Protein for happiness?
What they didn’t tell you about wellness, optimism, trusting teams, and serotonin.
After starting this new habit, eating enough protein for breakfast, eating breakfast period (after years of morning fasting), I noticed I didn’t feel that agitated or a little bit on edge and tense, I didn’t feel the sense of frantic urgency like it all has to be done right now. Something changed — I felt at ease. Still very productive, getting things done — but there was some peace and trust to it, some confidence, that it’ll all work out and I’ll figure it out.
I’ve recently finished another brain+nutrition book, The Mood Cure, that goes deep into the connection between undesirable moods and mental states and food — anxiety, stress, overwhelm, obsessions, racing thoughts, dissatisfaction, seeing the glass as half empty, feeling like it’s never enough, like we are never enough, feeling blah and unexcited about life.
As I was reading about serotonin, our major happiness neurotransmitter, essential for feeling well, safe, confident, creative, at ease, and satisfied, being able to enjoy life exactly where it is, also essential for sleep, not having food cravings, especially sweet ones, not needing alcohol or marijuana to calm down and feel relaxed — I learned finer details of eating habits and lifestyle that contribute to more serotonin, or less of it. Let me share with you what I learned, why I’m feeling so much more relaxed now, even though nothing else changed, and how you can too, by implementing a few missing habits in your lifestyle and meals.
Protein is essential for everything in our body and brain. And specifically crucial for serotonin levels. Tryptophan, an amino acid, that’s serotonin is made of, needs to be present consistently in our bloodstream to make serotonin that keeps us happy. A couple of details: mostly available in animal protein foods like chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, pork, eggs and dairy, especially cheeses. There’s not a lot of tryptophan in foods, and on top of this, it is not easy for it to make its way through the BBB (blood-brain barrier). That’s why eating those foods regularly and sufficiently is so important. 3 times per day, 30–40g, add a shake if you find it hard to eat protein in foods (that I actually absolutely love).
This is my protein routine that gets me 100–120g of protein per day.
Sardines or 3 eggs, some tuna and avocado for breakfast, 500ml of Greek yogurt for lunch, 150–200g of chicken, seafood or fish for dinner.
Even when you eat all that protein — it’s still hard for tryptophan to make it all the way to the brain. Exercise is a hack for that. Our engaged muscles suck up a lot of other amino acids from our bloodstream, allowing tryptophan to go into the brain with less competition, AND oxygen levels (increased during exercise) are also important for serotonin synthesis.
So, exercise and eat your protein early to feel good the whole day. — Also important for trust, openness, and confidence to express novel ideas.
And keep moving and eating protein throughout the day to maintain higher serotonin levels.
Serotonin is also light sensitive, and not all light will do. Ideally, you’d spend no less than 30 minutes outside in the morning and early afternoon to stimulate serotonin. Did you know that seasonal affective disorder, when people feel “under a dark cloud”, more often in the winter months, is actually because of lower serotonin related to less light exposure? Get outside more often to prevent that, or at the very least, purchase one of those daylight lamps.
Being deficient in nutrients like magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin B6 and folate, vitamin C — makes it impossible to make serotonin from tryptophan and all the protein you eat. So supplement to be on the safe side.
Eating fatty fish, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, or supplementing with fish oil boosts serotonin, and so does eating probiotic foods like yogurt or sauerkraut, and so does turmeric that I absolutely love adding to my dinners as curry spice.
What’s really bad for serotonin?
Inactive lifestyle, insufficient sleep, insufficient light, eating sugar and foods that feed bad gut bacteria (basically processed foods), drinking alcohol, smoking anything, having high unmanaged stress levels, and taking many medications.
Why did I start feeling better?
For me it was protein. As I found out, prolonged fasting (till noon and more, after 6 pm dinner) — wasn’t great to keep me happy. On the bonus side, after adding protein — my appetite and energy levels got even more consistent, I enjoy my workouts more and my ABS never looked sharper! Oh, and sleep is just phenomenal! Did you know that melatonin, the sleep hormone, is made from serotonin too?
🙂THANK YOU FOR READING! DO GREAT THINGS.
Foundational neuroscience-backed routines for a 🧠productive, happy brain in my “Cancel Brain Fog” course. (New and now free on Udemy)