It's totally fine to have off days—we all do. You know, those grey days when you don’t feel motivated to do anything and you post an image hashtagged with #duvetday on Instagram.
But what if those feelings—being sluggish, moody, tired and unmotivated—start to become more regular? If you find you procrastinate a lot, doubt yourself or lack enthusiasm, and it’s not just a monthly occurrence, it could be that your levels of dopamine are too low. Thankfully you are what you eat, and what you consume could have a positive effect on boosting your dopamine levels and in turn your success rate in life and work.
So first things first: What is dopamine? It’s both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, and it relays messages of motivation between our nerve cells. Think of it like your own mini cheerleading squad—it is the key to us feeling ambitious, as well as being productive and focused. Dopamine is also responsible for our feelings of pleasure and plays a role in the functioning of our adrenal glands that produce adrenaline to give us that get up and go.
We need solid levels of the so-called “motivation molecule,” because if our supplies start to dwindle, we can feel increasingly down and even (in the long term) depressed. Thankfully there are ways to address your dopamine levels through your food choices to help you feel more motivated towards life and work. Keep scrolling for our guide to the dopamine diet.
Many women don’t eat enough protein. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, adults should eat 0.75 grams protein per kilogram of body weight. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, and it’s the amino acid L-tyrosine (also known as tyrosine) that converts to dopamine in our bodies.
Beef, chicken and turkey are great sources of tyrosine, and a portion will be enough to boost your dopamine levels. Thirty grams of chicken should contain around 1500mg of L-tyrosine.
If you’re vegetarian, then eggs and yoghurt are great sources. One egg boasts 1900 milligrams tyrosine. Meanwhile, vegans should add kidney beans and tofu to their diet to help feel super motivated. You can also buy flavourless L-tyrosine in powder form, which can be added to shakes and juices.
Beetroot is key when it comes to increasing your dopamine levels. It is made up of the amino acid called betaine, which acts like an antidepressant in the body. Not only that, but it also stimulates the production of SAM-e (S-adenoslmethionine). Alongside tryrosine, SAM-e is also responsible for the production of hormones like dopamine and serotonin (known as the happy hormone). Besides fresh beetroot, try adding powdered beetroot to your morning smoothie or even in any healthy bakes.
Dark-green leafy vegetables are a great source of folate (also known as vitamin B9), which has been linked with the production of dopamine. For tyrosine to convert into dopamine, it needs vitamin B9 to be present. Spinach, collard greens and broccoli are all good sources of folate. Alternatively, you could take a folic acid supplement (just consult your doctor first).
Wheatgerm contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which converts to tyrosine in the body. Kick-start your day by adding wheatgerm to a breakfast smoothie bowl; check out Fab Food Chicago’s wheatgerm berry smoothie bowl recipe here.
There is little doubt fruit is good for you, but when it comes to dopamine and motivation levels, not all are born equal. Bananas, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon and prunes contain tyrosine (that wonder amino acid again), so factor these into your daily diet. Apples and grapes contain quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that has been linked to the production of dopamine and serotonin. Not able to get your five a day? Supplement with Solgar Quercetin Complex (£17).
Studies have linked the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction in depression. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish like freshwater salmon and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds are anti-inflammatory helping cell and cognitive function. A diet rich in omega-3s has also been linked to an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels in the body.
Scientists have long known that around 50% of our dopamine is originated in the gut. One study found that a probiotic strain called Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 increases dopamine levels in the gut. Try KiKi Health Body Biotics (£25), which contains various strains of lactobacillus and bacillus, to help with mood and fatigue. And remember: Fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir can help keep your gut happy.