How To Get Sharper: Nutrition & Recovery

Just like a computer, your brain in a sense has both hardware and software.

Your hardware is the structure and quality of your brain, which can change moment to moment.

The software is the thoughts you routinely have, the quality of your imagination, your attitudes towards life, your beliefs and how you respond to your emotions.

This article will discuss means to optimize the hardware. Whatever you have going on with the ‘software’ side of things will be amplified as the neurotopography of your brain is strengthened. If you brain is in good working order, you are in good working order.

If it is performing below par, so will you. Oftentimes, extreme behaviors that seem like a failure of willpower or morality are in fact the output of a diseased brain. It stands to reason that many unhealthy behaviors, not quite a disease, are the output of a brain that hasn’t been fully optimized.

Nutritional strategies for brain optimization:

Your brain runs off of sugar and is made of fats. It uses, among other things, modified amino acids as neurotransmitters.

The brain is of course, made of primarily of nerves and a few other tissues. It is at it’s essence a highly sophisticated electrochemical computer, transmitting signals using specific chemicals down pre-set pathways that science is sill working hard to characterize.

An individual nerve functions both like a wire and a self-charging battery, sending and receiving chemical signals then recharging itself.

Transmitting this signal requires a sort of ‘insulation’ around the nerve/wire. A special fatty protein called ‘myelin’ provides this insulation. The better quality myelin you have, the higher fidelity your nerve transmissions.

Supporting myelinization of your nerves requires healthy fats. Those of plant origin in particular, avocados and also fish oil are best suited to support healthy brain function.

Sugar is the only fuel your brain can use. When you’re not consuming carbs, your brain will force your body to catabolize proteins into sugars. Low glycemic carbs will fuel your cognitive processes without interfering with your fitness goals.

The human brain is dependent upon sugars to function. This fact is reflected in the relatively new word “hangry.”

Low blood sugar is the first, best, and strongest stimulation to eat and if food isn’t immediately forthcoming, you get irritable. This irritability occurs with nearly any kind of brain dysfunction, it’s literally your brain telling you it’s starving and unable to function optimally.

Just like with other facets of fitness, you need to consume quality carbs to keep your brain running like a well oiled machine; essentially a combination of complex carbs and fiber.

This will keep your blood sugar levels both adequate as well as stable so the insulin effect doesn’t inadvertently lower your energy levels and render you unable to concentrate.

Supplementation strategies:

There are a litany of supplements that can enhance brain function. They are listed here, along with a brief description of what they can do to improve your cognitive function

Aceyl-l-carnatine: The most measurable and direct effect of ALC is up-regulation of neural mitochondria in the central nervous system. Simply put, it up regulates your brain and with it dozens of neurotransmitters responsible for mood, cognition, and focus.

These effects have been repeatedly confirmed over the years by scores of well controlled studies. Effects are reported within 20 minutes of ingestion but perhaps curiously, ALC is not a stimulant.

This substance up-regulates the function of your mitochondria, the furnace of your cells. With ALC this occurs primarily in your brain, enhancing your cognitive function. 

Effective doses range between 500-1500mg/day. Effects will be most noticeable for those experiencing fatigue and cognitive decline from stress.

Omega -3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids a.k.a. fish oil are unsaturated lipids with a double bond at carbon three. Colloquially they’re called ‘omega threes’ though the proper nomenclature is ‘omega minus three’ indicating a double bond between carbons 3-4 for those of you who care about these details. These fats comprise a significant portion of the cellular membrane (the ‘skin’ of the cell,) as well as they myelin sheath around nerve cells.


Your nerves are nestled in a protective sheath called myelin that protects the fidelity of the signal they send. Omega-3 makes it easy for your body to maintain myelin and with it long term brain health.

The latter effect is what is responsible for fish oil’s cognitive enhancing effects, which begin to occur at doses of 2-4 grams of oil per day. Raising the dose to 9 grams per day may also help reduce blood pressure for those with hypertension.

L-theanine: Theanine is a powerful supplement for augmenting your brain, producing significant upticks in both dopamine and serotonin levels. It exhibits cognitive effects consistent with a low dose of ADHD medication but without any serious stimulant effects.

In fact, theanine actually reduces heart rate and blood pressure and produces a mild sensation of relaxation. It readily dissolves in water, making it ideal for taking in tea form. Green tea leaves typically have 1-2% theanine by weight. Ideal dosing lies between 50-200mg/day.

This substance up-regulates both dopamine and serotonin in your brain, enhancing both your ability to focus as well as your sense of well being. L-theanine is especially recommended for people with ADHD. 

L-theanines effects on neurotransmitters combined with it’s relaxing properties make it an ideal synergist with caffeine. While caffeine can result in overstimulation if taken in excess, theanine counteracts those effects while providing cognitive enhancing attributes of it’s own. If caffeine leaves you feeling burnt out after lunch, consider adding theanine tablets to your regimen.

Ginko Biloba: Enhances blood circulation in the brain rendering an overall boost to all aspects of brain function and cognition. Rather than working on neurotransmitters, the augmented blood flow allows your brain to power it’s pathways at an accelerated rate which up regulates downstream neurotransmitter quality. It’s use is fairly straightforward, 60-120mg two times per day for optimal brain function. 

This supplement increases blood flow to the brain. This seemingly simple action noticeably increases focus, sense of well being and even intelligence, all without overstimulation. 

Racetams: These are cognitive enhancing substances that work in a manner similar to nicotine, though the effects are primarily confined to the brain. The European Medecines Agency (EMA,) regulates it as a drug.

It is not recognized for any medical purposes in the united states, nor may it be sold as a supplement after the FDA issued warning letters to US distributors in 2011. It may be imported for individual or research based purposes.  

These are cognition enhancing drugs not available in the USA. They have memory enhancing properties with very few side effects. Racetams can be purchased overseas and imported legally. 

Substances in this class include piracetam, aniracetam and oxyracetam. They work very similarly and in fact are all ultimately metabolized into piracetam by the liver. Typical dosing is 800mg. Be forewarned that the typical method of taking it, via dissolution in water, tastes terrible with a very intense bitter flavor. It has amazing effects on learning and recall.