3 Ways to Boost Brainpower for Peak Performance
By DR. ROMILA MUSHTAQ
As a doctor, people often request guidance when they have questions about health and wellness. A friend recently called me in a panic: Her dream trip of climbing Mt. Everest was one month away, but her training was falling flat. As we spoke, I discovered that she was under enormous personal stress from switching jobs and moving. The obstacles in her mind seemed bigger than the summit of Everest.
Whether training for your first half-marathon or the trek of a lifetime, the largest obstacle to fitness is within the mind. The ability to conquer stress in the mind has a direct relationship with the athletic performance of the body. When under psychological or mental strain, the brain's sympathetic nervous system releases the hormones cortisol and insulin. These stress hormones can wreak havoc in our bodies, raise heart rates and blood pressure, alter metabolism and disturb sleep. In sports performance, this translates to decreased endurance, slower performance times and prolonged muscle recovery.
As a neurologist specializing in the mind-body connection, I firmly believe that the mind is strong medicine. Depending on your mental state, you can either psych yourself out or build yourself up. If you find yourself falling flat in your training endeavors, these proven steps will boost your brainpower, turn off the stress response and connect you with your body's peak performance.
1. Avoid Alcohol
It is too easy to reach for alcohol as a way to cope when emotional stress is at its peak. All forms of alcohol act on the brain's GABA receptors, producing a temporary anti-anxiety effect. In clinical studies, alcohol is shown to cause muscle cramps, pain and dehydration. A critical component in the recovery of athletic strength is the enhanced protein synthesis that occurs post-exercise to facilitate muscle repair and strengthen muscles. Ingesting alcohol decreases this synthesis that's critical for building strength and endurance. It is best to avoid alcohol, hydrate with water and increase protein intake while training.
2. Make Sleep a Priority
Six basketball players from Stanford University participated in a clinical study in which the object was to obtain as much extra sleep as possible. After the two-week sleep-extension period, the athletes all recorded faster sprint times and increased free-throw rates. Added benefits included significant improvements in mood and reports of increased energy and decreased fatigue. Shut off electronic devices one hour prior to bedtime, increase protein intake and avoid stimulants like caffeine late in the day to promote healthy sleep naturally.
3. Use Guided Visual Imagery
Guided visual imagery is not just for the meditation mat or the psychologist's office. There are clinically proven studies showing that this mindfulness-based technique can help champion soccer teams and elite athletes improve a specific skill, visualize the outcome of a play, achieve a personal goal and learn to be resilient in all circumstances. Guided visual imagery teaches us to be in the present moment, breathe and take control of our thoughts. By controlling our thoughts, we retrain the brain and promote resilience in both the game and our personal lives.
Readers -- Do you have an interest in boosting your brain function and/or athletic performance? Which of these tips was most helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Romila "Dr. Romie" Mushtaq, M.D., is a traditionally trained neurologist with expertise in the field of mind-body medicine, a branch of medicine that promotes the science behind mindfulness-based techniques. As a physician, professional speaker and certified life coach, Dr. Romie helps clients connect to inner peace despite life's external chaos. You can check out Dr. Romie’s website at brainbodybeauty.com or follow her on Twitter, Facebook and connect with her on LinkedIn.