Four foods that can boost athletic performance

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With more and more people looking into whole food, ancestral or evolutionary type diets, more and more athletes are choosing to adopt a paleo-based approach to eating in order to improve their overall performance.

One of the reasons I believe that a paleo type diet is the best template for athletes to build a perfect personalized diet is because, by definition, it includes all of the key factors needed to be healthy, recover well and perform at your best when exercising intensely.

Here are a few foods that can boost physical performance and should be a staple for almost all athletes.

Eggs
Eggs are the most complete source of amino acids and rank the highest when it comes to assessing protein quality based on their biological value.

A single egg contains roughly seven grams of complete protein and contains all of the eight essential amino acids required to build and maintain muscle.

Eggs are loaded with B-vitamins, a great source of vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12. Eggs also contain a lot of choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient that’s similar to B-vitamins that supports proper brain function, and is sometimes used by athletes to delay fatigue in endurance sports.

Eggs are also an excellent source of zinc, which optimizes testosterone production and the building of lean muscle mass, and also a pretty good source of magnesium, which is essential for over 300 cellular functions and is linked to improved intra-workout recovery and better quality sleep.

Egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, making it a convenient way to up your intake without having to sit out in the sun. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and muscles, as well as overall health.

Eggs also contain iron which is required to produce haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.

A complete amino acid profile, a ton of micronutrients, all great for athletes, and surprisingly low-calorie equals one nutrient dense food source for optimising performance.

Grass-fed Butter
For the last 30 years or so, saturated fats like butter have been erroneously considered the number one enemy in conventional medicine, supposedly responsible for heart disease and poor health. However, the scientific community is now clear that saturated fats aren’t bad for us, and in fact are extremely important for overall health.

Grass-fed Butter is literally a Superfood. Nutrient wise it’s very high in Vitamins A, D, E and K2. These vitamins are responsible for hormonal balancing, and cardiovascular health. Magnesium and Zinc are also huge players in the game. By consuming Grass-fed Butter you can balance calcium levels, repair muscles and provide adequate energy during training.

Grass-fed Butter can provide 20 times more ATP during cellular metabolism than can be gained by eating all sorts of processed grains and sugars.

Saturated fats play a critical role on a couple of fronts. First, they are shown to help athletes recover from intense exercise and over-training. Studies have found that athletes who are rundown during periods of intense training typically have low cortisol and low testosterone levels, to go along with fatigue, excessive delayed onset muscle soreness, low libido and low mood… all symptoms of over-training.

Saturated fats can also be a great tool for endurance athletes, because unlike most fats they can be absorbed directly by the gut and used for instant energy. This means the medium chain triglycerides in butter can effectively be used like carbohydrates for energy during runs, rides, swims, or metabolic conditioning.

You get 9 calories when using fats for fuel versus 4 calories when using carbohydrates, so you dramatically improve your fuel efficiency. This can translate into better performance.

Beets
The consumption of large quantities of beets has been found to dramatically increase blood nitrate levels, and in turn boost athletic performance.

This promotes nitric oxide formation, which is a powerful vasodilator that helps increase blood flow to working muscles allowing your mitochondria to produce ATP more efficiently. This creates an ‘anti-fatigue’ effect, meaning you can do the same amount of work for longer period with less stress to the body, producing significant endurance benefits in athletes.

Load up on beet juice daily for five or so days before a competition or consume as a regular part of your diet to reap the benefits.

Coffee
Not necessarily an ancestral or traditional food, coffee can provide a terrific performance boost. There are countless performance-enhancing supplements that are now available on the market, some of them better than others. The best however, if you’re looking to improve your performance, is a the classic cup of black coffee.

Caffeine, found naturally in tea and coffee, is truly one of the best performance-enhancing drugs in the world. In fact, supplemental caffeine is the “secret” ingredient in virtually all the marketed weight loss and performance supplements because it’s so effective.

What can caffeine do for you?

A cup of black coffee is all you need for a natural stimulant and effective pre-workout. Several studies have shown caffeine to boost athletic performance and improve a variety of other health markers.

The effects will vary from person to person, but the peak stimulant effect usually occurs 30-60 minutes after consumption. Once it enters the bloodstream, several responses begin to occur within the body. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, which in turn delivers oxygen to the muscles at a faster rate and fat stores begin to metabolize and are released into the bloodstream. This typically will lead to you feeling energised and ready to workout.

With regards to athletic performance, caffeine has been shown to increase various types of performance when consumed in moderate amounts.

Caffeine has also been shown to give the athlete the ability to train for longer duration and with a higher power output. It has also been shown to improve overall endurance and resistance to fatigue.

Endurance athletes probably benefit the most from the consumption of caffeine. This may be due to the point mentioned above where caffeine consumption can increase the breakdown of fat stores to be used as energy, thus saving stored glycogen for when it is needed most, such as the increased intensity of a sprint to the finish line.

Coffee and Intermittent Fasting

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Intermittent Fasting has become one of the most popular dietary patterns in recent times. It is most popular within the health & fitness industry and many people are tinkering around with it to see if they can benefit from the plethora of health benefits associated with it.

Some of the most common questions surrounding fasting is;

What actually breaks a fast? And, can I have coffee?

The first question is fairly easy. Simply put, you’re eating or you’re not. Now for the coffee.

For most people, I wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not this is the case. The fact that you are already going 12-24 hours without any caloric intake places you ahead of the curve simply by being open to the idea that you don’t have to eat every other hour. Some coffee with full-fat cream isn’t really going to take away what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some people however, myself included, like to look a little deeper. So… let’s start with black coffee.

Here is how black coffee affects some of the more common fasting benefits.

Ketosis
Fasting is a quick and easy way to get into ketosis. You don’t have a choice in the matter. As your body depletes its glucose supply, it will automatically begin to break down excess body fat to produce ketones as a fuel source.

This study found that the consumption of caffeine boosted ketosis in humans.

Fat Burning
Fat burning is another popular benefit of fasting. As stated earlier, coffee has been shown to increase ketosis, so it would be safe to say that coffee also increases fat mobilisation and burning.

Insulin Sensitivity
In the short-term, fasting can reduce insulin sensitivity. This is a physiological measure taken by the body to preserve the little glucose that is remaining for the brain.

The real benefits occur over the long-term, where fasting is an effective way to improve your insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Just about everything that makes you more efficient at fat burning and expending energy, rather than the storing of energy,  like exercise, low-carbohydrate diets and fasting, tend to improve insulin sensitivity over time.

Coffee has a similar effect. In the short-term it reduces insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. With long-term use, coffee improves both insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Many studies have found that the more coffee you drink, the lower your overall risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

Autophagy
Basically, it’s cellular cleanup. Autophagy is one of the ways that the body keeps its cells healthy and maintained, by recycling dead or damaged cells. Fasting is one of the best ways to induce autophagy. It is actually one of major selling points for fasting.

That covers black coffee. What about the common additions to coffee?

Coffee with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil
Technically, this is breaking the fast. If you’re consuming calories (and depending on how much fat you add, it could be a significant amount of calories), these calories break the fast.

Pure fat however, has little to no effect on insulin, blood glucose, or any other measure that would indicate a broken fast.

By adding some fat to your morning coffee, you won’t be burning as much body fat. You will however still be burning a lot of fat.

It will most definitely help you fast for longer periods. For some people, adding some fat to coffee can make fasting more tolerable. If you can go 12 hours on black coffee, but a tablespoon of MCT oil can help you get 16-24 hours, then the addition of MCT oil is probably a good thing.

It shouldn’t affect autophagy. It’s protein consumption that interrupts autophagy. Butter has a small amount, but it shouldn’t interfere unless you’re consuming it in large amounts.

Coffee with cream
An ounce of full-fat cream has almost a gram of carbohydrate (lactose) and protein. Some cream in your coffee won’t affect your fat burning very much, but it might reduce the amount of autophagy. The point here is that your coffee should be black with maybe a tablespoon of full-fat cream.

That being said, if you’re fasting you may be already eating a paleo or ketogenic type diet which have been shown to increase autophagy. This is all a matter of degree and probably still a net win.

The takeaway here is that some autophagy is not zero autophagy.

Coffee with almond / other nut milks
Firstly, why? Black coffee all the way please. Maybe a little full-fat cream. Ok, I there are a lot of people who can not tolerate diary and can’t really stomach black coffee. Enter the almond / other nut milks.

As long as you’re staying away from the sweetened versions, or those fortified with additional proteins, and you’re not having half a cup or more at a time, then a little nut milk won’t make much of a difference.

There isn’t much nutritionally to most nut milks.

Coffee with collagen
Collagen is one of my favourite things to add to my black coffee. It is however, pure protein. Consuming protein tends to increase mTOR and inhibit autophagy. All this means is that having collagen in your coffee during a fast will probably help with fat burning and suppress your appetite for longer, but it will reduce the benefits of autophagy.

Ordering coffee
Try black coffee. Nothing beats it. Drip. Pour-over. Espresso. Long blacks. Whichever the method. It’s the simplest way to maintain a fast.

Ask for full-fat cream. A lot of coffee houses will stock it. Just be careful when using the “cream” that is set out for customer use. That will usually be cream mixed with milk, giving you too much of a protein and carbohydrate hit that will potentially break the fast.

Avoid nut milks. A lot of places will use sweetened nut milks to add flavour to their coffees. They’ll also overdo the amount. An almond latte will have up to 8 ounces of almond milk, which will definitely break your fast.

Simple Strength 1-2-3

It’s not heavy weights that build muscle. It’s not high reps that build muscle. It’s heavy weight with high reps that builds muscle.

– Tom Platz (former American professional bodybuilder)

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Often people try to over complicate everything in life. Tell somebody to define “clean eating” and they will need a 500-page book to explain it, when a simple eat some animal protein at most meals with a variety of vegetables will do. The same applies to the terms “get stronger” or “get in shape”, where it could take multiple books, depending on the discipline to flesh out the finer points.

Getting strong is not that complicated. It is however, hard work.

One of the simplest ways to achieve this is the “one-two-three” method.

How it works
Pick a movement:

  • Push: Bench or Overhead Press;
  • Pull: Pull-up;
  • Hinge: Deadlift;
  • Squat: Front or Back Squat.

Select a load that you can complete five repetitions. It will vary from person to person, but generally it would be about 80% of the individuals max. Now, follow this format:

1-2-3

Complete a single, rest a few seconds, complete a double, rest some more, then complete a triple. That will be a total of six repetitions completed with excellent form. For a more solid workout, run through this method up to three times:

1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3

That is 18 repetitions in a set using a weight that you would normally use for five repetitions!

Rules
Focus on the major movements Push, Pull, Hinge and Squat. Basically, compound multi-joint exercises are best.

Never miss a repetition and don’t chase fatigue. You want to be fresh for each repetition, so rest as long as required. If you have a training partner, the simple “I go, you go” method will be fine.

The weight should feel light and easy. There is no requirement to figure out loading percentages. Just adjust the load by “feel”. The idea here is to increase the effortless efforts to increase your best effort.

Let the volume do the work. Often under appreciated, building muscle mass, getting strong and lean takes time and effort. If you want more strength, you will need a lot of clean repetitions with crisp technique to teach the nervous system to eventually lift the larger loads.

Programming
An easy way to implement this method is to supplement it into your normal training using the 1-2-3 repetition scheme for a chosen movement, one to three days per week.

I have personally found that using this ladder method does wonders for increasing the Pull-up, and have found good results experimenting with other major lifts like the Overhead Press and Deadlift.

Being stronger in these lifts is the secret to power, mass and leanness.

The case for taking a walk after you eat

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At the end of a long day, it can be very tempting to dive into social media or Netflix the minute you’ve finished eating. But back before screens consumed all of our free time, an after-dinner stroll was a popular activity and one associated with improved health and digestion. 

Research backs this up. This study found that when older adults at risk for type-2 diabetes walked on a treadmill for 15 minutes after a meal, they had smaller blood sugar spikes in the hours afterwards. In fact, the researchers found that these short post-meal walks were even more effective at lowering blood sugar after dinner than a single 45-minute walk taken at mid-morning or late in the afternoon.

Simply put, the human digestive system breaks down and converts food into glucose, which is one of the body’s main energy sources. So after a meal, glucose floods a person’s bloodstream. For most people, this is at its highest about 45 to 60 minutes after eating.

Hormones like insulin help transport that glucose into cells, either to be used immediately or stored away for later use. However, for people with diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity, too much glucose can remain in the blood, which can cause or contribute to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and a variety of other health problems.

So, what good does walking do? The muscles used to walk use glucose as energy. This glucose is taken directly from the blood as it is the most readily available energy source. Using energy to walk lowers the glucose levels in the blood.

This means that when your digestive system starts to release glucose into your blood, your blood glucose levels will not spike so dramatically.

This study from 2016 found that just 10 minutes of walking after a meal helped control the blood sugar levels of people with type-2 diabetes.

Along with combatting surges in blood sugar, a little post-meal movement may also aid digestion. Exercise stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.

Here are some of the other health benefits associated to taking a walk after meals:

  • More quality time with friends or family (if not walking alone);
  • Increased vitamin D exposure (in summer months);
  • Improved blood circulation;
  • Decreased triglycerides;
  • Strengthened immune function;
  • Reduced stress;
  • Improved sleep quality.

Even if you can only fit in a quick 10-minute walk in the evening, the long-term benefits will be worth it.

The problem with Stair-master

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The Stair-master is a piece of gym equipment that has been designed to simulate the climbing of stairs. First of all, no machine will ever beat the real life task of climbing a set of stairs or hiking up the side of a mountain. The satisfaction of making it to the summit, along with the view, will always surpass the view of the gym car park or a row of televisions and or mirrors.

However when used correctly, the Stair-master can be used to supplement your training and have some cardiovascular benefits along with being a great tool in developing strength and endurance in the lower body.

This is not always the case as the majority of people are using the machine incorrectly.

The problem with the Stair-master
Almost every time you walk into a gym you will find people who don’t know how to use a Stair-master, or many of the cardio machines for that matter. The machine is meant to simulate climbing up stairs. Pretty basic right? Yet still you will find many people who find it necessary to add all of these un-natural movement patterns to try to complicate a simple movement.

Common mistakes people make on the Stair-master
In no particular order these are just some of the mistakes people make using the Stair-master.

Stair-master kickbacks
Not really sure how this movement developed? Did someone say that this would help give you bigger more developed glutes or did you see someone else doing this exercise so you thought it was worth giving it a go?

Just Squat. And Hinge. The act of kicking out your leg while using the machine does nothing for you other than giving you the impression that you think you’re actually doing something productive.

After you finish squatting, do some glute bridges and kettlebell swings.

Stair-master hanging
There are only two reasons you should need to hang on to the rails of a Stair-master:

  • You’re an older trainer and have poor balance;
  • You’re completely new to working out (or walking) and have developed no balance.

If you fall into the second category, you need to slow the machine down or take a walk around the park.

Stair-master sideways walking
Why? Is it because someone somewhere told you need to try to develop the outside (or inside) of your legs? Those muscles are probably already tight on you and if they’re not then going sideways on a Stair-master isn’t going to fix that.

Stair-master reading
Do you go to the gym to workout or do you go to the gym to read the latest gossip on the bachelor? There is a time and place for everything. Focus on the task at hand. If you want a good workout, then do a good workout.

Stair-master slump
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How often do you walk into the cardio section of the gym and see people slumped over on the Stair-master? The aim of the machine is to simulate the climbing of stairs. There is zero transferable skill to slumping while conducting this movement pattern.

It’s bad enough to sit slumped over at your desk all day, but to go to the gym afterwards and make it worse by slumping over on a machine for an hour? One of the main reasons the gym exists today is to help correct the imbalances created by living in the concrete jungle.

Just slow down, stand up straight, chest up and shoulders back. And get those hands off the rails!

Chasing calories on the Stair-master
Why? Because you need to burn 500 calories so you could eat some food afterwards? Or the night before? There is another whole post here. Chasing calories will not develop successful training or eating patterns.

Firstly, if you’re slumped over and holding onto the rails then the number on the display isn’t even an accurate measure of calories burned.

Secondly, all this is doing is creating a negative relationship with both exercise and food. This will almost always end in failure.

How to use a Stair-master effectively

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This picture tells a thousand words. Try a real set of stairs. Get outdoors and go for a hike. There is no machine that is going to help you with your movement so you actually have to do the work. You can’t lean on anything. You can’t read. It’s just hard work.

And that works.

Using almonds for recovery

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About Recovery
Recovery nutrition encompasses a range of physiological processes that include:

  • Replacing the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores;
  • Replacing fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat;
  • Manufacturing new muscle protein a d cellular components that are part of the repair and adaptation to exercise;
  • Enabling the immune system to face the challenges caused by exercise.

 

Almonds for Sport
Almonds provide a wide range nutrients that help to keep the body healthy for sports and performance. A single handful per day will help meet your needs. Almonds provide protein, as well as monounsaturated fats, including the antioxidant vitamin E. They also include other important vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2.

Refuelling
During the immediate post exercise window (0-30 minutes), athletes should consume a meal consisting of both carbohydrate and protein in a 4-5:1 ratio. This is important as the rate of glycogen synthesis is at its greatest. This is of even greater importance if the next training session or competition in within the 8 hours.

If the session is close to the next meal time this would be a part of the recovery process. Another meal following a similar ratio between carbohydrate and protein should be consumed. The type of food chosen would need to take into consideration the individual athletes daily caloric requirements, gastric comfort and food availability.

Rehydration
A fluid deficit incurred during training or competition has the potential to negatively impact on an athlete’s performance in future training or competition sessions.

To combat this, athletes should aim to consume 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses within the next 4-6 hours after a session. The addition of sodium, along with other electrolytes to a drink or with the post workout meal will reduce further fluid loss, therefore enhancing fluid balance and overall recovery.

Muscle Repair and Building
Both high intensity and endurance exercise cause a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery phase there is decreased catabolism and a gradual increase in the anabolic processes of muscle tissue. Early intake of protein during the first hour after exercise promotes the increase of protein synthesis.

The quantity of protein needed to maximise this adaptation to physical activity is 15-25g of high quality protein. With the addition of carbohydrate to this meal, you will aid the body ability to transport the proteins into the muscles.

Immune System
The immune system is taxed by intensive physical activity. This may lead to athletes succumbing to viral infections during or after periods of intense training or competition.

Evidence indicates that the most promising nutritional immune protectors include adequate carbohydrate intake before, during and after high intensity or endurance exercise. Other nutrients that have been identified as immune protectors include Vitamins A, C, D, E, along with glutamine and zinc.

Including Almonds as part of Recovery
Here are some ways that you can use almonds to help you meet the goals of recovery:

  • Salted almonds and fluids enhancing hydration;
  • As part of a snack providing a source of protein to enhance muscle repair and building;
  • As a source of Vitamin E for the immune system.

Here are some examples of almonds being used in recovery meals

Breakfast:

  • Yoghurt with berries and chopped almonds or LSA mix;
  • Diced coconut, almonds, dates and apple.

Lunch:

  • Chicken and almond stir fry with root vegetables;
  • Lean meat, salad and a handful of almonds.

Dinner:

  • Chicken salad sprinkled with roasted almonds;
  • Red chicken, vegetable and almond curry with white rice (or cauliflower rice).

Snacks:

  • Almond bar;
  • Trail mix with dry roasted and salted almonds;
  • Yoghurt with chopped almonds.

 

MCT Oil 101

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Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are medium length fatty acids. The term “medium” refers to the length of the chemical structure of the fatty acid. MCTs are most often derived from coconut oil and sometimes made from palm oil.

Before we talk about MCT Oil it is important to understand what a fatty acid is and how to classify fatty acids.

Fatty acids are chains of carbons linked together, surrounded by hydrogen. These chains have a Methyl end (often known as the Omega end) and a Carboxyl group (acid end) at the other end.

The acid end is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water-soluble, while the rest of the fatty chain is hydrophobic, meaning that it is insoluble in water, and requires a water-soluble transporter to travel in the bloodstream.

These chains can vary in three ways. The number of carbons, the extent to which the carbons are saturated with hydrogen, and how the chain is shaped.

Fatty acids can be classified according to the number of carbon molecules in their structure:

  • Short Chain: Less than 6 carbons;
  • Medium Chain: 6-12 carbons;
  • Long Chain: More than 12 carbons.

Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
The following fatty acids that are classified as MCT:

  • Caproic acid (with a chemical structure of C6:0);
  • Caprylic acid (C8:0);
  • Capric acid (C10:0);
  • Lauric acid (C12:0).

How do MCTs work
MCTs are commonly known for providing you with ready to use energy and better brain function. They’re absorbed quicker than other fatty acids and are easily converted into energy.

Although all four can be categorized as MCTs, only C6, C8, and C10 bypass your digestive tract and go straight to your liver where they’re broken down into energy-packed ketones, then sent out to the rest of your body via your bloodstream.

C12, on the other hand, behaves much more like a long chain fatty acid, going through your stomach, breaking down in your small intestine, then absorbing into your blood to get converted into energy.

Whole Food Sources
The following foods are the richest in medium-chain triglycerides, shown as the percentage of fatty acids that are MCTs:

  • Coconut oil: More than 60%;
  • Palm kernel oil: More than 50%;
  • Grass-fed dairy: About 15%.

Although the sources listed above are rich in MCTs, their compositions will vary. For example, coconut oil contains all four types of MCTs, along with small amounts of long chain fatty acids.

In coconut oil, MCTs consist of greater amounts of C12 and smaller amounts of C6, C8 and C10. In fact, coconut oil is about 50% C12, making it one of the best natural sources of this fatty acid.

In comparison to coconut oil, grass-fed dairy sources tend to have a higher proportions of C6, C8 and C10 and a lower proportion of C12.

Benefits of MCT Oil
With their unique structure and the way that MCTs are metabolized in your body give them a host of benefits that you won’t find in other fatty acids:

  • Antibacterial and antiviral properties that may help balance gut flora and support immune health;
  • Easier to digest than most other fats;
  • They may help you lose excess body fat;
  • Appetite suppression;
  • Provide quick, clean energy, especially brain energy;
  • May reduce lactic acid build up in athletes and increase the use of fat for energy;
  • May improve insulin sensitivity.

MCT Oil v Coconut Oil
The coconut oil industry loves to market the idea that coconut oil is a great source of MCTs because it’s about two-thirds MCT Oil.

Although just about all of the cheap and abundant oils in coconut oil are good for you, the problem is that the science shows that you just can’t get enough of the really useful MCTs from eating coconut oil alone.

Pure MCT Oil will usually consists of just C8 and C10 and is approximately six times more effective that coconut oil.

Some MCT Oils are diluted with large amounts of C12, which is a cheaper and more abundant part of coconut oil that is sometimes marketed as a MCT Oil. This may not be a concern for most people, however these oils are only about twice as effective as coconut oil.

C12 is most well-known for its antimicrobial properties, since it’s the precursor to monolaurin, an even more powerful antimicrobial agent that is able to fight viruses and bacterial infections.

While C12 itself has disease-fighting abilities, monolaurin from C12 is even more capable of inhibiting the growth of pathogens due to having stronger antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

If you’re after large amounts of C12 for its own health benefits, go for it. Just eat some coconut oil. You can get a fair amount of it from eating just a tablespoon or two.

If you’re after optimizing your brain function and overall performance, have a look into some quality MCT Oil.