Nutrition and Chess

The Right Way To Feed Your Focus
What to eat to boost your critical thinking for your next chess game.
By: Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN
We all know that the brain is kind of a big deal, right?!  It is the control center of your entire body.  It tells us how to move, when to eat, what to feel, and how to think.  Food plays a huge role in keeping our brains healthy and allowing it to function at it’s absolute best.  Food can also improve specific cognitive skills like our abilities to concentrate, focus, remember, and thick quickly. 
And in a mental game like chess where mental cognition is King (get it, King!) the foods you eat can give you the greatest upper hand in outsmarting your opponent.
Here are 5 foods that will boost your brainpower and feed your focus!  Incorporate them into your daily lifestyle to get the maximum brain benefits and especially on tournament day. 
Berries: raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are all loaded in antioxidants called flavonoids. Studies have shown that these flavonoids have help to improve memory and alertness.  Aim to have ½ cup of berries every morning, either mixed into some plain Greek yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies, or have them on the side of your eggs or avocado toast. 
Dark Leafy Greens: think spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens, and swiss chard.  This green crew is high in vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene, all nutrients that improve mental cognition, improve focus, and prevent cognitive decline.   Make a salad for lunch using spinach and kale as the base, and add any combination of these green to a quick dinnertime stir-fry, or roast some broccoli to use as a side dish for your chicken, fish, or steak. 
Pumpkin Seeds: these little guys pack a serious brain-power punch thanks to the amount of zinc that they offer.  Zinc plays an important role in keeping our cognition on point and boosting memory.
Fatty fish: think salmon, tuna, trout, herring, and sardines. Fatty fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which play a crucial role in brain health, helping to boost focus, alertness, and concentration.  Aim to have fish as 3 times a week.  For lunch, add tuna to a salad or make an open-faced tuna sandwich and for dinner try some broiled and grilled salmon or trout with sautéed or roasted veggies
Walnuts: all nuts are a great source of those omega-3 fatty acids we just talked about, but walnuts in particular have been linked to improving cognitive test scores in a study out of UCLA.   These nutty guys get their added brainpower thanks to specific omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).  Not only does ALA improve cognition and alertness, but is also lowers blood pressure, which helps you to stay cool, calm, and collected while contemplating your next move. 
Extra Pro-tip: make sure you stay well hydrated.   Hydration is key in keeping energy levels up and preventing a sluggish mind and body.  Bring a water bottle and keep filling it up.  If plain H20 isn’t for you, then drink unsweetened tea, either hot or iced. 
And for when you are heading to a tournament, here my top 5 brain-boosting snacks on-the-go: 
  • A banana with walnuts: pack 2 tablespoons of walnuts in a ziplock baggie and toss them into your bag with a banana the combination of omega-3’s from the walnuts. Also this combo of fiber and protein will help to keep you full and satiated. 
  • 1 cup of blueberries with a plain Greek yogurt.  This combo will boost your brainpower and fill you up so that a grumbling stomach doesn’t distract you from beating your opponent. 
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds. You can roast your own or check out these delicious lemon-teriyaki pumpkin seeds that come in a single-serving snack size.  These crunchy guys will give you that needed zinc while also adding some satiating protein to you between turns. 
  • Tuna salad with whole grain crackers.  The night before a tournament, take a 6-ounce can of tuna and mix is up with a little bit of mustard or a touch of mayo, add in some chopped carrots and/or celery and pack it in a container for game day.  Then in a Ziploc bag add in 5-10 whole grain crackers.  This combo is sure to help you win by both boosting your ability to concentrate on the and preventing any hunger vibes from creeping in. 
  • A part-skim cheese stick and 1 cup of sliced strawberries.  This sweet and savory combo will give your energy and focus a boost.  The berries will also help to add in some extra hydration to prevent any sluggishness. 
Keep in touch with Brigitte on Instagram and Facebook or to get healthy recipes and wellness-focused blog posts by visiting BZ Nutrition.   And if you would like to work one-on-one with Brigitte to get your own personalized nutrition plan email

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