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Serotonin Lunch – the Science of Setting Yourself Up for Athletic Success

Author: Jerry Frentsos

Your body has already figured it out… it is waiting for you to catch up!

Every day four essential hormones partake in a relay of activity. And with every relay, strategy is vital. The most common order for a relay race is the 2nd best leads off, followed by the 3rd best. The 4th best goes in the third slot, and the best performer anchors the race. The success of the first will motivate the second position to perform better than expected. The third, inspired by the team’s greatness, gives a personal best performance. While the first three participants perform beyond expectations, the fourth participant now becomes legendary, motivated by the outstanding performance of the first three. 

This powerful relay race of hormones includes:

Cortisol | Serotonin | Melatonin | Human Growth Hormone

Starting Table With Numbers For Diving In Olympic Pool. Swimming Pool For Competitions With Lane Dem

The sun has a rising and setting pattern; most of your neurotransmitters and hormones match that pattern. Soon after sunrise, Cortisol leads off with 4-5 hours of productivity. Serotonin’s portion of the relay is the longest of the day spanning 7-8 hours. Soon after the sun begins to set, Melatonin, with the shortest span of four hours, passes the baton off to Human Growth Hormone. While this relay portion spans 5-7 hours, its most substantial contribution occurs during a 3-hour HGH cycle from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. All great winning teams need a coach to provide the direction, motivation, and desire for a daily win. Dopamine is that coach.

But its contribution tapers off through the morning in a step-down process. The first dose, 50% of the total for the morning, is released 30-45 minutes after you wake up. Then, while the following amount of 33% is released 90 minutes later, the final dose of 17% is released a few hours after the first larger dose. Then, as you move through late morning, between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m., Cortisol passes the baton off to Serotonin. 

Passing the baton to Serotonin

Swim Team Relay Exchange

Dopamine motivates Cortisol to run its portion of the race and quickly get out of the way. Unfortunately, without the careful control of Dopamine, Cortisol has been known to run the entire race with crushing and disastrous physical, mental, and emotional results. But, with the help of Dopamine, Cortisol’s contribution tapers off through the morning in a step-down process. The first dose, 50% of the total for the morning, is released 30-45 minutes after you wake up. While the following amount of 33% is released 90 minutes later, the final dose of 17% is released a few hours after the first larger dose. With careful support from Dopamine, Cortisol helps you “do the work,” providing access to executive functions, attention control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. These assets help you make cutting-edge strategies, make real decisions, and solve big problems. So, while Cortisol typically gets thrown under the bus as a stress hormone, Cortisol is your greatest ally from 8:00 a.m. through 12:00 p.m. Then, as you move through late morning, Cortisol passes the baton off to Serotonin. 

Serotonin Lunch

While food not only creates a physical effect by providing needed nutrients and calories for physical activity, specific foods during specific times of the day also provide mental and emotional control that enhances the physical effect. 

Of the four hormones, Serotonin needs the most input from you, starting at lunchtime. A Serotonin boost relies entirely on what you eat, what you do, how you feel, and how you think.

What you eat

“What you eat,” to help facilitate the production of Serotonin, it’s recommended you consume foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, carbohydrates, and B vitamin foods to ensure Cortisol properly removes itself from your day, your relay, and your bloodstream. These foods include chicken, turkey, salmon, nuts, eggs, peas, bananas, dark green leafy vegetables, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, pumpkin seeds (pepita), sunflower seeds, almonds, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and avocados.

While 95% of your total Serotonin levels are gut-bound, the combination of tryptophan, B vitamins, and carbohydrates helps boost necessary insulin levels to clear a path at the highly competitive and restrictive blood-brain barrier. As tryptophan makes its way into your brain, it undergoes a chemical reaction, easily converting tryptophan into brain-bound Serotonin. But that only covers the “what you eat” portion of the four requirements to boost Serotonin’s use during your hormonal relay.

What you do

Serotonin Lunch- Learn how to optimize training by understanding how Serotonin levels fluctuate.

“What you do” includes mild exercise and exposure to bright light, preferably direct sunlight. Mild activities such as a brisk five-minute walk, a few flights of stairs, or light exercise (5-10 lbs) for 2-3 minutes help stimulate oxygen uptake, blood flow, and heart rate. Along with the aid of insulin, these mild activities also help flush out the blood-brain barrier, clearing the path for tryptophan to enter the brain. In addition to bright light, direct sun exposure against your skin helps stimulate the use of your Vitamin D hormone by increasing the ability to make and use Serotonin to enhance brain function and development.

The final two steps to help boost Serotonin brain levels includes “how you think” and “how you feel.” A 2007 study in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience found that Serotonin alters mood, and mood alters Serotonin. 

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does” -William James

Therefore, positive thoughts (and actions) can enhance Serotonin synthesis. Positive gestures, positive emotions, and positive feelings can enhance creativity, cognitive flexibility, and emotional intelligence. In addition to what you eat and do, any positive thoughts and emotional feelings help boost the development and use of Serotonin in the brain.

So what does a Serotonin Lunch have to do with athletics? 

 Serotonin Lunch - Learn how to optimize training by understanding how Serotonin levels fluctuate.

While Serotonin increases brain function for proper cognitive use, it also creates a physical response. Somewhere between 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., your body starts to build toward a physical apex with a steady increase in heart rate, lung capacity, breathing rate, blood pressure, muscle strength, and body temperature. This physical peak creates a 4-hour window of optimal athletic training. Therefore, with the right amount and use of Serotonin, the afternoon will always be the best time to engage in any physical training. 

Closing out your hormonal relay with what you eat, what you do, how you think, and how you feel, your job is done. But Serotonin has one more task to complete, which is more of a transformation. 

As soon as the sun starts to set, dim light stimulates the release of a specific enzyme (SNAT – serotonin-N-acetyltransferase). This enzyme converts the remaining Serotonin into Melatonin. So the more Serotonin you can create and carry through the afternoon into the early evening from your Serotonin Lunch, the more Melatonin you will have for better sleep. But just like Serotonin, Melatonin also has more than one job. Inside your body, Melatonin is known for its work as a master hormone. It regulates all other hormones’ timing, use, and function.

But wait, there’s more…

Melatonin is also recognized as one of the most beneficial antioxidant agents released naturally by your body.

Finally, your strongest ally is waiting at the end of your relay. Its name says it all: Human Growth Hormone. Typically released between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., this naturally produced anabolic steroid is your body’s holy grail. It is released during the deepest moments of recovery sleep. 

For a recap of your relay race of hormones:

Cortisol gets you out of bed and through the morning to start your day.

Serotonin and a Serotonin Lunch with what you eat, what you do, how you think, and how you feel sets up the rest of your day and is responsible for your overall quantity of quality sleep.

The transformation of Serotonin produces Melatonin. And yes, with a proper Serotonin Lunch, you can stop chasing a Melatonin supplement for sleep purposes.

Human Growth Hormone stimulates the production of cellular growth, cellular repair, and cellular reproduction vital for the continuation of your human development.

Your body has already figured it out… you are now catching up.

(All information in Serotonin Lunch has been medically reviewed and approved by Neurologist Dr. Eric Czander and Psychiatrist Dr. Neill Willams. Both Doctors are based in the Washington D.C region.)

About Jerry Frentsos

Jerry Frentsos has a Master’s Degree in nutritional sciences & biochemistry.  He is a clinical dietitian, sports nutritionist, and adjunct professor.  He’s an accomplished coach. Jerry has been an age-group, Masters, and NCAA Division 1 head swimming coach.  He was also the head coach of 2-time collegiate triathlon national champions.  Jerry is an accomplished swimmer. He has set 21 Master swimming world records, with the latest world record set on December 7, 2021. Jerry was also a member of the U.S.A. Swimming National Team from 1985-1988. 1986 U.S. Open National Champion. Gold Medalist at the 1987 Pan American games. He competed in the 1984 & 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing 3rd in the 400 IM to become an alternate for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team.

Jerry Frentsos
Author, Educator, Clinician, Coach, Athlete