Mental performance

Mental & cognitive performance

The terms mental performance or cognition refer to the capability to process information. In relation to the human brain the terms intend thinking in the broadest sense. The topic thinking can be broken down into  numerous distinct subsections and disciplines, for instance:

  • Learning ability and memory
  • Creativity, planning and imagination
  • Perception and attention
  • Orientation, willpower and more

Furthermore, mental performance can be subdivided into three different types of memory. There is the working memory where information gets stored and processed temporarily. However, the working memory’s capacity is low, which is why the long-term memory is of great importance. This is where knowledge is stored and restored permanently and it is employed afterwards as well as in advance by delivering expectations and hypotheses.

Increasing mental performance


Whether and how one can increase mental performance is a controversially discussed. A lot of studies indicate that sports don’t only train the body, but also also have a positive impact on mental performance. Evidently, several effects play crucial roles. Firstly, in the course of movement (preferably in the fresh air) the circulation increases and for this reason the brain is provided with more oxygen. But on the other hand, the brain matter also grows by learning and strengthening new movement patterns. That way, especially regular physical activity leads to the formation of new synapses and strengthens existing brain connections.

Brain training

There are diverse programmes which offer brain training to increase mental performance. Particularly the working memory gets trained here. It is highly controversial to what extent these brain-jogging programs are indeed useful for everyday life. With these training programs an improvement of executed skills (for instance solving sudoku puzzles or remembering words) can be achieved. In what way these skills also lead to an improvement of actual mental performance in the daily life (so-called transfer effects) is often questionable. A distinction is made between close transfer and distant transfer. A close transfer, that is an improvement of very similar skills achieved by brain training. This close transfer was proven in several studies, others however speak against it.  A distant transfer, that is an influence of brain training on intelligence or other mental capabilites, seems to be impossible. Therefore, brain researchers recommend to train everyday tasks instead of doing brain jogging-programs, for instance making music or learning languages.


It has long been known that diet doesn’t only influence physical but also mental performance. Therefore, it is important to lead a balanced diet which is rich in nutrients (macro and micro nutrients). The brain uses approx. 20% of the entire consumed energy, although it only accounts for 2% of the body mass. The brain uses glucose as main energy supplier, which is the smallest sugar component. This should not imply however, that very sugary foods positively affect mental performance. They can rather lead to strong fluctuations of the blood sugar level and thus negatively influence mental performance. This is why complex carbohydrates should be preferred, which ensure an even supply of the brain with glucose. Furthermore, it should be taken care of preferably having a light cuisine with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as protein and essential omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in fish or flax seeds. High-fibre foods have the benefit that only chewing on them stimulate the circulation of the brain and therefore positively influence mental performance.

Besides foods, also drinking plays a crucial role. An insufficient fluid intake can quickly lead to dehydration and cause an impairment of mental performance. The mental performance drop can last several hours which is why it should always be taken care of a good fluid balance.

In particular stressful phases the consumption and therefore the need for micro nutrients increases. At this point it can be beneficial to use supplements. Pantothenic acid contributes demonstrably to a normal mental performance and to a reduction of fatigue and tiredness. Moreover, the effects of plant extracts like gingko, brahmi, rose root, green tea and blueberries are discussed. An evaluation of the European authority EFSA is still to be made.

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