8 Notable Foods That Help Reduce Stress

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition, 8 Notable Foods That Help Reduce Stress

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Nutrition is important in helping clients achieve health and fitness goals. To achieve optimal health, you must have a well-balanced diet paired with a fitness program. If you eat the right foods you can decrease the risk of health problems and lower stress levels.

Stress is present when there is emotional tension or circumstances that involve pressure. Every person addresses stress in different ways. Some clients deal with it through emotional eating while others might not eat at all.

You can imagine the impact stress has on a client’s fitness goals. It is constantly fluctuating, which increases the need for certain nutrients. The food choices you recommend can either increase or decrease stress levels, so it’s crucial to monitor your client’s feelings based on the foods they eat. 

Let’s take a closer look at stress and how you can reduce it by eating certain foods.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural response that prepares the body for change. As the brain responds to new demands, it undergoes stress. During stressful situations, the body releases a chemical called cortisol.

Cortisol is a catabolic stress hormone known as the fight or flight response. This hormone increases energy production in the body. If you are stressed, then your cortisol levels are high.

Muscle breakdown occurs during weight lifting. As a result of this stress, inflammation increases in the body. This inflammatory response is natural but could be harmful if not addressed.

Chronic stress damages healthy tissue and leads to disorders like arthritis. This impacts bone and joint health.

Another chemical released during stress is creatine kinase. This chemical helps the body repair from intense training. Stress drives creatine kinase production, but too much can become toxic to the body.

How Exactly Do Healthy Foods Reduce Stress?

The nutrients in food affect people in many ways—proving energy, eliciting an allergic reaction, initiating the production of hormones, and more. Three ways foods help reduce stress include the following: 

Increasing Serotonin Production

Macronutrients—carbs, fat, and protein—supply the body with energy in the form of calories. The body and brain are fueled through the main energy source of complex carbohydrates. These regulate blood sugar in the body.

Carbohydrates increase serotonin production in the brain and help stabilize blood pressure. Serotonin is the hormone that makes you feel happy. An increase in serotonin helps decrease stress, depression, and inflammation.

Low levels of serotonin can lead to:

  • Sadness
  • Depressed moods
  • Low energy 
  • Tension
  • Sweet cravings

Supplying Alpha-Lactalbumin

A well-known supplement for building muscle is whey protein, made of protein and lactase. And it can reduce stress through its main protein ingredient, alpha-lactalbumin. 

This protein contains a high level of an essential amino acid called tryptophan. It helps reduce cortisol and increase serotonin. You still want to recommend clients obtain tryptophan and protein from food.

Delivering Fatty Acids

Lastly, a healthy fat contains omega-3 fatty acids. Long-chain fatty acids help reduce stress hormones and protect against depression symptoms. They also heavily influence inflammation.

Which Foods Reduce Stress?

Food choices affect serotonin levels, which in turn influences happiness. Eating the right foods can help clients improve physical, emotional, and mental stress. 

Stress depletes the body of many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins C, B, and E. Even more of a reason to replenish lost nutrients. You must know how to adjust diets to effectively combat stress.

This will help you build a successful career in nutrition. Let’s look at foods that provide nutrients to help reduce stress. 


Avocado is a fruit packed with lots of nutrients like vitamin C and magnesium. The main ingredient that has the largest effect on stress is magnesium. This mineral helps support bone structure, blood pressure, and heart rate. This anti-stress nutrient helps relieve body tension and improves sleep. 

See how avocados also support cardiovascular health

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a form of chocolate loaded with cocoa. This antioxidant improves one's stress level, blood pressure, and circulation. High-quality dark chocolate will have up to 85% cocoa.

It includes nutrients such as:

  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Copper

Use dark chocolate moderately, as it does have sugar. 


Fish is another great food to reduce stress. Fatty fish like salmon contains vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. The EPA and DHA make up the fatty acid itself. They are anti-inflammatory and help relieve symptoms of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids also have potential to benefit people with mood disorders.


Fruits contain high levels of Vitamin C. This is one of many vitamins that improve the immune system. Oranges, strawberries, and blueberries are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Phytonutrients serve as the body's defense mechanisms to help fight free radicals. This increases white blood cells and stops healthy cells from being damaged. 


Probiotic foods like yogurt help improve gut health. The brain controls everything including digestion. Having a healthy bowel environment can impact the brain and emotions. The brain and gut connection happens most when you are nervous or anxious. If you have ever experienced the stomach “butterflies” you know the feeling.


Remember the benefits of whey protein on stress management? The high amounts of tryptophan from protein contribute to hunger and happiness. Turkey is a protein that contains high levels of this essential amino acid. The protein makes niacin in the body, which helps create and distribute serotonin.


Complex carbs do not spike blood sugar levels like simple sugars do. When you are stressed blood sugar levels increase. Because oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate, it helps supply the brain with fuel. The more fuel the brain has, the more serotonin it produces. This helps regulate symptoms of depression.

Leafy Green Vegetables

An imbalance between antioxidant levels and free radicals leads to oxidative stress. Vegetables like kale, spinach, and celery help fight inflammation and relieve this stress.

Green leafy vegetables contain nutrients like magnesium and folate that contribute to relaxation. When you are stressed, B vitamins are depleted from the body. Folic acid is a B-vitamin that helps convert carbohydrates to energy. This affects dopamine levels in the body, a hormone that influences how you feel pleasure and satisfaction, such as with food cravings. 

Limit Consumption of Certain Food Groups

Just as some foods can help reduce stress, others can increase it. Sugar is one of the most popular nutrients that contribute to inflammation. Consuming too much sugar leads to increased insulin levels. When insulin levels are drastically increased, those levels eventually drop. This is where energy crashes come from.

That constant fluctuation affects mood and emotions. High levels of inflammation and stress cause damage to healthy tissues and hormones. Avoid physical and emotional complications by limiting the following types of foods or nutrients:

  • White flour
  • Processed foods including meat, carbs, and junk food
  • Salt
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol 
  • Fried foods
  • Juices and sodas
  • Caffeine

There is an abundance of nutrition information in the world today. Learn how to teach clients about proper nutrition with the ISSA’s Nutrition Certification course. You’ll help clients improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing for ultimate performance.


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Sports Nutritionist

ISSA’s Specialist in Sports Nutrition (SSN) program prepares personal trainers to expand their practices into the specialized area of sports nutrition. Trainers learn how to optimize client performance by combining well-designed training programs with performance nutrition.

Please note: The information provided in this course is for general educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider regarding particular medical conditions and needs. Be sure to check the statutes in your state regarding the nutrition information that non-licensed individuals are able to dispense.

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