Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mental Athlete

As with a physical athlete, the mental athlete (or, as we call him nowadays, "knowledge worker") should pay attention to what he puts into his body.


Besides adopting good overall nutrition, remain aware that the brain runs on glucose, and is quite a pig. Familiarize yourself with the concept of glycemic load. Don't skip breakfast; your blood glucose levels are low when you wake up. Based on basic biochemistry, vitamin or protein deficiencies are presumably harmful as well to cognition.


Caffeine raises alertness and (at larger doses) increases mental performance. Habituation poses a significant problem, especially at 900 mg/day or more. Happily, lower doses appear not to cause complete habituation, even in the long run. The half-life of caffeine is about five hours, with some caveats. So, if you drink two cups of coffee with dinner, you might have as much trouble sleeping as if you drank a single cup at midnight.

Prescription Nootropics

Modafinil improves working memory and may be neuroprotective. Ritalin (Methylphenidate) focuses attention (which can be a good thing or a bad thing) but carries a risk of habituation. The long-term effects of most nootropics are unknown.


Stress tends to increase mental fatigue, as does a lack of sleep.

See also:



You might want to add aerobic exercise to your list. There's some indication that moderate exercise benefits cognition, especially in older people.


The racetams (piracetam, aniracetam, etc.) seem to have a small positive effect on cognitive ability and some neuroprotective capability as well. These are prescription in Europe but still OTC in the USA.

I mention them largely because they don't require prescription, so they may be a possibility for some of us.

Daniel Lucraft

900mg a day is about 30 cans of coke, according to this:

I'm not surprised that might cause problems...