Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may have been gobbling their way through the greasy spoon grub and deep-fried fare of the campaign trail, but today - it's crunch time. The two men need to be firing on all cerebral cylinders for tonight's presidential debate at the University of Denver, and can use every advantage they can get.
Voters will be hanging on every word that comes out of the candidates' mouths, so in these final hours, it's crucial what goes into them. We turned to David Solot, a Ph.D. student in organizational psychology at Walden University, with a Masters in clinical psychology to share his top tips for maximizing mental performance via food.
What you eat will definitely impact your cognitive performance.
Most of the nutritional advice we get related to mental health involves long term brain changes, and aren't very useful in the days leading up to the debates. For example, evidence suggests that Omega 3 Fatty Acids are good at improving cognitive ability and can reduce the symptoms of many psychological disorders. But a handful of fish oil capsules the day before the debate aren't going to do much besides give you heartburn.
You're not going to drastically change your brain with a few meals. But what you can do is make sure that your brain, however good it is, is functioning at maximum efficiency on the day of the debate. To do that, the candidates need to fuel their brain properly and avoid getting fatigued.
My suggestion would be a diet that maintains a balanced blood sugar level, free of spikes or drops. High blood sugar levels can cause fatigue, making it hard to think on your feet. It can also cause dry mouth, which would be pretty awkward on national television.
Low blood sugar, on the other hand, leads to anxiety, sweating, and irritability. Again, not the way you want to be perceived by a national audience. A balanced blood sugar level allows the brain to function at optimum ability.
So, in the day leading up to the debate, the candidates should eat normal sized, balanced meals, consisting of complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy vegetables. They should be avoiding foods that will spike their blood sugar, like sugary snacks and things with high fructose corn syrup. Not only will this help them think better, it will also help them sleep the night before the debate.
They should also avoid fried foods or heavily processed foods. Foods like this are difficult to digest. Not only do they increase fatigue, they also can cause gastro-intestinal distress. Neither Obama nor Romney want to be distracted by a grumbling stomach on live television.
In the hours leading up to the debate, they should continue to eat healthy meals and snacks at regular intervals. Then, about 30-60 minutes before the debate, it's time for everyone's favorite stimulant - caffeine.
Caffeine blocks the receptors for adenosine -- a chemical in the brain that makes you feel sleepy. A little bit of caffeine stops your brain from getting the message that you're tired, resulting in an increase in your perceived energy level. It doesn't actually give you energy, it just tricks you into thinking your not tired so you can think on your feet more effectively. So it's important that the candidates do not abuse caffeine in the days before the debate -- otherwise they can burn out no matter how much caffeine they have. The coffee or sugar-free soda should be saved for the hours before going on stage. This will help the candidates to stay at their peak mental functioning for a longer period of time.
But here's the hitch: Romney, as a practicing Mormon, avoids coffee. There aren't many drugs out there that do what caffeine does and are still legal. There plenty of neurostimulants out there but I doubt Mitt would be taking them -- unless he has ADHD or asthma.
The best trade off I can think of would be dark chocolate - which fellow Mormon Marie Osmond reportedly calls "Mormon Medication." Yes it has sugar, but it also has flavanols that seem to have some cognitive boosting effect, perhaps through improved vascular function. Even better would be pure cocoa without the sugar.
In summary, the best thing that Obama and Romney can do for your their brains is to eat healthy and exercise on a regular basis. But while they can't make drastic changes in the days before a Presidential debate, they can maximize their current performance to be at their best while on stage.