Food to power the brain

England International Women’s Chess Coach Lorin D’Costa invited me to write an article to support how young chess contestants should eat to improve mental performance for a tournament. Here it is:

Nutrition is essential when it comes to brain health and concentration. The brain uses up 20% of your child’s resting energy each day. The more thinking they do, the higher this value can go, so eating properly is key to remaining focused.

Certain nutrients can help support your child’s learning and boost brain efficacy. A good starting point when preparing for a tournament is to ensure your child gets healthy protein, fat and carbohydrates with each meal.

In many UK households, kids have been conditioned to start their day with a bowl of sugary cereal, often with skimmed milk and jam on toast. Switching to healthier alternatives such as porridge with full fat milk or salmon and eggs on seeded bread, will help give your child the brain power they need to set off for a chess tournament.

With the added stress on the day, kids may crave sugar to keep them going. My best advice would be to snack on foods high in protein and fats such as nuts, seeds, yoghurt, oatcakes with hummus and my favourite, apples dipped in almond butter. All too often, children are given a bar of chocolate or some biscuits for a ‘boost of energy’, but these sugary foods simply disrupt blood sugar balance, ultimately reducing optimal brain function.

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day whilst avoiding sugary fruit juices and fizzy drinks will help keep your child hydrated. Although caffeine can help with focus and alertness, I would avoid giving it to children altogether.

Focusing on feeding your family well not just in a run up to a tournament, but all year round will give them the best support when it comes optimising their capabilities.

Some of the most well researched brain foods include eggs, oily fish, quality meat, berries, nuts, seeds, whole grains and an array of vegetables.

Adding in some pre- and probiotic foods such as onions, garlic, artichoke, cacao powder, kefir yoghurt and fermented miso, can be beneficial. Scientists have found that there is a strong gut-brain connection and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome can support mood, sleep and brain function.

On a final note, maintaining a general ratio of 80:20 of healthy to unhealthy food choices is good enough! For your child to succeed, they need to have balance and feel loved. Reminding them of this throughout the process will help keep their minds at rest and better able to focus on the challenges ahead.