Effects of Nutrition and Exercise on Cognitive Performance

Effects of Nutrition and Exercise on Cognitive Performance

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Long gone are the days of cigarettes and a few beers before any game regardless of sport (darts is the exception) with diet, nutrition and fitness being a fundamental component of any players regime if they are looking to succeed.

However, we normally associate the above with tennis, soccer, football, rugby etc. Whereby our bodies need to be in peak condition in order to gain an edge over the competitor.

There are new ways of thinking that are not only concerned about our physical prowess but also are cognitive powers. Okay, you may not be entering the Rubix cube championship any time soon, but any sport rarely involves no thinking power, thus, for optimal cognitive performance you need an optimal nutrition and exercise regime in place, as you would for the body.


Your brain requires the correct diet and nutrition as much as your muscles do for peak performance. Your thinking muscle requires protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats to function properly and it is often overlooked in the quest for a six pack instead.

And, like a diet high in refined foods and high sugars, your brain is going to perform as horrendously as the rest of your physical appearance will look.

This is shown in people who have type-2 diabetes, these adults tend also to have memory impairment due to an ingestion of high glycemic index carbohydrate foods. In short, shit foods lead to a shit cognitive performance, plus other diseases such as diabetes.

This doesn’t just stop at sugars, a high intake of saturated fats will also have a negative effect on brain function. Yet, in reverse, a high consumption of vitamins, minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids can assist and improve with our brain.

It may seem simple and may not see like rocket science, you may also think that a degree in sports science, nutrition and neurology is required but it is not. A balanced diet; eating the right, nutritious, whole foods is what is required to maintain peak physical and mental performance.

Be very aware of your food intake, but also remember it is simple and easy to get the correct foods you require, so also look to eat the following:

  1. Vegetables and fruit
  2. Fish, chicken (white meats) and nuts
  3. Whole grains
  4. Good fats – see above re: fish and nuts
  5. Water
  6. Fibrous foods


Unfortunately our body cannot produce everything it needs for correct operation, thus we need to get it through our diet.

Things like Omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by the body yet are necessary for numerous bodily functions such as building cell membranes in the brain.

The best source of Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut. These fish contain types of Omega-3 fatty acids that we need, known as Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Research has shown that not only are the fatty acids crucial for brain development they are monumental in cognitive performance for both memory and executive processing but also for behavioral processing.

Heart foundations across the world recommending these oily fish twice weekly.


Subjects of a study found that their cognitive ability improved when they had higher levels of vitamin C, D, E the family of B vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids.

On the other side of the coin, those on a diet of fried, processed foods high in trans fats had much poorer cognitive performance.


Studies have shown that exercise is also great for cognitive performance. It seems physical activity has a direct impact on brain health, and running barefoot also aids cognition.

Both aerobic and anaerobic activities are shown to help and it is great to get a mix of both as it helps with memory and executive processing functions.

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Ben BA(Hons), PGCert

Ben established this site to be a free resource in 2015. Since then it has gained over half a million visits. He has always been interested in sport and he started playing rugby at the age of 6 represented his town, county and school. Ben also enjoys cycling, has started skiing and is in the Army Reserve representing his Regiment as part of the 150 Regimental Shooting Team. He holds a bachelor's and postgraduate degree in sport exercise & nutrition.
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