"We've been researching the impact of nutrition on brain function for more than a decade,″ says study author Matthew Kuchan, Ph.D., a research fellow and brain health scientist at Abbott. ″These results confirm that by combining the right nutrition and exercise, people who are facing high-multi-tasking situations can stay sharp physically and mentally when they need it most."
But you don't have to be a member of the Air Force to reap these same performance benefits. Here's how each of the key ingredients in the study's nutrition beverage can help you perform at your very best, both physically and mentally, and a few ways you can incorporate more of them into your diet.
Protein is the nutritional basis for muscle health, which impacts both physical strength and cognition. And, as Abbott research has shown, many adults consistently fall short of getting enough protein.
To get more of this key nutrient, prioritize protein-rich foods such as lean meats, seafood, eggs, dairy, soy, legumes, quinoa, nuts and seeds in your diet. You can also up your intake with a milk protein-based targeted nutrition beverage such as Ensure® Max Protein.
Lutein is a carotenoid that's responsible for the bright color of several foods, including bell peppers, carrots, corn, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, avocados, oranges and melons. It can also be found in dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale.
But why do we need lutein? In addition to supporting eye health, a study of supplemental lutein in healthy young adults has resulted in improved spatial memory, reasoning ability and complex attention.
Concentrated within the brain, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to improved cognitive function. It does this by strengthening the connections between neurons as well as reducing markers of inflammation.
Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are great whole sources of DHA, as are avocados, walnuts and olive oil.
Phospholipids are a foundational component of cell membranes found throughout the body. They're a type of lipid, or fatty acid, that can be found in foods such as egg yolks, milk and certain seafood, including fish and roe.
Recent research has shown that phospholipids can play an important role in improving a variety of cognitive processes, including lifelong memory and learning.
This compound is instrumental in preserving muscle mass, especially during periods of inactivity. It's a byproduct of the body breaking down the amino acid leucine, which is found in protein. However, our bodies only convert about 5% of leucine into HMB — and that's where targeted nutrition comes in handy.
Experts recommend an intake of three grams of HMB for muscle health. It can be found in foods such as avocado, grapefruit, cauliflower and catfish, but only in tiny amounts. Adding a supplement with HMB, such as the targeted nutrition beverage Ensure® Enlive, to your diet can help you get more of this key compound.
How Else Can Nutrition Fuel Performance?
Vitamins B12 and Folate, C, D, and E also play an essential role in supporting healthy brain function. Specifically, B vitamins help your body get the most mental and physical benefits from protein. Not getting enough of these critical micronutrients can put you at risk for cognitive decline.
Prioritizing a balanced diet of whole foods can help you get the energy and nutrition you need for peak performance and optimal cognition. However, everyone's nutrition needs are different, so it's best to speak with your physician to determine how much you need of each of these vitamins.
Although the drink the airmen received isn't available to the general public, the ingredients it contained can be easily found in your grocery or pharmacy or health supplements store. You may not consume them in the same way, but incorporating them into your diet may help you reap performance benefits nonetheless.