ROLE OF NUTRITION IN MENTAL HEALTH

Since our childhood, we have always learned that eating healthy food will help our physical well-being. What we ignore is that proper nutrition is also necessary for our mental health. A healthy and balanced diet is not only essential for our physical health but also our mental health. Proper nutrition and a well-balanced diet will help us think more clearly and make us more active. It also helps to increase our attention span and improves our concentration 

An improper and unhealthy diet can cause fatigue, impaired decision-making, and slow down the quick response to any situation. Lack of proper nutrition also increases the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Considering the above, we can say that there is a crucial role of nutrition in mental health and we can’t ignore it.

Today, Covid-19 is drastically affecting the entire world. It is also leaving behind worse effects on the mental health of the people. Where the general population is getting negative effects on its mental health, athletes are getting affected by its impact. Covid-19 has disturbed the sports industry so hard that many competitions like Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and international championship events have been postponed. Most of the gyms and training centers are also closed since last year owing to which the training schedule of athletes is also getting affected. In all these circumstances, many of the athletes are getting off from their training tracks and have adopted a sedentary lifestyle in which they are feeding on unhealthy foods. Athletes are spending more time on screen, less physical activity, and disturbed sleep patterns. These activities are not only causing physical deconditioning but also creating the signs of depression, frustration, and decreased enthusiasm in athletes. Disrupted sleep patterns are one of the key factors impacting the mental health of athletes. 

Athletes need to take a healthy diet and proper nutrition. This will help them in getting positive energy in their mind and in courage them to adopt back their previous routines. It is also true that they can't go back to gyms and training centers like before. Even so, they can contact their coaches to take tips to maintain their endurance and strength. Food solutions that can help mental wellbeing and their sources are discussed in the following section so an athlete can incorporate them into their diet to achieve positive outcomes on mental health:

1. Eat Food Rich in Omega 3 Fatty acids

There is a lot of research evidence that suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids have a major role in brain functioning with deficiencies in Omega 3 linked to mental health problems. Athletes can supplement their diet with sources of Omega 3 from the following: 

(a) Fish – Sardines, Anchovy, Salmon, Mackerel 

(b) Vegetarian – Flax seeds, Chia Seeds, Walnuts, 

 2. Increase intake of Probiotics 

Probiotics improve digestives health is a well-known fact. However, the latest research shows that bacteria in the gut receive and send signals to the brain via the gut-brain axis. Athletes can supplement their diet from the following sources:

(a) Yogurt

(b) Probiotic enriched foods like buns 

(c) Kefir

(d) Tempeh

 3. Incorporate Whole Grains into Diet

Whole grains are a natural source of B Vitamins. Vitamin B1 is involved in the conversion of glucose to energy. Vitamin B6 is involved in the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Vitamin B12 is involved in the production of serotonin and dopamine which help regulate mood. 

Athletes can supplement their diet with whole grains from the following sources: 

(a) Quinoa

(b) Brown Rice

(c) Millets

(d) Amaranth

 4. Have a Hearty Breakfast

Whether one is an athlete or not, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should not be skipped at all. Research has found that people who had breakfast regularly were always in a better mood than those who skipped or had breakfast seldom. Athletes can incorporate the following into the breakfast routine: 

(a) Foods that are rich in fiber, nutrients, and good fats. 

(b) Incorporating fruits and nuts. 

5. Increase intake of Folate rich Vegetables

Low folate levels in the body have been a connection with depression symptoms. Folate deficiency can impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Athletes can incorporate the following into their diet to improve folate levels: 

(a) Spinach

(b) Turnip greens

(c) Okra 

(d) Broccoli

(e) Lentils

6. Increase intake of foods rich in Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known to have a direct link with serotonin, the neurotransmitter that influences our mood. Athletes can incorporate Vitamin D into their diet from the following sources: 

(a) Fish - Salmon 

(b) Cheese 

(c) Eggs Yolks

(d) Milk fortified with Vitamin D Milk