Getting More MPG (Miles Per Glucose)
October 7, 2013 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to make my brain more "fuel" efficient?

Since I've become an adult, I've developed a problem where I'd tire very easily by giving my good ol' noggin a hard workout. I'm talking figuring out hard mathematical problems, navigating a tangled plan, drawing up architectural blueprints, etc... After 30-45 minutes of concentration, I'd get the jittery, tired sensation that comes with low blood sugar. And my attention span would be reduced to those of a gnat.

From my understanding there's a relationship between willpower and blood glucose level; the harder you use your brain, the more you use up. The problem here is that it feels like my brain has fuel economy of a Hummer.

It's weird. I never had this issue when I was younger, when I could easily focus for hours on end. For what it's worth, I'm in excellent physical shape (run and lift regularity), eat well (e.g. plenty of protein, complex carbs, no refined sugars). And I always pass diabetes screening with flying colors (if it's relevant).

So, what's causing this drop in brain efficiency, and how do I combat it?
posted by pakoothefakoo to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you getting enough sleep?
posted by Good Brain at 8:37 PM on October 7, 2013

Response by poster: Pretty much, yes.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 8:45 PM on October 7, 2013

Make sure your diet is sufficient in EFA's which are essential to cognitive function.
You could also try ginkgo, which can improve overall thought processesing.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:57 PM on October 7, 2013

Response by poster: I eat plenty of eggs and take Omega 3 Supplements. Will try ginkgo.

To clarify, my main issue there isn't clarity nor cognitive function, but rather the sudden and steep fatigue (i.e. drop in blood sugar).
posted by pakoothefakoo at 9:01 PM on October 7, 2013

Are you sure it is actually a drop in blood sugar? Have you tested it?
posted by gjc at 9:40 PM on October 7, 2013

Response by poster: No, never actually tested when that happens. Feels that way though! Hmm, I should look into this.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 9:52 PM on October 7, 2013

Lack of adequate hydration can often lead to symptoms like you've described.

If you consume coffee, soda or other diuretics, are you also getting enough water?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:21 PM on October 7, 2013

I don't *think* that brain glucose utilization works quite like that - brains do a tremendous amount of stuff outside of conscious task-oriented cognition, and they are infiltrated with a bazillion tiny blood vessels that keep the brain well-saturated in oxygen and glucose and do a great job carrying away metabolic waste. (The tightly-packed cells that make the lining of those vessels, the "blood-brain barrier", stop big molecules from sneaking in or out of the bloodstream in the brain, but glucose, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water are teeny and travel in and out of the brain just fine.)
But even if it does work that way, taking a break should help - if the issue is that you've consumed all the local glucose stores and you've got a backlog of waste products in some functional brain area, then doing something different for a little bit should allow the restoration of the normal functional state and relieve the fatigue.
Certainly the global glucose demand from cognition isn't comparable to that from musculoskeletal activity - we know this because your respiratory and heart rates don't increase to deliver a larger quantity of oxygen to your brain to feed the aerobic metabolic pathway when you think hard.
posted by gingerest at 11:27 PM on October 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: armoir from antproof case

I don't drink soda; occasional coffee. Drink tons of water throughout the day.


Admittedly I don't know much (if anything) about brain glucose utilization. That was a conjecture based off that Baumeister book on Willpower. Please disregard what I wrote re. brain/glucose/willpower if I'm wildly off base. (Your write up was fascinating though!).

The weird thing for me is that I'd hit a wall where it *feels* like low blood sugar, low energy, jitters, hunger, etc... I'd usually feel better after a break and some carbs. The sensation is as if my brain has run out of fuel.

To avoid further threadsitting on my part, here is the crux of my question: I'm hitting this wall much, much quicker now. I'm wondering what may be causing this and whether there's anything I can do about that.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 12:06 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, what do you do to avoid bonking when you work out? I think in the absence of population data, you need to engage in some n-of-1 empirical data gathering.
posted by gingerest at 1:02 AM on October 8, 2013

Response by poster: True. As for working out, that's the bizarre part, I don't have that problem when working out. Sure, I get tired, but not mentally tired.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 9:45 AM on October 8, 2013

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