The ‘Will to Win’ Starts (with the neurotransmitters) in your Head
They say in professional sports, and with athletics at many levels, that the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
As a professional baseball player from 1971 to 1987, I trained very hard and tried to eat healthy foods to get an edge. During my 16-year career I played in the major leagues for the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. A MLB player must have physical and mental strength to make split-second decisions. Because of the pressure to perform, many pro athletes try to get an edge through legal and illegal substances.
It was not until 1991 (after I retired from baseball) that I discovered that the brain (that mental side of the 90:10 equation),
can operate more effectively if you provide it with the right amount of nutrients in the right combinations.
In your brain are ten billion neurons (brain cells). Between each and every neuron are neurotransmitters. Everything that happens in the brain…every memory… every thought…every emotion…every innovation…every “wow, that’s great!”… is a result of the release of neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are natural substances made by nerve cells in your brain that transmit messages from one nerve cell to another. Our bodies make them from food we consume or get the ingredients to make them from or dietary supplements.
It is estimated 86 percent of Americans have less than optimal levels of neurotransmitters. That’s why many have brain fade because our brains aren’t making enough neurotransmitters.
The three most important neurotransmitters that support brain function and can help athletes or those of us in everyday life are noradrenaline, dopamine, and acetylcholine.
There are two kinds of neurotransmitters inhibitory and excitatory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters calm and balance the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters can easily be depleted when excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive.
Noradrenaline is an excitatory neurotransmitter and is nature’s “natural speed.” It is your “get up and go” juice. If you have enough of it you’re full of energy, you’re excited, and you’re self confident. This is what you want working for you when you compete in sports or head off to work in the morning.
Low noradrenaline levels are associated with low energy and decreased focus. Noradrenaline is created through an essential amino acid called phenylalanine. Essential amino acids can’t be created by your body. You can only get them from food or dietary supplements. With the help of certain nutrients such as vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid and copper, phenylalanine is converted into two neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine.
By combining a little bit of caffeine with the nutrients listed above, you will (if you are like most people) experience long-lasting energy that really keeps you going, You can work longer and more productively and still have some energy left to enjoy your evening or weekend. But note, caffeine by itself does not help you make more noradrenaline. So while that morning cup of coffee (or caffeinated beverage) can give you a quick surge of energy and ambition, it doesn’t last very long and each succeeding cup does less for you than the prior one.
Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. When dopamine is low we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just read it or simply daydreaming and not being able to stay on task. Dopamine is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done – our motivation. Dopamine is made from phenylalanine, so when you take phenylalanine, plus other nutrient cofactors, you’re able to make more dopamine.
Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter that helps you with memory and organization – the way you order things in your mind, the way you retrieve them in an orderly manner. It’s also involved in focus and concentration. Your body manufactures acetylcholine from the essential nutrients choline and vitamin B5. The vitamin B5 (also known as pantothenate) acts to convert the choline to acetylcholine more efficiently.
Side Note: Prior to entering a game during my baseball career, I would occasionally smoke a cigarette (that I would steal from a teammate). My concentration seemed to be enhanced and the game seemed to “slow down.” It was not until I was retired that
I found out that nicotine causes the release of acetylcholine in the brain.
As you age, the ability to transport choline from your bloodstream into your brain drops dramatically. By the time most people hit their 60s they have only 20-30 percent of this ability that they had when they were young adults. That’s why people sometimes have “Senior Moments.” Studies at MIT have shown a correlation between the decrease in production of acetylcholine and Alzheimer’s disease. Increasing acetylcholine in the brain improves memory.
In these times, competition in sports and in business is at an all-time high. The ability to think more clearly and effectively and the drive to succeed are all tied directly to your brain’s ability to create adequate neurotransmitters.
If you provide your body (and brain) with the proper nutrients to make neurotransmitters, it could be the determining factor in your level of persistence and even your success or failure.
Greg Pryor, who was a member of the 1985 World Champion Kansas City Royals, is the co-owner of Life Priority, Inc. He works with dietary supplement ingredient manufacturers and research-scientists to bring high-quality, research-based dietary supplement ingredients and formulas to the marketplace.