Nourishing your brain is essential for the mental health of farmers. The brain requires energy (from food!), proper hydration and a variety of nutrients to function at its best. When your brain is nourished, you are better able to manage mood, focus and decision-making. Nutrition can enhance your resiliency when faced with the stressors of a busy farming season. 

What does proper nutrition and hydration look like? Eating and drinking enough will always be the biggest priority. It is important to have something to eat every 2-4 hours, while not going longer than 5 hours without re-fueling. Your brain is a very energy demanding organ! 

When to Fuel

Many often rely on waiting until you feel a hunger growl in your gut to let you know that you should have something to eat. Others may ignore the hunger cue all together. Unfortunately, you can’t always use the hunger growl as a reliable way to determine when you should eat. Why not? There are lots of reasons for the typical hunger growl to not to show up. For example, if you have been having a lot of coffee, the caffeine can act as an appetite suppressant. Sound familiar? Increased stress and becoming consumed in various tasks can also make it hard for you to feel or recognize the hunger cue. 

The same goes for proper hydration. Waiting until you feel thirsty is a sign that you are already dehydrated. Keeping water (flavoured water and/or carbonated included!) on hand will be important to include alongside your coffee or energy drink. 

Hunger and dehydration can show up in a variety of ways such as: 

  • impatience, 
  • fatigue, 
  • low mood, 
  • irritability, 
  • increased feelings of anxiety, and 
  • inability to think and make decisions.

Keeping your brain fueled throughout the day with food and proper hydration is going to be essential regardless of whether you feel the hunger/ thirst or not.

What to Fuel

When figuring out WHAT to eat, including a combination of carbohydrates and protein will provide a longer lasting source of fuel. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source and can include fruit, vegetables, grains, or starches. Protein takes a longer time to digest, helping to maintain your energy for a longer period. Sources of protein can include a variety of plant or animal-based foods.  

When trying to decide between having larger meals, multiple snacks throughout the day, or a combination of the two, it is important to figure out what is realistic for you. That said, the meals and snacks don’t need to be complicated, or time consuming to prep or eat. 

Some examples of snacks that include both a carbohydrate and protein to maximize energy and brain power:

  • Trail mix – can include dry cereal and nuts and/or seeds. Dried fruit, coconut, pretzels, popcorn etc. can be added in for some extra variety.
  • Granola bar and a pre-package protein drink 
  • Protein bar and piece of fruit 
  • Pretzels and hard-boiled eggs 
  • Yogurt with granola 
  • Beef jerky and crackers 

Some examples of some meals that include both a carbohydrate and protein to maximize energy and brain power:

  • Overnight oats – have a base of oats and yogurt and milk/plant based beverage with additional add in’s such a berries, nuts, granola, chia seeds etc. that can be made the night before.
  • Wrap or sandwich – even a peanut butter banana or jam sandwich/ wrap can work as the base of a meal. Feel free to add some snacks to the sandwich to make it more filling.
  • Grain bowl or pasta salad – This can include any grain including pasta, mixed with some veggies and plant-based protein such as tofu, chickpeas, black beans or animal protein such as chicken, tuna/fish, pork, or beef. This could be made in advance to provide multiple meals through the week. 
  • A smoothie that includes Greek yogurt or protein powder mixed with fruit, oats and even some nut butter can be a hunger meal. If you find smoothies don’t last as long, pair it with something that requires chewing, even some crackers or a granola bar could work. 

Prioritizing your nutrition is essential in maintaining mental health and overall well-being while farming. Nourishing your brain with carbohydrate and protein combinations every 2-4 hours will help build resilience to stress, manage mood, and maintain energy to think and make decisions. Keeping quick and easy portable snacks and/or meals close by will increase the likelihood re-fueling regularly. Remember, feeling and doing your best during busy farming seasons require proper food and hydration! 

Vanessa Langille is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in mental health. Vanessa works with clients one on one to improve their mental health through nutrition. She supports clients to manage their challenges around eating. 

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