Written by Jack Boardman
Does Your Diet Affect Your Stress Levels?
The link between a healthy body and healthy mind shouldn’t be ignored. Take a look at our article on how exercise helps your stress levels in which we explained how exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers, and also improve your ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
But What Other Measures Can You Take To Keep On Top Of Those Stress Levels?
As well as a regular exerciser regime, you might take a look at what kind of fuel you’re running on. Exercise and the right fuelling increase your overall health. Whether you attend the gym, are a serious athlete or have any aspirations to exercise at all, what you put into your body on a regular basis could be a simple step to reducing your stress levels.
When we encounter something stressful, our bodies receive signals from our nervous systems and adrenal glands, which affect how we respond – in other words, our basic instincts, which determine fight or flight in an unsettling situation. In stressful circumstances our bodies instinctively lower less urgent functions in order to react. Digestion is one of the functions that becomes a lower priority when you’re stressed. Stress can therefore make you lose your appetite.
Picture a stressful time when you’ve been you’ve been solely focused on something at work or a matter that’s been on your mind – food was likely the last thing on your mind. However, your body needs its protein, carbs, fats and vitamins in order to cope effectively, otherwise you wind up in a negative spiral in which you’re stressed because you’re running on empty. For athletes, regular exercises and weight-lifters, stress can therefore be an even greater burden on your health gains. Where strength and muscle growth are an aim, the effects of stress on your digestion and appetite are ultimately detrimental to what you’ve worked so hard for in the gym, meaning that your energy levels and the quality of your workout will also suffer.
When you’re feeling the strain and you’re under a lot of stress, eat little and often to keep your metabolism working, rather than making yourself tired from eating too much at once, or equally weary from low blood sugar.
What do you need to consume? You should do your best to maintain a balanced diet to keep up your strength in order to deal with stress. In particular, make sure you get plenty of the following:
#1 Vitamin C
Helps to keep your immune system strong. Good sources include orange juice, strawberries, broccoli and peppers.
Can reduce inflammation, which is triggered by stress. Cases of depression and low mood have been linked to a deficiency of omega-3s, so stock up! Sources include fish and walnuts.
Produces a calming effect, which can act as a muscle relaxant, and can be found in spinach, tofu and almonds.
#4 Vitamin B
Has anxiety-easing properties and can be found in green beans, milk, chicken and asparagus, to name a few.
#5 Vitamin D
Has many advantages and a surplus in the cold winter months can affect your overall health and gym performance, aiding stronger bones and muscle function. In the summer, it’s a good excuse to take a walk to rid you of your stress as the sun is a natural source.
What Should You Avoid?
Sugar, salt, caffeine and carbonated drinks have the ability to leave you irritable and increase your heart rate, which is already feeling the strain of all that stress. Knock them on the head and find suitable replacements so that you don’t trouble yourself further by missing them. Eat fruit in place of sweets, from which you’ll get the vitamins you need, and drink herbal teas instead of coffee – camomile and ginger teas have soothing effects and can help with the symptoms of unsettled, stressed stomachs.
Though it might seem a good idea when you’re feeling stressed, the effects of alcohol will add to your troubles. Alcohol can serve as a depressant so your mood may be lower and your stress levels even higher the morning after imbibing. When it comes to your overall physical health, the dehydration and loss of nutrients from drinking alcohol will leave you more susceptible to stress and inhibit your sports performance.