less processed ingredients ).
It’s also important to maintain your levels of blood sugar throughout the day. Spiking high or low isn’t just for dice, and very high or very low blood sugar also impacts your concentration. Low blood sugar deprives the brain of energy, while high blood sugar causes insulin production to spike, pulling sugar out of the bloodstream for storage.
To avoid low blood sugar, snack throughout the day. Your best foods here are nuts and dried fruit, and (depending again on the amount of processed sugar involved) chocolate. Dark chocolate is best as it is generally less processed.
Many of us turn to foods with a lot of processed sugar in them for an energy kick, but because they trigger insulin production, they’re a bad long term prospect. The initial high wears off fast, and high insulin levels mean that you’ve probably worked yourself closer to a crash. Because of that, I’d recommend avoiding sweets and soft drinks as your energy fixers. To add to the Bad News for soft drink drinkers, they reduce the amount of pure water you tend to drink, which can lead to dehydration.
Don’t get dehydrated. Shockingly, water is best. You need about 1.5 L over the course of the day, and it’s best to drink it at a steady rate.
And while we’re on the subject of what to drink, lets look at caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to boost cognitive performance. On the down side, it can lead to dehydration and you peeing a lot more. And vibrating so fast you can see alternate dimensions, which is not conducive to effective use of your clock. But in moderation, it’s a tried, tested, and empirically proven cognitive enhancer. On average, 20mg/hr is an effective dose for increasing wakefulness. The amount of caffeine in a coffee is wildly variable, and effected by so many variables that there’s no set in stone number, but a rough median is 80mg/cup. So really, you should be drinking 1/4 of a cup of coffee per hour (or 1/4 of an energy drink) for maximum effectiveness and minimal jitters.
As a random aside, doses of 600mg or more have been found to produce significant cognitive enhancement in some individuals. If you’re feeling experimental and need to good into the tank one last time, slamming 8 and a half cans of Red Bull may work. Or may cause you to vibrate to Earth 2. Or die. I just provide the information, I don’t tell you how to use it…
Your lunch should generally avoid foods made with white flour as well, since they take a long time to digest and break down, and tend to also make you sleepy as a result. Omega 3 fatty acids (from fish) and Iron (spinach, red meat, green vegetables in general, and eggs) are all good for brain performance, though I’m not aware of any evidence that says that effect happens “on the day”. But they’re all good for you and you should eat more, and make for an excellent mid day meal when doing Brain Work. It also has the advantage of being a pretty doable “packed lunch” if you’re in a venue that doesn’t offer the food you want, which is often a problem.
All the research also says it’s probably a bad idea to be drinking the night before.
But I’m not going to tell anyone to make promises I can’t keep. #booziestteamaward #wtc #notreinforcingnationalstereotypesatall
Edited for corrections re: Turkey (not as sleepy making as I understood) and for the Latin in the title, because I live to give Siskey reasons to use his Latin Powers.