Getting fit for the New Year should be more than just about the body. The brain also benefits with proper nutrition. Athletes train for hours exercising and taking supplements to enhance their physical performance but investing some extra effort in supporting cognitive function can be just as important as feeding the muscles. Combining brain health with sports nutrition gives a new synergy to a fitness routine.
Natural ingredients can not only promote motivation, but they can increase focus and concentration, increase reaction time, provide neuroprotective properties and reduce stress caused by exercise. Excessive training is now being seen as a major stress on the body and is considered a natural risk of working out and can lead to injury, reductions in the body’s immune function, performance reversals and depression. Athletes often experience muscle soreness, increases in cortisol levels, decreases in testosterone levels and increases in resting heart rate. Consistent overtraining can interrupt the ratio between the catabolic hormone cortisol and the anabolic hormone testosterone.
Phosphatidylserine (PS), a type of fat found in cell membranes can be effective for reducing exercise-induced stress and the breakdown in the body that comes with overtraining according to recent studies. PS is readily found in the brain and actually makes up 15% of the total phospholipids. Studies show PS might aid athletes by accelerating recovery, improving well being and reducing muscle soreness. One study showed cyclists supplementing with PS had a 30% lower cortisol level when compared to the group supplementing with a placebo, demonstrating PS’s ability to lessen the severity of the stress response to exercise.
Acetyl L-Carnitine, naturally found in plasma, kidneys, liver, heart, and skeletal muscle, is necessary for fat metabolism and energy production and is best known for its ability to help burn stored fat, however, it is now being recognized for its ability to improve metal agility and enhance alertness and physical performance. New studies show the cognitive brain functions associated with Acetyl L-Carnitine are improvements in memory, increases in learning capacity, and improved memory recall speeds and thought processing. Additional studies show that participant’s memory recall speeds and thought processing in addition to overall concentration and focus were improved with Acetyl L-Carnitine.
Vinpocetine extracted from the periwinkle plant, may increase blood flow to the brain and enhance reaction time. In a rehabilitative setting with NFL players, Vinpocetine combined with Acetyl L-Carnitine, Fish Oil, Huperzine-A and Alpha Lipoic Acid, showed increased reaction speeds and processing speeds. Vinpocetine has also been shown to provide support for traumatic brain and concussions by providing a neruoprotective role and reducing neural inflammation. In a recent study athletes supplementing with Phosphatidylserine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Vinpocetine and other nutrients showed significant increases (over 50% increases for many of the athletes) in motivation, memory, blood flow and cognitive scores within 6 months. Standard neuropsychological tests and SPECT images were used to measure blood flow related to cognitive function and proficiency related to mood, language, memory, attention, information speed and accuracy.
Huperzine-A, isolated from the Chinese herb Huperzia serrata, has been shown to be a cognitive enhancer that blocks acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that damages acetylcholine, the learning neurotransmitter. The protective effect of Huperzine-A is believed to be its ability to reduce oxidative stress, protect the mitochondria and support nerve growth factor.
Athletes have always paid more attention to nutrition for their bodies and not their minds. These new studies show that cognitive function plays an important role in supporting athletic performance by reducing exercise-induced stress, promoting concentration and focus, improving motivation and reaction times and providing neuroprotective properties.
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