In these series of articles, we will be discussing about the ins and outs of diet and nutrition that are essential in peak mental performance. We will take a glimpse at what our brothers in mental sports, the chess masters, does in their nutritional regimens and see how it can be applicable to our sport. “Brain foods” and supplements that are not only of interest to us memory athletes but also to people who would want to know more about other ways of boosting their memory and preventing cognitive decline, will be given enough room for discussion in their own articles. Another topic to be covered is about Nootropics; these are chemicals or drugs that claim to boost our memory and mental capacity. We will try to shed some light on the risks and benefits of these memory medicines together with the different herbs and supplements like Gingko biloba and Bacopa Monniera. And of course, we will be tackling the different vitamins and minerals that are not only essential in maintaining normal cognitive function but also vital in maintaining a sharp memory. There is a lot to be written when it comes to diet and nutrition, particularly for the memory athlete’s regimen; but let’s take a look at where we are right now…

A Memory Man’s Diet

© geishaboy500 @ flickr

In order to compete in the highest levels of this sport, it is not enough to just focus on an athlete’s memory skills. Much like what most of the professional athletes are doing, we also need to have specific training regimen that not only enhances our skills but also our bodies.

It has been a common practice for professional athletes to breakdown their training programs to manageable areas that are easy to tweak and adjust, to gain even the slightest advantage against their competitors. One such area is in the field of diet and nutrition. By modifying what we eat and how much we eat according to our activities and needs, we are allowing our bodies to function at an optimal state. That is why we frequently see professional athletes who count every calorie they consume, gulp on their supplements, and even take a shot of their own urine, just to get that winning edge.

Food serves as fuel for the body. It directly affects our physical and mental state. Although there are many factors that may influence an athlete’s performance, it is the food intake we receive throughout our preparation and at the actual day of the competition that plays a significant role in our overall performance. But in a sport that is in its nascent form, memory sports athletes have yet to be as regimented in their overall training program (Can’t really say that about our Chinese friends though), especially in diet and nutrition. This is especially true when your world champion is a self-admitted junk food junkie and hails for the forces of fast-food. We can’t argue with the man though, when you are that good, you are almost entitled to do anything.
As much as I want to follow on the footsteps of Mr. Pridmore, I’m not yet sold on the idea that junk food is very much the way to go if you want to be a great memoriser, So I decided to look for other sources of information that may help us in forming a dietary regimen that is better suited for the average memory athlete. Even though the internet is replete with references about “Brain foods and supplements,” resources regarding the nutritional needs and guidelines for a memory competitor are quite lacking. The only available write-up about it that I found is this bit by Christopher regarding in-competition nutrition in his very useful article on how to handle memory competitions:

AVOID DRINKING ALCOHOL on the day before the competition! In addition to that restrict your common alcohol use to maximum one or two drinks a day.

DRINK ENOUGH WATER!

DO NOT DRINK TOO MUCH WATER! In the one hour disciplines you cannot visit the toilet for at least one hour that should be obvious.

EAT WISELY! Eat your breakfast otherwise your level of attention might drop rapidly. Do not eat too much and eat the right food. Tony Buzan told me 2007: It is better to waste food than to waste your body. He added that I could eat everything I want after a championship.

RESTRICT YOUR SUGAR CONSUMPTION especially during competition! Although some memory athletes make world records while eating lots of sugar products this behavior might lead to problems later on. A short term consequence can be that you get tired. Of course you can eat even more sugar but then you might be seriously exhausted on the evening which might be not so good for the next competition day. If you eat lots of sugar on a regular basis this can lead to health problems. However: keep in mind that sweets taste good and enjoy your life! I recommend that you delay sugar consumption to the latest time possible, but in the end you have to find your personal highway to success. World memory champion Ben Pridmore probably would say: as long as you are world champion you can eat any kind of food you like. For championships I recommend pure water along with some fruits and nuts.

The Grand Master’s Diet

© romainguy @ flickr

Even though there are no definite diet that can be called as a “Memory Athlete’s Diet,” there is, however, the Grand Master’s Diet. This is the diet recommended for the Chess Grand Master as presented by Michael Klein in his article in Chess Life [Subscription needed, but full article can be found here]. Thankfully, we have Yury Markushin of thechessworld.com who wrote a masterful summary in his article Chess Diet: eat or play? To wit:

On the importance of diet and nutrition [emphasis mine]…

… Many factors influence player’s performance, but food intake before and during the competition plays significant role in any chess event. Food intake before and during chess tournament significantly affects player’s performance. In particular, nutrition impacts player’s psychological state, alertness, memory recall and overall brain performance – the most crucial characteristics for chess. Therefore, chess players should develop individual diet to fit their needs…

The effect of food during competition…

… All food consumed approximately two hours before the round kicks off will affect how well player feels and performs during the game. Eating too much, too little or simply a wrong type of food can significantly low down player’s position in tournament standing…

A high protein and high carbohydrate diet recommendation…

… Kelly A. Hammer, healthy food expert, recommends a high protein and high carbonate meals before the chess competition begins. “The carbs will help sustain the focus, while the protein will add to the needed nutrients for brain connections”, Hammer says (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 21)…

… Amy Taylor-Brill, healthy food specialist, believes in study that correlates brain activity with protein intake (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 23). There are plenty of options for during a game snacks: nuts, cheese sticks, sandwiches and tuna are all high on protein…

Why take Fish oils, caffeine, and B-complex…

… Nearly all nutrition professionals agree that food rich with fish oil is especially beneficial for chess player’s brain. Skolnik, a professional sport’s nutritionist, states that “there is an of the chart upward trend in use of fish oil by athletes and non-athletes alike” (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 21). It’s believed that Japanese have higher IQs because of regular seafood consumption, rich with food oils (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 21)…

… “caffeine is an individual thing” (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 22). It helps one player to stay alert but the other one can lose concentration and focus because of the drug. I do not trust caffeine during a serious game. One day it can help you to wake up, but another day it can make you sleepy. Consuming caffeine during a game is a gamble: sometime you win, sometime you don’t. That’s why caffeine free drinks are preferred…

…Tiger Woods in his book, How I Play Golf, writes that vitamins B1, B6 and B12 are essential for high accuracy sports (Klein, Grandmaster Diet, 23).  Since playing golf and playing chess require similar rate of concentration vitamins play important role in brain activity. It is a good idea to take a big apple or a banana on game with you…

Conclusion

© D Sharon Pruitt

This sport requires us to be in great mental and physical shape in order to perform well in these gruelling memory competitions. It cannot be denied that diet and nutrition has a direct effect on our overall performance. However, when it comes to how well we do in memory competitions, it all boils down to practice, practice, and more practice. Maybe when the time comes when all of the competitors are at a similar level of skill with Zoomy, the athletes that will dominate are those who have a more superior knowledge on proper diet and nutrition, not to mention those who have access to “Smart drugs.”

There is still a lot to be unwrapped when it comes to diet and nutrition, especially in the area of memory enhancement. What I have presented here is just the tip of a largely undisclosed area. As I mentioned earlier in the introduction, we will devote separate articles for each particular topic as we try to dig deeper into it. A memory athlete’s diet, as it seems, is mostly an individual thing. We will try to present as many information about diet and nutrition that we may able to develop our regimen that suits our preferences. As an ending to this debut article, I will leave you with this witty quip by the current World Memory Champion on a quote attributed to Tony Buzan.

Quite Simply…

“Good Food = Good Brain

Junk Food = Junk Brain”

Tony Buzan

And an alternative quote from someone whose brain is generally held to be not too shabby:

“Junk food is great! What are you talking about, Tony?”

Ben Pridmore (World Memory Champion)