Want to know what to eat to boost your focus and concentration?
6 min read
If you’re wondering why you can’t focus long enough to complete your daily tasks, your nutrition could be the reason.
We’ve all been there; you know you shouldn’t, but you’re multitasking, trying to juggle a million and one things. Before you know it the working day is almost over, and you’ve not checked much off your to-do list, but you’ve been frantically busy.
Whether you’re a time-poor parent trying to juggle work, family and life in general, or you’re an entrepreneur or leader managing a team and building a business from the ground up, the struggle is real for us all, especially during lockdown when our home and work life have blended into a chaotic juggling act.
The inability to focus affects almost everyone at some point in their life. The key to staying focused is to understand the reasons behind not being able to concentrate in the first place so you can nip it in the bud!
Essential nutrients and foods for concentration and focus
What you eat has a huge role in how focused you are on tasks throughout the day, memory improvement, and addressing poor concentration.
Luckily, some great foods can help you boost concentration and stay focused.
Omega 3 for concentration and focus
Foods, including oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids can help promote brain function.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found liberally in brain cells as they help with intracellular brain communication (in simpler words they help our brain cells talk to each other effectively)!
A randomised control trial of 485 adults with age-related cognitive decline tested omega 3 supplementation over a 24 week period. After 24 weeks, those taking DHA omega 3 performed better on memory and learning tests.¹
You can find omega 3 in both marine and plant sources. Marine sources of omega 3 fatty acids are the most highly bioavailable sources of omega 3. If you are not following a plant-based diet, you should consume 2-3 portions of oily fish per week where possible. Alternative vegan sources of omega 3 are walnuts, flaxseeds and edamame beans.
B Vitamins for concentration and focus
B Vitamins are an umbrella term given to a group of 8 water-soluble vitamins. In particular, three B vitamins are often linked with brain health and focus B6, B9 (folate), and B12.
Vitamin B6 is directly linked to the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin, which directly affect mood and concentration.² Rich food sources of vitamin B6 include avocado, chicken and bananas.
Folate plays a role in cognition in several different ways - most importantly, folate is needed to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your brain.³ Wholegrains, spinach and oranges are all great sources of this vitamin.
Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with memory loss. This is a particularly important nutrient to pay attention to if you follow a plant-based diet as vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products.
B12 is essential for nerve tissue transmission - it plays a vital role in maintaining the sheaths that cover and protect the nerves of the central and the peripheral nervous system, ensuring fast and effective nerve-impulse transmission. In a study of 121 adults, B12 status was associated with global cognitive function and total brain volume.⁴
Carbohydrates for concentration and focus
Did you know that your brain can only use glucose (simple sugars) as an energy source? This is why carbohydrates are essential for focus and concentration. Even though the human brain accounts for only 2% of the body's weight, the brain consumes 20% of carbohydrate’s energy.
Magnesium for concentration and focus
Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, so it is not surprising that magnesium is required for optimal focus and concentration. Magnesium, or magnesium citrate, acts as the gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors found on your nerve cells and aids brain development, memory and learning.⁵
Magnesium is also required for optimal sleep quality (and we know enough sleep is needed so you can concentrate the next day).⁶ Ensure you are consuming enough magnesium by regularly including dark chocolate, almonds and chickpeas into your diet.
Zinc for concentration and focus
Zinc regulates communication between brain cells via several cytokines. The highest zinc levels are found in the hippocampus in synaptic vesicles, boutons, and mossy fibres. In simpler terms, these are parts of neurons which store various neurotransmitters to be released into brain cells.
Zinc, or zinc citrate, is also found in large concentrations in the retina’s choroid layer, an extension of the brain.⁷
Shellfish, spinach and sesame seeds are all excellent sources of zinc.
Don’t worry; caffeine is your friend!
Caffeine in moderation is a great mental stimulant and boosts focus and concentration. The great thing is that it acts relatively quickly, so it is excellent when you need an instant pick me up.
Caffeine acts as a psychostimulant and exerts numerous effects on the brain. These include stimulant effects on motor behaviour, modulation of mood states and anxiety levels, effects on vigilance and sleep, on information processing and performance.⁸ It’s important only to drink caffeinated drinks in moderation, ensuring they contain natural caffeine sources and are not artificially processed and high in sugar. Ideally, stick to a maximum of 3-4 cups per day.
What’s the deal with nootropics?
Nootropics is an umbrella term given to supplements or food products that support or boost brain function, memory, focus, or creativity.
Natural nootropics are extremely popular with biohackers and entrepreneurs looking to optimise their daily productivity, but anyone can take them to enhance their concentration.
One of the best nootropics is Ginkgo biloba. It’s one of the most commonly used supplements to help with brain function and focus. In an assessment meta‐analysis of forty clinical studies, it was reported that Ginkgo was able to improve the twelve different symptoms comprising ‘cerebral insufficiency’.⁹
The positive effects of ginkgo on brain function and focus are mostly down to its link to improving overall blood flow, particularly blood flow to the brain.
Remember what we said about caffeine? Guarana is naturally an excellent source of caffeine and therefore, a nootropic. A study on twenty healthy adult volunteers found that a multivitamin and mineral treatment with additional guarana showed a positive tonic effect towards greater steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) after just a single treatment, consistent with the caffeine content of this treatment. SSVEP is a measure of functional brain activity.¹⁰
Rhodiola Rosea is a herb that's popular for its "adaptogenic" properties, and it originates from the wild arctic regions of Europe. A randomised control trial of 26 male subjects assessed the effect of 600mg of Rhodiola Rosea extract on mental and physical performance over a period of 4 weeks. Results showed that the herb shortened overall reaction time and total response time. Moreover, a greater relative increase in the number of correct responses was observed in the group taking the supplement as opposed to the placebo.¹¹
Due to these positive effects, Rhodiola Rosea is commonly referred to as a powerful nootropic herb.
In addition to your nutrition, there are lifestyle changes you can weave into your daily schedule to increase your levels of focus and concentration, which can very quickly become daily habits.
5 helpful tips to improve focus and concentration
- Improve your sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Listen to music.
- Take regular breaks.
- Make a daily to-do list of a maximum of 5 tasks (and do the most challenging first).
- Eliminate distractions such as technology. Set your phone to silent and turn off all notifications.
Do I need medications to concentrate?
You may have heard of prescription medications such as Modafinil and Adderall. The truth is unless a healthcare professional has expressly advised you to use them under a prescription regimen, you don’t need those to be able to function and concentrate properly. We strongly discourage using any medication without your GP or doctor’s advice - instead try adopting some of the tips we discussed to help you focus and concentrate naturally.