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Have you ever been ‘hangry’? If you have, you’ve probably wondered how food influences our mood and behaviour. And I’m sure that we can all relate to the idea of eating something delicious to make us feel better when we are sad.
Emotional eating is evidence of how food can modify our brain chemistry. Food can affect the concentration of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters – such as serotonin. And serotonin can also also regulate the production of force to help us make movements. If we put all these puzzle pieces together, one possible hypothesis is that food could stimulate our brain to make us stronger!
My PhD focuses on studying how we can influence brain-muscle communication and use food supplements to help control our movement. Because serotonin is created from an amino acid called tryptophan, we tested whether a tryptophan rich supplement (called Lactalbumin) improves the ability to perform and tolerate exercise in healthy participants.
Sounds great but, why is this relevant?
Our brain plays a huge role on allowing us to perform daily activities, such as walking or even standing upright. Despite that we still don’t fully understand how our brain-muscle communication works. Also, as we get sick or age, our brain loses the ability to activate muscles and produce force, causing fragility and negatively impacting our health and wellbeing. So, the results of my work aim to help older adults, or others battling with poor brain-muscle communication, to improve their quality of life.
That’s why I’m excited about being partnered with Reaction Packed – it’s a game that allows students to easily test different brain-muscle performance traits. By combining activities that involve decision making, reaction, and memory, this game allows us to explore the important role our brain plays within movement. And if students think about different treatments – like what they had for breakfast or what happens if you eat too many sweets – you can do similar experiments to what I do in my PhD!
So, are you ready to test your brain-muscle communication and learn more about brain chemistry and movement?
Written by Karen Mackay
Karen is a PhD student studying the use of nutritional supplements to improve brain-muscle communication within exercise. She has worked in several research labs and sporting institutions in Chile and the USA as a sport dietitian and exercise scientist.