woman choosing between apple and cupcake

WARNING! Your mood is about to take a nosedive!

From the time you crawled out of bed this morning, you made a series of nutritional errors that will have a direct and negative effect on your disposition.

As luck would have it, director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Sports Medicine Leslie Bonci knows exactly how you can correct those eating errors and keep your spirits high!

“It’s difficult to be in good character when you’re feeling hungry or if your body is lacking key nutrients,” she said. “There are quite a few things we can do, food-wise, to help.”

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Eat a Balanced Breakfast

First, to avoid a mid-morning energy crash, Leslie suggests eating a balanced breakfast that includes lots of fiber and nutrients, some lean protein, good fats, and whole-grain carbs.

“Treating yourself to a doughnut or breakfast dessert probably makes you happy while eating it,” she said. “But the effects of simple carbohydrates like these don’t last long, and they leave you feeling sluggish.”

Some smart breakfast choices include fresh fruit, unsweetened whole-grain cold cereal, skim milk, whole-wheat English muffins or toast, natural peanut butter, oatmeal, and hard-cooked eggs. To remain alert and on top of your game, Leslie recommends eating smaller, regular meals throughout the day.

Include Protein for Fuel

“Try to include protein in the meals to help stabilize your blood sugar and keep your body feeling fueled all day long,” she said. “If you put poor quality fuel in, like junk food, your body will feel it.”

On days when you’re careening down a path toward gloominess, foods with Vitamin C, like citrus fruits or kiwis, can turn your mood in the right direction, according to Leslie. Further, researchers have noted that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may be mood stabilizers, playing a role in mental well-being.

“Good plant-based sources of this nutrient include ground flaxseed, cauliflower, red kidney beans and broccoli,” she said. “Plus, it can help increase the serotonin levels in your brain.”

Serotonin, known as a mood regulator, is made naturally in the brain from tryptophan, with some help from the B vitamins. As more tryptophan enters the brain, more serotonin is synthesized, and mood tends to improve.

Choose ‘Smart’ Carbs

“You can actually boost your tryptophan levels by eating more carbohydrates, but it’s important to make smart choices, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes,” Leslie said.

If you’re still not feeling as happy as you’d like, try eating more foods with the mineral selenium.

“Studies have shown that low selenium intake is linked to gloomier moods,” she said. Some selenium-rich foods (not including organ meats with high cholesterol) are oysters, albacore tuna, clams, lean lamb, pork tenderloin, sunflower seeds, flour tortillas, soy nuts, tofu, pinto beans, low-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat yogurt.

When it’s time to unwind at the end of the day, foods high in fat or sugar stimulate the feel-good endorphins in the brain, resulting in pleasant feelings of calmness, Leslie said.

Go Easy on Caffeine

“And don’t overdo caffeine,” she warned. “In people with sensitivity, caffeine may exacerbate depression. If caffeine keeps you awake at night, this could certainly affect your mood the next day.”

Leslie says the scientific community still has much to learn about how our diet affects our disposition. The concept is based on altered behavior: Dietary changes can bring about changes in our brain structure, chemistry and physiology, which can lead to changes in behavior.

“The good news is that most of the mood-related food recommendations offer other health benefits as well, so it’s a win-win situation,” she said. “My best advice is to aim for moderation instead of abstinence.

“Your favorite foods may make you feel great. Enjoy them every once in a while.”

Visit UPMC Sports Medicine Center online to learn more about sports nutrition.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.