Eating for Your Brain: Concussion Nutrition
Read any food label and you’re likely to be overwhelmed with all of the nutrient values and percentages of this or that. With so many different diets available and food allergies and aversions, making smart food decisions can feel as challenging as being goalie when the entire team decides to shoot on net in training. Nevertheless, there are some food options that can help your brain health and improve concussion recovery too.
The Reality of Concussions
Our understanding of concussions and what they do to athletes’ overall health has developed exponentially recently. Awareness is up and clubs are taking steps to be smart about athlete brain health. QC Mutiny’s young players start out with concussion baseline testing before the Development Academy season even begins. After all, we want to prioritize player safety.
For instance, did you know ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman’s career was cut short by concussions? In his all-too-short, eight-year career playing for New England Revolution, he scored 101 goals and was the youngest, fastest MLS player to reach the 100-goal plateau. Yet, in 2008, he suffered his 7th and final concussion, but refused to come off the field. In fact, he played eight more weeks. Today, he says, “I should have left the field immediately. If only better decisions were made.”
Common symptoms of concussion include:
• Difficulty thinking clearly
• Feeling disoriented
• Inability to follow directions
• Nausea and vomiting
Of course, all concussions can’t be avoided. If only. But there are some healthy eating choices athletes can make to aid brain health and resiliency or improve concussion recovery times.
Feed Your Brain
No one food is going to save your brain from the effects of a concussion. This is not like Popeye growing mega-muscles with spinach. However, there are certain foods that can improve your levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which are known to drop when you are concussed. Research suggests that eating the following, within a day of your concussion, can speed recovery and support brain healing.
Protein — Protein-rich foods such as fish, lean meats, eggs, and nuts can help heal your brain. Of course, if nausea and vomiting are one of your symptoms, you would have a more difficult time stomaching these. In that case, try a shake with a why protein supplement (you might add an avocado too for the benefits of healthy fats).
Creatine — A 2000 study found this supplement increases energy production in brain cells and gives your brain a boost by preserving mitochondrial function. The study, checking cortical damage on mice and rats, also suggested creatine can help protect against traumatic brain injury.
Fish oil — It’s super tasty, right? Oh well, it’s worth it. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA reduce brain inflammation and help build strong, flexible cell membranes. A 2004 study suggests taking fish oil can be preventative medicine too as “omega-3 enriched dietary supplements can provide protection against reduced plasticity and impaired learning ability after traumatic brain injury.”
Vitamin D — You’d think with all of the time you spend out in the sun on the soccer field, you wouldn’t have to worry about a shortage of Vitamin D. Yet many of us are low in this vitamin which is neuroprotective and can help prevent concussive symptoms from lingering.
Dairy — Many dairy products — cheese, milk and yogurt — can help with concussion recovery. Yogurt is also rich with probiotics to help with healing.
What to Avoid
Those with head injuries may suffer from any of these common food-related complaints. Be wary of:
• Sugar and chocolate as they can increase headaches
• Overeating, which can make you feel sleepy
• Waiting to feel hungry — your brain/body signals could be off so eat by the clock instead
• Relying on your sense of smell to inform your sense of food freshness, many lose this sense (short-term) after a brain injury.
No matter how badly you may feel after a concussion, it’s important to keep eating. Your brain needs calories to function, so you need to keep feeding your mind to help it recover.