Can training venue brain food improve performance?

Training venues are falling over themselves to offer what some call ‘brain food’. All well and good, but does feasting on raw nuts and goats cheese really boost performance?

Could this be the year of training venue brain food?Well it’s looking that way as more and more venue operators promise they will offer food that will boost delegates’ brain power to heights unseen since The Golden Shot. In case you’ve forgotten, or weren’t alive at the time, this was a 1970sTV quiz show, which featured questions as difficult as “What’s Bob Monkhouse’s first name”.

But I digress. Brain food is fast becoming training venue speak for dishes dominated by vegetables, pulses, fruit and fish, served mostly raw – though in the case of fish, preferably baked.

Another operator, The¬†Training Camp, has even issued its “dietary secrets to study success” tip sheet. This includes time-worn classics such as: “Rather than turning to a biscuit or chocolate bar when you feel a bit peckish, try fruit smoothies, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal bars and mixed nuts.”

Well I always say there’s nothing like a pile of well-ordered pumpkin seeds and a glass of tap water to look forward to during the morningbreak.

It may well be true that some unprocessed foods are good for the brain, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll make much difference over the short training events put on by most organisations. Other factors, such as a good night’s sleep, are probably more important in that regard.

Another is breakfast. And it may surprise you to learn that one study indicated that it isn’t a bowl of fruit and nuts drowned in skimmed Peruvian goat’s milk that’s the best brain-boosting breakfast. Research by the University of Ulster in 2003 found that a high-fibre breakfast boosted children’s scores in various cognitive tests focusing on memory and attention. The children who did best at the most difficult tests had eaten beans on toast for breakfast – not pumpkin seeds on rice cakes.

Nevertheless, it’s surely the case that diet, as long as it isn’t excessive, has only a marginal impact on the brain. After all, some of history’sgreat minds subsisted on the limited range of foods that were available at the time. Did Einstein’s IQ suffer because of a lack of pulses, oatmeal and blueberry juice? Er, no. Indeed it appears that the Great Man hadn’t read The Training Camp’s dietary tip sheets. Or if he had, he ignored them.

For, according to The Private Lives of Albert Einstein, by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter, the physicist was a great lover of comfort food during his younger days, despite his later conversion to vegetarianism. Einstein, while at Zurich University in the 1890s, liked to consume freshly ground coffee and sausages and as many cakes and pastries as he could get his hands on. He also enjoyed smoking tobacco.

If this did his brain no harm, it did little for his digestive system,ashe was plagued by stomach problems throughout his 76years.

The diets of other great minds also indicate that types of food were marginal to their success. Sir Isaac Newton subsisted on bread, broth and vegetables. Nearer our time, Welsh poet supreme Dylan Thomas liked to start the day with beer and cake, which helped do for his liver if not his mind.

Food apart, it’s certain that the best way to boost brainpower issleep. Einstein regularly slept for 12 hours a night. When he finished drafting the theory of relativity, he took to his bed for five days. But don’t expect training venues to trumpet the value of eight hours in the land of nod.

This would not be good for their bar businesses. Also, it’s very difficult for many delegates to get a good night’s sleep in a strange bed. And I say that without irony. On several occasions I’ve driven home for the night from a training venue just to get agood night’s kip.

So my tips for getting the most out of external training that involves overnighters is: eat what you like,sleep at home,have beans on toast for breakfast, and play Mozart in the training room.

John Charlton, editor and training manager

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