Maintaining focus and concentration throughout your day is imperative to your productivity. There are many ways to help maintain your concentration (e.g. through becoming more mindful, creating your own focus formula, start including short naps throughout your day, etc.) but we often forget that food is a major contributor to how we feel throughout the day. The brain comprises only 2% of an adult’s weight, but it uses 20% of the energy produced by the body. If you don’t fuel your brain with the proper nutrients, you will start to feel a variety of symptoms, including memory problems, fatigue and concentration problems.
As an entrepreneur, your days are packed full and you can’t afford to hit low energy periods. Emerging research suggests that there are certain foods that when consumed on a regular basis will deliver the proper nutrients needed to help you maintain your ability to concentrate.
In this post, we are going to go over the science and reasoning behind why you need certain foods in your life for optimal focus and concentration and why you need to leave others behind. This information is all based off of established academic research. Our team of psychology and neuroscience PhDs have sifted through hundreds of papers, selecting only the ones of highest quality. You have the fullest confidence in all our recommendations.
Water boosts focus
Let’s start with one of the most obvious ones out there but unfortunately one that is probably overlooked the most. Water. It goes without saying that drinking water and brain function are integrally linked. But did you know that a lack of water to the brain can cause a variety of symptoms?
- Problems with focus and attention
- Brain fatigue
- Brain fog
- Sleep disturbances
The brain comprises of 85% water. All brain function depends on water to provide it with the necessary electrical energy. The brain uses two times more energy than other cells making up the body and water is the most efficient source of this energy than any other substance. The production of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine and norepinephrine – responsible for better executive functioning) and hormones within the brain also depend on water. Therefore, when you’re giving your body the adequate amount of water, you will be able to think faster by 14%, stay focused for longer and be more creative!
How to get enough water throughout your day
You may have heard that you should aim to drink eight glasses of water per day. However, how much water you should be drinking is actually more individualized than you may think. According to the Institute of Medicine, your recommended intake is based on factors such as sex, age, activity level etc. In a general sense, for people over the ages of 19, the overall fluid intake per day (including anything you eat and drink) is 3.7 litres for men and 2.7 litres for women. So, this is around 13 cups of beverages for men and 9 cups for women.
This recommendation generally seems like a lot for someone who is first starting out but the results are worth it. Here are some tips to help you overcome this challenge.
Set a goal
Set goals your brain likes! If drinking all that water seems like a daunting task right now, try making the goal more attainable to start out and then work your way up!
Start out by making sure you’re drinking at least 1 glass of water around every meal. That’s only three glasses. This will make it much easier to get into the swing of things.
A habit is easier to build when you can visibly see your progress! Try using apps (such as Drink Water Reminder for Android or Daily Water for iPhone) to keep track of your water intake.
Have it accessible and convenient
Have you ever heard of out of sight, out of mind? This definitely applies here. Make sure your water is visible and make sure you have enough that you aren’t having to fill up often. Try using a litre bottle filling it only a few times throughout your day. Always on the go? Drinking water while hopping from meeting to meeting can be much easier if you bring along a bottle that’s easy to carry around. Try using a flask-style or a bottle that easily fits into your bag.
Link with other habits
If you have been working through creating your own focus formula, this one will look familiar. Developing a new habit is easier when we link it up with other habits. This will make it easier to follow through or remember to practice your new habit.
You could have a glass of water when:
- You get up in the morning or before going to bed
- Before/with a meal
- When you brush your teeth
- When you go to a meeting
A couple other habit changes:
- Whenever you leave your desk, always bring your water with you and leave your coffee at your desk
- Another way to limit coffee and drink more water is to place both your water and you coffee on the same side of your computer but place your water bottle in front of your coffee. The first thing you’ll grab is your water or your will have to physically move it out of the way to get to your coffee.
- If you’re a smoker, bring your water out with you when you take your break.
Blueberries enhance focus and concentration
Including blueberries into your morning routine can help you to overcome the afternoon energy dip. Research has shown that eating blueberries can boost concentration and memory for 5 hours after consumption! The study had volunteers drink a blueberry smoothie in the morning and measured their ability to perform mental tasks mid afternoon. They found that those who drank the blueberry smoothie demonstrated better performance on mental tasks at 5 hours compared to those who consumed the control drink. In fact, those who did not consume the blueberry drink saw their performance drop 15-20%!
Why do blueberries enhance our cognition? Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E and most importantly, they’re high in flavonoids. When flavonoids are consumed, they activate an enzyme that stimulates the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain – helping with our memory as well as our ability to focus and learn new information.
Tips for getting more blueberries in your diet
- Throw them into a smoothie
- Top them on cereal, oatmeal, granola
- Bake with them
- Need some recipe ideas? Here are 56 ways to eat more blueberries
Don’t like blueberries? There are some other foods that are high in flavonoids: green tea, wine, grapes and cocoa.
Avocados improve your focus and concentration
This is one powerful fruit! Although they have been deemed as “too fatty”, avocados are powerhouses that are packed with good fats and are actually a goldmine for nutrients that improve brain health. Certain nutrients can improve cognitive functioning in the brain such as concentration and memory. Avocados are high in several nutrients improving many aspects of brain function.
Unlike most fruits which are mostly carbohydrates, avocados are 75% monounsaturated fats (the healthy fat found in olive oil). Monounsaturated fats aid in the production of acetylcholine which is the chemical in the brain responsible for memory and learning.
As if that isn’t impressive enough but avocados are also high in tyrosine-amino acid precursor to dopamine. This is the feel-good neurotransmitter in our brains that keeps us motivated and focused.
Vitamin K and Folate
Both of these have neuroprotective properties protecting you from blood clots (while also protecting you from stroke) and these vitamins are especially good at keeping your attention focused and memory on point.
Keep you level
To top it all off, avocados not only have the highest protein and lowest sugar content of any fruit, but they will also keep your blood sugar level throughout the day.
Tips for finding a ripe avocado
- Use the chart above to pick a ripe avocado
- Use your sense of touch to determine if it’s ready
- Firm – Does not yield to a small amount of pressure/ feels very firm within the hands
- Almost ripe – These will have a softer feel but will still seem quite firm to the touch
- Ripe – These will feel soft to the touch but not mushy
- Overripe – These will feel quite mushy to the touch, may have indentations throughout and have a smell similar to pumpkin or squash
Tip: If you need to ripen an avocado in a hurry, place it in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana. This will quicken the process by releasing ethylene gas. Check your avocado in 1-3 days and it should be ready!
Leafy greens help with focus and concentration
If you’re not a fan of kale, spinach and other leafy greens, hopefully we’re going to convince you of why you should try to start becoming one. First and foremost, a study in Neurology (with 3,718 subjects) demonstrated that people who ate two daily servings of vegetables exhibited the mental focus of people 5 years their junior. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach contain potassium which accelerate the connections between neurons, making your brain more responsive.
Additionally, leafy vegetables – spinach and kale – contain high levels of lutein. Lutein contains a carotenoid or pigment found in fruits and vegetables and was primarily known as a nutrient which promotes good eye health. However, research has shown that it is also a key player in enhancing learning, memory and maintaining brain function. A study published in Ageing Neuroscience, found that those who had higher levels of lutein exhibited ‘younger’ brains than their counterparts – in other words, they had neural responses that were more on par with younger adults. Let’s take a closer look at these two powerhouses.
Spinach is loaded with iron, helping keep our energy levels up throughout the day. It also contains vitamin B which helps optimize brain function and Vitamin E which promotes brain health by blocking free radicals and optimizing blood flow.
Kale is an absolute nutrition bomb! Containing almost as much vitamin C as an orange and a great source of vitamin B can not only ward of stress, improve mood and can act as an antidepressant, but it can also halt memory loss and slow down ageing effects in the brain.
Let’s go through a couple ways to add more of these greens throughout every part of your day:
- Breakfast: Add to smoothies or add to eggs in the morning
- Lunch: Add to sandwiches (better yet, swap large leaves for bread), mix into salads
- Dinner: Get creative by swapping high-fat cream based sauces for green, nutrient packed sauces
- Snacks: Kale chips and green juices
Foods we should avoid in order to keep our minds sharp!
So far we’ve given you plenty of options of great foods to help you keep focused throughout your day. Now, let’s tackle why some of our go to daily eats might be the culprit of that mid-day crash.
We’re all guilty of running to muffins when we’ve forgotten to eat breakfast or even bring them into a meeting to share, but indulging in muffins can zap your focus and lead to cognitive issues down the road! A study published in Physiology & Behavior found that consuming saturated fats and refined carbohydrates can negatively impact our cognitive functioning and is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Replace with blueberries! Need some complex carbohydrates to get you through the morning? Try having oatmeal topped with blueberries to keep you in the zone!
Another one we’ve all been guilty of. At lunch, we opt for the ‘healthier’ fruit juice rather than a sugary soda drink. However, fruit juices are just as big of a culprit towards our sugar intake. In fact, a study published in Neuroscience shows that high-sugar diets are associated with a decline in short and long-term memory, cognitive flexibility, and the ability to problem solve. It’s also important to note that not only are these deficits caused by ingesting high-sugar diets but it’s also due to the microbial changes in gut health stemming from these diets. So next time you reach for juice or soda, be good to your gut and brain, instead opt for sparkling water or a low sugar tea.
This is one of the go-to toppings for sandwiches but eating cured meats such as prosciutto, bacon, pastrami, ham and capicola too often can leave your brain foggy. When you’re feeding your body high salt and protein-rich foods, the body has to increase the amount of water needed to flush out the nitrogen found in these foods. This can leave you feeling dehydrated and as we covered at the beginning of this article, this leads to more difficulty concentrating.
Not only that but processed meats have also been associated with general cognitive decline. You can replace these high-salt meats with avocado to keep you going and your body balanced.
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In this article we’ve covered some ways you can have a positive impact on your focus and attention throughout the day through the small act of making some dietary changes. Adding these changes to your daily habits can have large and lasting positive effects on your brain health. Let’s go over what we’ve learned:
- Drink more water!
- Some of your concentration problems can come from dehydration. So drink up!
- Eat more blueberries
- These powerhouses are loaded with the nutrients and antioxidants needed to keep you from that mid-day slump in productivity
- Don’t forget about the avocados
- These fruits are so amazing. Your brain will be sure to thank you for adding these to your diet. Their creamy texture and light flavour allows you to add them to a number of dishes throughout the day.
- Eat your leafy green!
- Spinach and kale are will help your neurons communicate better and fire more efficiently. Need I say more?
We also went into a couple common foods we should try to avoid
- Saturated fats and refined carbohydrates are a no no for long-term brain health and can lead to that low energy period in the middle of your day.
- Fruit juices
- These high sugar drinks can lead to a multitude of cognitive issues.
- Cured meats
- Not only can these negatively affect our needed cognitive functioning, but they can also lead to dehydration, leading to brain fog.
Being more mindful with our food choices throughout the day can have a huge effect on our short-term focus and long-term cognitive health.
We’ve gone over only a couple of nutrient dense foods that can lead you on a road to better focus. Try them out while avoiding some of the common culprits and watch your productivity increase.