Athletes Need to Train Their Brains

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The average adult brain represents approximately 2% of total body weight. Your brain is constantly firing, even when you're asleep.(1)

In fact, your brain accounts for 20 percent of the energy your body uses. That might not seem like a lot, but it's the same amount used by your skeletal muscles, which comprise 40 to 50 percent of your body weight. If you want to perform at your best, you have to train your brain. (See also Develop Your Brain Game.)

How to Get More Out of Your Brain 

  • Get enough bright light every day. Light increases the brain's serotonin levels, needed to enhance mood and vitality.(2)
  • Reduce blood pressure, since low blood pressure has a positive effect on cognitive function.(3)
  • Eat foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Eat blueberries since they can boost memory in older individuals (and could be important for veteran athletes).(4)
  • Eat a healthy breakfast and try not to skip meals.
  • Get plenty of aerobic exercise, since it may help preserve brain size (gray matter volume) and reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.(5)
  • Perform strength training at least once or twice a week.(6)
  • Get adequate rest, relaxation and sleep, since it helps repair and restore the body and brain.(7) A study showed that sleep following physical therapy sessions promotes off-line motor learning of the skills practiced during rehabilitation.(8) This implies that you need to sleep in order to retain and learn whatever your coach taught you in practice.
  • Be socially interactive with many people by joining clubs, volunteering or teaching.(9) Being a lone wolf does not help your brain.
  • Challenge your brain in as many ways as possible by engaging in music, art, reading, writing, math, and dancing—and play games like chess, crossword puzzles or computer games.

For further information, check out the following websites:


(1) Clark DD, Sokoloff L. "Circulation and energy metabolism of the brain." In Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven, 1999.

(2) Brawley EC. "Enriching light design." NeuroRehabilitation. 2009;25(3):189-199.

(3) Nagai M, Hoshide S, Kario K. "Hypertension and dementia." American Journal of Hypertension. 2010;23(2):116-124.

(4) Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, et al. "Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2010;58(7):3996-4000.

(5) Erickson KI, Raji CA, Lopez OL, et al. "Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: The Cardiovascular Health study." Neurology, 2010; 75(16):1415-1422.

(6) Liu-Ambrose T, Nagamatsu LS, Graf P, et al. "Resistance training and executive functions: a 12-month randomized controlled trial." Archives of Internal Medicine. 2010;170(2):170-178.

(7) Lupien SJ, Fiocco A, Wan N, et al. "Stress hormones and human memory function across the lifespan." Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005;30(3):225-242.

(8) Siengsukon CF, Boyd LA. "Does sleep promote motor learning? Implications for physical rehabilitation." Physical Therapy. 2009;89(4):370-383.

(9) Ybarra O, Burnstein E, Winkielman P, et al. "Mental exercising through simple socializing: social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning." Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin. 2008;34(2):248-259.


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