Increase BDNF to Get a Stronger Brain.

When you exercise, we already know that it does wonders for our mind and our physique but did you know that certain types of exercise actually change the structure of our brain? That’s right!  Another great reason to exercise is that it increases the brains plasticity via a special protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). So, if you have ever experience brief memory lapses, brain fog, you get distracted easily or just don’t have that laser sharp concentration like you used to, it may be due to this one single protein. 

BDNF is like a miracle growth for your brain, it’s like a fertiliser for building a stronger, more focused and powerful mindset. 

At Neuro Athletics we have a BDNF trio theory that is, Move, Eat, Sleep. These three factors are extremely important in determining the release of BDNF.

The breakdown of BDNF.

Nerve growth factor (NGF) was discovered in the early 1950s due to its trophic (survival- and growth-promoting) effects on sensory and sympathetic neurons then in 1982, BDNF, the second member of the “neurotrophic” family of neurotrophic factors, was later found. This powerful little protein, when released, helps you learn faster, focus better, age slower, and rapidly rewire your brain. In the brain, BDNF is active in the hippocampus, cortex, and forebrain—areas vital to learning, memory, and higher thinking.  Hence, BDNF is important for long-term memory. Low levels of BDNF have been associated with depression, anxiety, poor memory and brain degeneration as seen in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

How to get more BDNF?

One word: STIMULATION.  Stimulation of your brain and all its cells can come in many forms. Of course, traditional brain exercise has been thought of as activities such as cross words and Sudoku (which are definitely good!) At Neuro Athletics we use certain types of Neurofeedback where we set our clients up with a headset and they literally fly a small toy plane with their mind. 

Exercise and BDNF.

Aerobic exercise: Running, jogging and swimming. Endurance sports are great for boosting BDNF and work far better than strength and weight training. As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercises can increase BDNF levels. 

Here’s how it works: Endurance exercise releases a protein called FNDC5 (fibronectin type III domain-containing protein 5, which in turn, increases BDNF by 200-300%. 

TIP: Want to maximize the increased learning capacity of your brain? Don’t try to learn something while exercising (stop taking your study notes to the spin bike!) – blood flow increases to the brain post-exercise, while BDNF levels are still increased, meaning immediately after exercise is the perfect time to take in new information. So grab your books and get stuck into that mathematics as soon as you finish exercising!

Nutrition and BDNF. 

  1. Fat: Your brain is about 60% fat, 25% of which is cholesterol so it’s no surprise that a high-fat diet is great for cognitive enhancement and also the reals of BDNF. A large number of people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids today, and they are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system. One of the best forms of omega-3 fatty acidosis krill oil which is a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to normalise BDNF levels and can also to maintain a healthy cognitive balance. 
  2. Ketogenic Diet: This type of diet that consists of 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% from your daily caloric intake. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body runs on fatty acids. This happens when there is limited access to glucose, the body’s main source of energy. Ketosis often results from following a very low-carb diet. So eating foods that are high in fat such as MCT oil, avocados and grass fed butter will help to increase BDNF while also curbing your sugar cravings and appetite. 
  3. Niacin: Chinese scientists studying neural degeneration discovered that niacin and niacinamide increased BDNF and turned on "genes required for axonal development and neuronal survival".

Sleep and BDNF. 

As with stress, sleep is critical for health.  As you might expect, BDNF is reduced with sleep deprivation which is why it is so critical for your body to get deep sleep, it’s about quality not quantity (read this article for more information on how to hack your sleep). There are numerous evidence that BDNF expression is decreased by experiencing psychological stress and that, accordingly, a lack of neurotrophic support causes major depression. Furthermore, disruption in sleep homeostatic processes results in higher stress vulnerability and is often associated with stress-related mental disorders. Recently, we reported, for the first time, a relationship between BDNF and insomnia and sleep deprivation (SD).

So the key here to do prime your mind and body prior to hitting the pillow. You want to be able to put your body into deep sleep so you can wake up feeling refreshed and energised. 

What stops BDNF?

  1. Sugar: Research indicates that a diet high in added sugar reduces the production of BDNF. Levels of BDNF are particularly low in people with an impaired glucose metabolism--diabetics and pre-diabetics--and as the amount of BDNF decreases, sugar metabolism worsens. In other words, chronically eating added sugar reduces BDNF, and then the lowered levels of the brain chemical begin contributing to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which eventually leads to a host of other health problems.  Once that happens, your brain and body are in a destructive cycle that's difficult if not impossible to reverse.
  2. Stress: People react to stress in different ways. Some people seem to thrive under a constant deluge of deadlines, and galvanize to action in the face of life stress. In others, stress can be a trigger for psychiatric disorders such as depression, leaving them feeling helpless and causing difficulties in their everyday lives. Stress is a major contributor to blocking BDNF levels, make it part of your daily routine to meditate more and box breathe. 

Following the above you should be able to increase your BDNF so you can have a healthier brain and mind to increase your mental performance. 

Want a complete guide to upgrading your brain?


  • Levi-Montalcini R, Hamburger V. Selective growth- stimulating effects of mouse sarcoma on the sensory and sympathetic nervous system of the chick embryo. J Exp Zool. 1951;116:321–361.  
  • Barde YA, Edgar D, Thoenen H. Purification of a new neurotrophic factor from mammalian brain. EMBO J. 1982;1:549–553. 
  • Aisen, P. S. (2014). Serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and the risk for dementia. JAMA, 311(16), 1684-1685. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.3120.