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Food and cognitive performance

edited October 9 in Random

During my recent studies into effective learning methods, the phenomena that food plays a major role in cognitive performance has surfaced. Some research observed differences in cognitive performance between 15-20% based on nutrition intake (high cal/protein/fat vs low). From my own experience, if I'm hungry I get distracted more often and find it harder to enter the flow state of work.

  • In How Not to Die, the author points to research that observed consumption of burgers/meat lead to a very noticeable decline in cognitive performance minutes after consumption.
  • In his essay writing guide, Jordan Peterson recommends eating something high in fat and protein first thing in the morning before writing. He also talks about the importance of waking up early & working in the morning. Peterson also said in another interview that he solved a clients anxiety problems by making her eat more. This suggests a link between not getting proper nutrition and anxiety.
  • The Netflix documentary "The Game Changers", Connor McGregor puts part of the blame of his loss on eating too much steak - not having energy during the fight. This documentary argues vegetable-based diets are just as effective for building muscle as meat ones, as well as being more healthy for anyone interested.

I haven't done much research into this question obviously :)

My question(s) to you is: have you experimented with different foods and consumption schedules to boost your cognitive performance during knowledge work sessions? Do you know any interesting resources to continue this line of research?

Post edited by JoshA on

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Comments

  • I would challenge the idea that vegetable-based diets are more healthy than meat based ones.

    The contrary is true, I am pretty sure.

    I tried out both extreme ends of the spectrum, that is veganism as well as a raw meat diet, and the later wins hands down.

    Never have I had more energy than when I ate ~100% meat, yolk and dairy products. I eat more veggies now and wheat products but the main food remains meat and raw meat.

    IIRC, the daughter of the aforementioned Mr. Peterson had some quiet astonishing healing success with a raw meat diet. It must be online somewhere.

    Comparing burgers with vegetables is also unfair. If you wanted to be fair, you would compare burgers with some other processed food, a wheat bar or something like that.

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  • I imagine there is a fair amount of pseudoscience out there regarding these sorts of questions. And I doubt that any of it considers nutrition as only one component in an extremely complex scenario with multiple influencing factors. Sports science might have something to say that would be worth reading. And it would probably be useful to look at Roy Baumeister's work on ego depletion. It has been challenged, but he is a prominent psychologist with a large body of work behind him.

  • @MartinBB said:
    I imagine there is a fair amount of pseudoscience out there regarding these sorts of questions. And I doubt that any of it considers nutrition as only one component in an extremely complex scenario with multiple influencing factors.

    This is indeed a space dominated by individual, unblinded, uncontrolled, n=1 "clinical trials" - e.g. I ate only (substitute your favourite food here) for a month and I've never felt better, thought more clearly, (substitute your desired outcome here). How are we to exclude bias, random variation, unmeasured confounding variables? (As you point out.)

    Slavic languages, natural language processing, etc.
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  • @Perikles said:

    IIRC, the daughter of the aforementioned Mr. Peterson had some quiet astonishing healing success with a raw meat diet. It must be online somewhere.

    This article in The Atlantic covers the daughter's food adventures:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/08/the-peterson-family-meat-cleanse/567613/

    Slavic languages, natural language processing, etc.
    Writes at ojisanseuichi.com.

  • @JoshA

    I'm no expert on the topic, so take what follows with a pinch of salt.

    Maybe consider looking into food being used as a reward. That may lead into procrastination. A good starting point for this could be Charless Duhigg's The Power of Habit.

    I'm with @MartinBB on this:

    And I doubt that any of it considers nutrition as only one component in an extremely complex scenario with multiple influencing factors.

    Perhaps take a look at Wikipedia's articles on learning. That may contain some useful sources both for your line of research and show you the other factors.

    Also, if this is a new topic for you, those articles can help to get an overview and pick up any useful terminology. So win-win.

  • Ya on the flip side I recently heard an interview with upcoming mayor of NYC, Eric Adams, on how vegetarianism completely turned his life around after going blind from diabetes. I think the issue is that nutrition can be complicated because of how it interacts with peoples health problems.

    I think what matters most is not necessarily the type of diet you are on but the quality of the food within.

    Regarding OPs question, I actually do my best work when I fast and drink coffee to keep myself from getting hungry. If I eat breakfast I just don't feel as sharp, so I tend to eat two meals a day.

  • The Game Changers is a pathetic propoganda piece as are almost all documentaries (animal related documentaries exempt. 99% are fine).

    My bias is of course on the importance on nutrition because I am a coach for health and fitness. But the effects of a healthy diet (as part of a healthy lifestyle) are poorely understood since very few people actually are willing to build the necessary habits, rarely make the effort to adapt the diet to their needs (not anybody works the same, yet we are very similar) and do not have the necessary lifestyle surounding nutrition (food without movement makes sick).

    Another thing not considered is the unknown ceiling. What if we multiply our mitochondrial capacity and vastly activate heat and cold shock proteins? What will nutrition for us in this case?

    To answer the question: Yes, I did many experiments.

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