Protein for alertness

Protein provides the amino acids your brain needs to function at its optimal level, because a high-carbohydrate meal increases your brain’s tryptophan levels, creating serotonin that makes you feel relaxed, it makes a good choice for dinner. A morning meal high in protein raises your brain’s tyrosine levels. This helps your brain produce neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and dopamine, which give you energy and make you feel awake and alert.

Two brain chemicals, epinephrine and dopamine, govern mental alertness. These chemicals are made from an amino acid called tyrosine. If you’re engaged in sustained mental activity, you need to replace the tyrosine — and it comes from proteins, not carbs.

Carbs – Serotonin and Tryptophan

Carbohydrates allow your brain to produce serotonin, a chemical that allows for calm and pleasant moods, while making tryptophan, the chemical responsible for sleepiness, more available to your brain. This is one reason carbohydrate-rich meals make you sleepy,says the National Sleep Foundation, and why ideal bedtime snacks contain carbohydrates and protein, a provider of tryptophan. Certain foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan that causes sleepiness. Carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain, which is why carbohydrate-heavy meals can make you drowsy. Proteins from the food we eat are the building blocks of tryptophan, which is why the best bedtime snack is one that contains both a carbohydrate and protein

To increase serotonin with foods, the best strategy involves eating proper carbohydrates, as well as foods containing the amino acid tryptophan. In order to properly synthesize serotonin, you need sufficient levels of carbohydrates.  Tryptophan is only 1% of the amino acids in a standard protein diet and generally takes a backseat to other amino acids in terms of priority.

Carbohydrates are responsible for helping drive tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier.  As insulin levels increase after carb consumption, cells soak up amino acids without tryptophan.This is because tryptophan binds to albumin, which allows it to remain unaffected by insulin.  This increases the chances of tryptophan making its way across the blood-brain barrier and having an effect on the brain’s neurotransmitter levels.

Research suggests that simple carbs yield the greatest impact on serotonin levels due to the fact that they enter your bloodstream the quickest. These foods provide a serotonin boost that is estimated to last two hours. Shoveling down simple carbs is not a good long-term strategy for overall health and serotonin maintenance.

Complex Carbohydrates

Eating complex carbohydrates is likely to be healthier for your body and serotonin production than simple sugars.

The fact that complex carbohydrates are slowly broken down within the body, the serotonin increase should be longer lasting and more stable than that provided from simple carbohydrates. Think of complex carbs as getting a more consistent serotonin elevation over a longer period of time than the two hour spike from simple carbs.

Proteins for Tryptophan

We’ve all heard that in order to increase tryptophan, one of the best ways to do it is by consuming turkey. Turkey consumption is what is rumored to make people tired after a large Christmas meal due to the tryptophan increase (which gets converted into serotonin). That said, there are plenty of other proteins besides turkey that you can consider.

  • Beef
  • Duck
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Turkey

Keep in mind that tryptophan without carbohydrates won’t have a significant effect on your serotonin levels. Eating tryptophan before the right carbs should theoretically have an effect.

It is important to consider that each person will have a different response to various dietary interventions as a way to increase serotonin. Due to significant differences in physiology, genetics,etc. – two people may experience opposite effects on similar diets.

Tips for increasing serotonin with food

If your goal is to increase serotonin levels by eating certain foods, below are some tips you may want to keep in mind:

  • Don’t neglect protein: To synthesise serotonin in the brain, you need to provide it with a source of tryptophan (an amino acid). Without tryptophan, levels of serotonin are unlikely to increase unless you are taking a supplement that specifically elevates this precursor (e.g. L-Tryptophan).
  • Use complex carbohydrates: There is considerable evidence that carbohydrates raise plasma levels of serotonin and are likely to increase serotonin in the brain. The problem with eating excessive simple carbs is that it is a poor long-term health strategy and only provides short-term serotonin increases. Consume complex carbohydrates for a more sustained release of serotonin without causing a drastic insulin spike.
  • Limit simple carbs: If you insist on consuming simple carbohydrates, limit the amount that you consume and shoot for the healthiest options (e.g. fruits, raw honey, etc.). While all simple carbohydrates are likely to elevate serotonin for a period of a couple hours, they will also set you up for a “crash” later in the day.
  • Eat carbs separate from protein: Some researchers believe that it is best to consume cabs separate from protein due to the fact that when they’re consumed simultaneously, tryptophan doesn’t make its way to the receptors. To prevent this problem, you’ll want to eat (complex) carbohydrates separate from protein rather than together. Keep in mind that this is based off of a theory and may not be completely accurate.
  • Avoid junk: To maximise the potential that you’re getting sufficient serotonin production from the foods that you eat, you’ll want to avoid drinking the following: alcohol, diet beverages, and soft drink. Moderate to excessive amounts of caffeine may also inhibit food-derived serotonin.