Your brain uses approximately 20% of the energy you consume.

All of your thinking, planning and deciding really does take up a lot of energy. The most energy-demanding work of your brain involves executive functioning.
These are activities like:

  1. Understanding
  2. Deciding
  3. Memorizing
  4. Remembering
  5. Inhibiting (preventing yourself from doing or thinking something).

These activities use the prefrontal cortex of your brain, a.k.a. the executive functioning area, which is consequently the most energy-hungry part of your brain1.

Research in neuroscience tells us

our energy for executive functioning is finite. It means once you make a difficult decision you have less energy for the next. It also means once you deny yourself that afternoon candy, you have less energy to do it again!

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work says “Your best quality thinking lasts for a limited time. The answer is not always just to try harder.” Like the body, the brain needs to be recharged with food, rest, and regular sleep in order to continue performing these activities well.

Optimize : to make as perfect, effective, or functional as possible3

You can optimize your brain energy

by doing your most challenging, executive functioning activities when you have a fresh and alert mind. One of the best times is in the morning when your brain is rested, after breakfast.

Rock suggests we begin each day by organizing our appointments and our to-do list. Once we make those decisions we require less energy to make decisions throughout the rest of the day.

Have you noticed that already? I’ve found that daily planning reduces stress all around, and works with everything including food and exercise.

Are your decisions about food eating up too much of your brain energy?

If you don’t have a general plan for food—when, where, and what you’re going to eat most of the time—you have to make a decision for every meal, every day.

Decisions about food involve four out of five of those energy-expensive, brain activities. Every time you have a meal you need to:

  • Understand what the food is so you know whether you want to eat it.
  • Remember if you’ve eaten the food, if you like it, and whether it’ll give you the fuel you need.
  • Decide whether or not you’ll eat it, and
  • Inhibit yourself from having the cake, fries, or fried chicken that you’re craving instead of a healthy meal!

Use high-performance practices to save brain energy.

Brendon Burchard, author of High Performance Habits, discovered one of the qualities that sets high performers apart is that they have systems built into their day3.

You see, systems create patterns in daily life which lead to success—over and over again. According to Burchard, systems are the main reason why high performers achieve above and beyond what most others can.

Systems in your life can include things like: what you do when you first get up in the morning, how you make breakfast, and how and when you exercise to name a few.

Creating some systems around your daily food choices delivers multiple brain benefits.

You can create systems for some of your meals so you don’t have to use your finite, decision-making energy every time you eat:

A system many of my clients have come up with is making lunch for the next day after eating dinner.

One of my systems is pouring a bottle of water and drinking out of it first thing in the morning, before coffee.

I’m not suggesting you take all the fun or spontaneity out of food! Rather, purposefully and mindfully set up daily systems that ensure you have the energy to power through your day, and the nutrients to boost the health of your body and brain.

If this intrigues you,

check out my new book, Eat to Lead. I’ll help you find the food choices that work for you, and create your own personal systems that make healthy eating easy, reliable and enjoyable in your busy life.

Did this article inspire you to set up a system for food? Do you already have one or two in place? Let me know in the comments.




  1. Rock, David. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. HarperCollins, 2009.
  2. “Optimize.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
  3. Burchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits. Hay House, 2017.
  4. “Business Systems 101: How To Create A High Growth Business . . . Without Burning Out.” Successwise,