From 8 am calculus exams to rigorous evening rehearsals, dancers require a lot of mental focus to get through the day. DS chatted with registered dietitian Marie Scioscia of The Ailey School for tips on what to eat to keep your brain running on all cylinders.
When it comes to immediate brainpower, there's no single miracle food. “The key to sustained mental focus is a balance of carbohydrates and protein," Scioscia says.
Carbs increase your blood sugar, giving you a lift in mental energy. But be careful not to rely on simple sugars or concentrated natural sugars alone. While fruit juices or candy will give you an immediate boost of energy, they'll have you crashing almost as fast. Complex carbs, like oatmeal and other whole grains, give you a steadier rise and fall in blood sugar, keeping you focused longer. They also increase your brain's production of serotonin, which keeps you calm and happy—perfect for that stressful pop quiz!
Protein, which slows the digestion of both simple and complex carbs, provides even more protection from that dreaded crash. Plus, it increases your brain's production of dopamine, a chemical that helps you concentrate.
If you want a long career, your body isn't the only thing that needs to stay in shape. “Keep your mind sharper longer by eating a balanced, plant-based diet with enough protein and healthy fats," Scioscia says. Why plant-based? Your brain needs oxygen and nutrients, which are carried by the blood. High-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains help keep your arteries clear so that nutrient-rich blood can reach your brain. Healthy fats—like fatty fish and walnuts—also enhance blood flow.
Brainpower breakfast: Try a scrambled egg on top of a whole-grain English muffin with a side of sliced strawberries for a breakfast that's sure to power you through your morning.
Brainpower lunch: Mix a salad of canned tuna fish, olive oil–based mayonnaise, curry powder, raisins and walnuts on a whole-grain roll. Now that's a lunch that'll keep you sharp for hours!
Brainpower dinner: Brush a grilled chicken breast with rosemary olive oil and serve it alongside brown rice, with a sauté of kale, apples, garlic and olive oil. Of course, blueberries are for dessert!