Do you ever have that moment when you’re really in the flow… you’re getting stuff done, feeling kind of sharp, you’re on it, maybe even really creative, and then the next minute, you can’t remember what you were just doing?
Do you know what happened? Your brain’s fuel tank went dry.
Your Prefrontal Cortex, what we call the executive center of the brain, is located right behind the forehead, and it’s responsible for things like decision making, prioritization, impulse control and problem-solving. Your PFC is the beginning of any kind of learning and acts as the gateway into your brain for any kind of new data. It’s working memory – there’s no storage here.
But it’s not a limitless, endless resource for thinking and giving attention. There’s actually a little fuel tank attached to this part of your brain. It runs on glucose, water, and fat, and has about 20 to 90 minutes worth of fuel in that tank at any given time.
What we often do is treat our brains as if they have an unlimited tank of fuel. If you were going on a cross-country road trip, would you just jump in your car and expect to just drive until you got there?
No, of course not. You’d stop. And why would you stop? To use the bathroom, get food and get fuel. But your gas tank only holds so much fuel. When we take a trip like that, most of us, if we’re smart, plan for that.
So what kind of plan would you make to ensure you don’t run out of gas? How would you construct that trip? It’s likely you’d determine how many miles you get per tank of gas, and where each gas station was along the way. And how would you make the decision of where to stop? How empty do you think you’d let that tank get? Probably pretty empty.
What seems like the most efficient way is to start with a full tank, drive until it’s almost empty, and then fill it all the way up and drive again until it’s empty. And guess what we do when we get up, go to work and just start executing our day? We start with a “full tank”, drive until it’s empty, pull over and get enough gas to JUST get us to the next exit. Then we drive until it’s empty again, stop at the next exit, fill up enough to get to the very next exit, and we do that over and over and over again for the remainder of the day. That’s why we think that cognitive energy-wise, we start our day, we reach “optimal performance,” and as long as we’re at work, sitting at our desk, we’re maintaining that same level of performance until we go home.
But what actually happens is once we get to empty that first time, we pretty much spend the rest of the day in “mediocre performance land.” We may get a little bit bump of energy here and there, but right at about 2 o’clock… you know what happens… the 2 o’clock slump.
But it turns out it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways that you can manage this tank so you don’t burn out. There are ways that you can learn how to reset and fill that tank back up on a regular, consistent basis throughout the day, so you don’t hit that slump.
One of those ways is to fuel yourself with brain food. We’ve compiled a list of the 50 best brain foods out there. Stock up on these and you will be on your way to better brain and body health.
- Almonds, raw
- Almond milk, unsweetened
- Beans (black, pinto, garbanzo)
- Bell peppers (yellow, green, red, and orange)
- Brussels sprouts
- Cheese, low fat
- Chicken, skinless
- Egg whites, DHA enriched
- Olive oil
- Red grapes
- Tea, green
- Turkey, skinless
- Whole wheat
- Wild salmon
- Yams and sweet potatoes
- Yogurt, unsweetened