I often get asked about motivation.

Whether you have a big athletic goal like running a marathon or you’re just trying to get off the couch, motivation is key. Ultimately, nobody can really force you to train. It’s something that comes from inside you. But a lack of motivation is something that happens to us all.

I previously wrote about the importance of motivation, particularly for a trainer to be able to inspire others. I often write motivational posts on here as well, and I find those have helped me a lot. (To read some, use the category search function on the top left hand side of this page and select the category “Motivation”) And of course, there is no shortage of motivational stories and tips and quotes online. But lately I’ve been thinking about motivation on another level. On more scientific terms.

If motivation is something that comes from inside of us, and if mind and body are intricately connected, is there a chemical or nutritional formula for motivation? What are the building blocks that our brain and bodies require for feeling motivated? And more importantly, could we become more motivated by adjusting what we eat and drink? That’s a topic I’ve never seen explored before. And I think the answer is yes, there is. And yes we can.

Our brain is an incredible thing. We don’t understand it fully, but we do understand that there are some common nutritional imbalances that often result in poor mood and motivation. These include blood sugar imbalances, allergies and sensitivities, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and deficiencies of tryptophan and tyrosine.

To understand how this applies to us, we must first understand two important neurotransmitters: adrenalin and noradrenaline. These are both responsible for influencing our motivation. And they are both directly influenced by nutrition.

This is where a formula comes in.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR MOTIVATION

Balanced adrenalin levels boost our motivation.

Noradrenaline becomes adrenaline.

Noradrenaline is made from a neurotrasmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine is made from an amino acid called tyrosine.

Tyrosine is made from another amino acid called phenylalanine.

And for all these steps to occur, specific vitamins and nutrients are required. Different nutrients work at different levels, but listed as a batch they are:

  • folate
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • iron
  • copper
  • zinc
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin B12
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • omega-3 fats

Studies that have explored the supplementation of tyrosine and phenylalanine for physical training have shown fascinating and promising results. Here is one study as described in Patrick Holford’s New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind:

The military has long known that tyrosine improves mental and physical performance under stress. Recent research from the Netherlands demonstrates how tyrosine gives you the edge in conditions of stress. Twenty-one cadets were put through a demanding one-week military combat training course. Ten cadets were given a drink containing 2g of tyrosine a day, while the remaining 11 were given an identical drink without the tyrosine. Those on tyrosine consistently performed better, both in memorizing the task at hand and in tracking the tasks they had performed.

Tyrosine and phenylalanine are found naturally in foods like:

  • egg whites
  • watercress
  • seaweed
  • game meat (moose, elk, buffalo, quail)
  • cottage cheese
  • turkey
  • tuna
  • fish (cod, pike, haddock)
  • chicken breast
  • spinach

You can also find great multivitamins that provide all the B vitamins, plus folic acid and magnesium.

A WORD ABOUT STRESS

Adrenalin is something that has been negatively linked with stress, though it is hardly the enemy. When we are stressed, our body boosts its adrenaline production in response to our anxiety. This burns through the nutrients we need and our diets are inadequate to meet this inflated demand. As a result, our health suffers and we feel unmotivated.

So in the end it comes down to those raw nutrients. And food. The building blocks that influence our minds and bodies. To feel healthy and motivated and strong, we need to maintain healthy blood sugar level, consume B vitamins and omega-3 fats, take in the essential amino acids, and de-stress.

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