Do world-class athletes actually have performance anxiety and panic attacks? And could there be a food mood and nutrient connection? Yes, food does have a big impact on our mood. And yes, anxiety can affect anyone and many athletes are affected! The most recent example is baseball player Aubrey Huff, from the San Francisco Giants. Henry Schulman wrote about Aubrey’s panic attack in SFGate in an article titled Aubrey Huff opens up about his anxiety attacks :
Aubrey Huff says his first panic attack lasted for eight hours.
Aubrey Huff was standing in his New York hotel room at 5 o’clock in the morning in the early stages of what would be an eight-hour panic attack. The Giant were to play a doubleheader against the Mets that afternoon and evening. Baseball was the last thing on Huff’s mind.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Huff recalled. “I felt I was taking short breaths. Right then and there I thought I was having a heart attack. I told myself, ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to be sitting in this hotel room and die of a heart attack. I’ve got to get out of here.'”
I used to have social anxiety and panic attacks and it was horrible! And very scary! I really feel for Aubrey and would love to be able to help!
If I was working with Aubrey this is what I’d have him do (this is my approach for anyone who is experiencing anxiety and anxiety attacks/panic attacks):
- I’d have him keep a 3 day food diary and we’d look at his intake of real whole food (including grass-fed meat) compared to junk food and fast food
- We’d look at caffeine and sugar intake and reduce this and eventually eliminate it. Caffeine can induce anxiety and for many people it’s a tough one to eliminate so we’d have to address the underlying fatigue and reason for “self-medication”. For Aubrey, it could possibly be burned out adrenals. High sugar consumption also affects the adrenals and results in nutrient depletion of minerals like zinc and magnesium, both of which help with anxiety
- We’d also look at his gluten intake and assess for gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease and have him start right away on a 2 week gluten elimination trial. Whether or not gluten is a contributing factor to the anxiety, as Melissa Mclean Jory says in the Gluten-Free Edge, athletes perform better when gluten is not a part of their diets
- We’d have him start on the first of the 4 antianxiety diets: real whole food, good quality protein, good fats, plenty of organic veggies and fruit, and with no gluten. And make sure he eating a good breakfast that does include protein – keeping blood sugar stable is key for anxiety
- We must also always consider neurotransmitter imbalances. In the same SF gate interview Aubrey said this “I couldn’t control one thought in my head. There were so many thoughts going through”. Low serotonin can cause anxiety, panic attacks and ruminating thoughts, so assessing for low serotonin would be key. If low serotonin is a factor then using the amino acid supplements tryptophan or 5-HTP would be worth considering. Research supports the use of 5-HTP for panic. GABA is a calming amino acid and it’s likely that Aubrey would benefit from this too, especially if he has stiff and tense muscles
- I would also consider the possibility of pyroluria. In an interview on his blog, Aubrey stated: “I was very shy in high school, if you can believe it. I broke out of my shell at the University of Miami when I got around guys like Burrell. I learned how to believe in myself – and I learned how to project confidence even when I didn’t feel very confident.” As reported by Carey Vanderborg, “the Social Anxiety Institute says that social anxiety disorder, also known as performance anxiety, is a persistent fear of performance situations–such as an athletic event–in which you’re exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible judgment by others.” Zinc, vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil can completely eliminate social anxiety in someone with pyroluria. Here is the pyroluria questionnaire that I’d have Aubrey use for assessing if this is part of the issue. Raising serotonin levels also helps with boosting confidence so it doesn’t have to be learned or forced.
Each person has their own unique biochemistry and there may be other factors involved but this would be a great start. This is what I wish for Aubrey Huff with this food-mood approach: totally free of anxiety, no more panic attacks, zero performance anxiety, feeling super-confident, have no ruminating thoughts, plus playing his best baseball ever!
I would LOVE to send a copy of my book to Aubrey so if you know how to get fan-mail to him please let me know. I tried the Giants office and didn’t have any luck.
You can find out more in The Antianxiety Food Solution: How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood and End Cravings, available in major books stores, at Amazon and via www.antianxietyfoodsolution.com.