“As we age, our brain structure gradually changes and becomes more inflamed,” explains lead study author Lina Begdache, Ph.D., assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University. Adults under 30 stay positive with more animal protein because the food increases neurotransmitter precursors, which allow the build up of hormones that positively affect mood levels (like serotonin and dopamine) to build up. After 30, we’re less sensitive to these brain chemicals and more influenced by free radicals and an over-activated nervous system. That’s why antioxidant-rich fare like fruits and vegetables can help, while stimulating coffee can hurt. Athletes will see even more of a mood boost if they work out in addition to following these eating suggestions since exercise—at any age—increases those crucial neurotransmitters and fights against free radicals in the body. However, what tanks your mood is even more pronounced if you aren’t recovering from your workouts properly. “If you over-exercise without enough rest, your fight or flight response is over-activated, making things like caffeine even more influential on your nervous system and mood,” Begdache adds.
The bottom line:
If you’re under 30, aim for at least 1.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight of protein a day. And if you’re older, up your produce intake and cut back on caffeine, especially if you find it makes you more anxious or stressed. Regardless, make sure to work out regularly and leave ample time for regeneration.