brain food nutritionIn light of being a dietitian in today’s instant gratification-crazed jungle, it has become highly evident that so-called “magic foods” and “quick fixes” have achieved an astonishing level of unwarranted trust from consumers. I have found it contradictory to believe that these “magic foods” deserve oodles of confidence in improving our health, especially with our obesity rates more than doubling since the mid-1970s. With pure intentions and the innocent hope of changing our lifestyle patterns to become healthier and happier, we often fall prey to the oh-so-believable “magic foods” and “quick fixes” to accomplish our goals. I have often heard from my clients that, “It simply is too hard for me to make all these changes, even though I really want to. Why can’t I just do it?” This has led me to the question: “How do you actually motivate someone to make long-lasting lifestyle changes and avoid the temptation to turn to ‘quick fixes?’” The answer is quite complicated and there is much more to a healthy lifestyle than simply eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly; your mind is intimately involved with your eating and exercise patterns.

There is no benefit in consistently shaming yourself for being unable to make long-lasting changes to your health. That negative self-talk is doing you more harm than good. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I train my brain to want to work hard to make changes for my health?”

You can begin to find the answers you’re looking for by taking a closer look into your diet.

We all have heard that aerobic exercise can help your brain feel more alert and awake, but can you feed your brain the right foods to help you exercise? The answer is absolutely: Your diet, workout regimen and noggin’ are meant to mingle together.

The analogy of “food is fuel” can be misleading. Sure, all food provides some amount of energy, but foods are not created equal when leading to more efficiency, efficacy and motivation in your busy life. It’s convenient to say to yourself, “I’m so tired from work today. I really don’t want to work-out as I planned, but I’ll try to eat a snack to see if that helps.” Next thing you know, you’re driving past the gym with crumbs in your lap, straight for your cozy couch.

To allow for perspective on the truth that “all foods are not created equal,” think about the gas that you buy for your car. I’m sure you can agree that all gas performs with equal comparability. What if we lived in a world that allowed you to purchase a specific type of gas that drove you to a destination 40 minutes faster than it would normally take? You would choose your purchase more wisely; and ultimately, food should be chosen wisely, too.

Let’s get down to the science of why all foods do not stand on equal ground, and why some foods affect your level of motivation more than others. Your brilliant brain has around 100 billion nerve cells that communicate with the rest of your body. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are brain chemicals that are needed for nerve cells to communicate effectively. Neurotransmitters are made from proteins, vitamins and minerals. Despite being brain chemicals, it is important to mention that some neurotransmitters are made in the gut instead of the brain. This marks the beginning of a relevant conversation involving, what scientists call, the brain-gut axis. The brain-gut axis refers to the communication between the brain and the intestines, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain to the gut. In summary, this means that the health of your gut determines the effectiveness of neurotransmitters submitting signals to the brain. Neurotransmitters communicate with your brain and can affect your mood, motivation levels, efficiency and efficacy in daily life.

brain gut connectionWe also digest foods differently. Some foods contribute to the health of our gut more than others. Trans fats may contribute to inflammation, while fiber aids in the production of good bacteria in the gut and regular digestion. Fiber would ultimately increase the health of the gut, which increases the health of your neurotransmitters. In-turn, this would increase the health of your brain, giving you the motivation and strength to take control over your thoughts and actions.

The phrase, you are what you eat rings true! If your noggin’ is not up to par, based on the foods you are eating, it’s no wonder you’re not finding the motivation to work-out. I am going to tell you how to feed yourself the motivation to work-out by highlighting the importance of consuming the right type of fuel for sustained energy; and by explaining various types of nutrients that can positively contribute to improved communication to and from your brain by positively affecting gut health.

Brain Food: Carbs, Carbs, Carbs

For decades now, you’ve have been inundated with all the reasons why carbohydrates are bad for your health. These diet-praising, opinion-based, fear-mongering fads need to stop now to change our societal-influenced belief system about food. Carbohydrates are, simply put, brain food. Before I begin the carb discussion, I’d like you to think about the entire day vs. right before a work-out. It is important to think this way because fueling for a workout can be different than fueling your brain to increase your level of motivation to work-out.

All carbohydrates that we ingest are broken down to glucose in the body, which is the only fuel source for our brain under healthy conditions. Our brain relies on a daily, steady supply of glucose and if this fuel source is inadequate, fatigue, confusion and even dizziness will prevail. During glucose inadequacy, neurotransmitters, like serotonin, and adenosine levels increase in the brain, which leads to fatigue. Simultaneously, dopamine levels decrease, which reduces your ability to focus and stay motivated.

It is important to note the various types of carbohydrates for your health and motivation level. There are two main types of carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

These are known as simple sugars, either as added sugars found in pastries, candy or pasta sauce; or natural sugars found in foods such as fruits and milks. Depending upon the other nutrients found in foods that contain simple carbohydrates, they are typically digested rather quickly. In other words, they may provide a temporary “sugar high” vs. a sustained source of energy. With ingestion of simple carbohydrates, you may be at an increased risk of glucose inadequacy due to high-speed digestion. Glucose inadequacy leads to increased serotonin and adenosine levels in the brain, causing quick fatigue.

Complex Carbohydrates

These are known as starches, and can be refined or unrefined. A refined complex carbohydrate could be white rice or white flour, and an unrefined carbohydrate would be whole grain bread or oatmeal. Complex carbohydrates are typically digested over a longer period, allowing for a more sustained energy supply compared to simple carbohydrates.

Which type of carbohydrate is better to consume to have sustained motivation for a workout? Yep, you got it, complex carbohydrates. Foods such as oatmeal, whole-grain breads, potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables and beans contain complex carbohydrates.

Just like the importance of your food choices, fueling your body regularly should be at the top of your to-do list. Eating regularly, mostly complex carbs, can stabilize blood glucose levels throughout the day, avoiding bursts of short-term energy and mid-afternoon crashes. I recommend eating every 3-5 hours to avoid significant blood glucose fluctuations and extreme hunger from glucose inadequacy.

With sustained levels of glucose for your brain to use, your levels of serotonin and adenosine will stay stagnant and your level of dopamine will allow for increased focus and motivation to get off the couch.

A Healthy Gut = A Healthy Mind

As I had mentioned before, the brain-gut axis refers to the connection between your gut health and mind. If your digestive tract is not flourishing with beneficial bacteria by making the right food choices, your cognition could be inhibited. Here are a few scientifically-proven nutrients that can help you craft a blooming intestinal tract.

  • Probiotics are good bacteria that are already in or can be supplemented to your lower digestive tract. Probiotics have been found to promote digestive health. They can be naturally found in foods and in the dietary supplement aisle at your local grocery store. These healthy bacteria are found in some yogurts, cheeses, kefir and sauerkraut. The most popular probiotic dietary supplements contain the Lactobacilus species, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans. Ask your dietitian or doctor what dose and type of probiotic they recommend.
  • Fiber, insoluble and soluble, can be found in vegetables, fruit skins, whole grain breads, pastas, and other plant-based foods. Fiber is a magical, indigestible plant-based nutrient that helps build healthy gut microflora and improves the fluidity of your bowel movements. Fiber plays a role in many other processes in the body, but for now, I will focus on gut-related functions. The recommended dietary fiber intake is 25 to 30 grams per day for healthy individual
  • Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many antioxidant properties arming them to fight inflammation and disease in the human body. The functionality of these disease-fighting properties has been attributed to their ability to increase good bacteria in the gut. Common foods containing polyphenols are dark chocolate, red wine, grapes, almonds, blueberries and broccoli. Red wine may make you temporarily forget your worries, but it also has long term effects on your mood and motivation (in moderate amounts, of course). Just another reason to enjoy it!
  • Consistently consuming an adequate amount of water daily is just as important for gut health as the foods you eat. Our bodies are made of approximately 60% Water acts as a means of transportation for nutrients in your blood and acts as a lubricant for your digestive system, promoting regular bowel movements and flushing out foreign toxins. Most moderately-active people need anywhere from 70-110 oz. of total fluid per day. However, consult your doctor or dietitian for more individualized recommendations.

The body is more complicated than the brain-gut axis and neurotransmitter fluctuations, but it certainly is a good start to begin understanding why you’re going through the drive-thru instead of to the gym, despite your intentions. Consuming complex carbs frequently throughout the day, eating probiotics, meeting your daily fiber and water goals and enjoying a glass of red wine with friends, can help you move off the couch and to the gym. A healthy, well-rounded diet can lead to a healthy mind, which ultimately leads to increased levels of motivation to do the things you want to do. It takes two to tango, but three to party, and as we looked deeper into the correlation between your diet, your mind and your motivation, we have reached a level of solidarity that your brain, your digestive tract and your diet are connected factors contributing to your motivation to make lifestyle changes.


Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on

If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.

Share this...
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUponShare on Tumblr