I am starting to get really psyched about the upcoming meeting of the minds. The 40th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience should be an epic event, in every sense of that term. However, it is important to note that we are dealing with embodied minds, here. Thus, energy balance – i.e. food intake – is an issue. A big one.
In that sense, it is quite fitting that my SfN food arrived today… what do I mean by that?
Let us first consider a couple of things you don’t want to be doing and a couple of situations you don’t want to be in. If you have been there yourself, don’t worry – you are in good company. I have made all these “mistakes” myself. Repeatedly.
First of all, you definitely don’t want to be starving during the meeting. Make sure that food intake is relatively consistent and adequate. Stable blood sugar levels are essential to a successful meeting, as low blood sugar levels can seriously disrupt cognitive processing. Moreover, high cognitive demand has been shown to cause precipitously transient dips in blood sugar. And there *will* be high cognitive demand, if prior history is any guide. I have personally experienced this downward spiral at more than one SfN meeting. It ain’t pretty. Finally, low blood sugar levels have a deleterious impact on will power (or self-control, if you prefer a non-loaded term). Trust me, you will need that willpower towards the end of the meeting…
Bottom line: Feed yourself. Fasting during the meeting is a really bad idea. It accomplishes nothing.
The second option that immediately comes to mind is to grab something at the ubiquitous concession stands at the convention center. At first glance, this is an appealing option, but you will realize that you are not the only one with that idea. Frankly, I think it is not the best use of your time or your money to spend 30 minutes waiting in line to buy a $10 pretzel (and I am only exaggerating slightly, here). My strong advice is to stay away from the – typically – overpriced, sub-par and unhealthy conference food available at the convention center.
The third option is to just go to a restaurant in the vicinity of the convention center. But you will find that many of the other 30,000 visitors had a similar idea. It can be challenging to find a good spot (in all fairness, there is often a cafeteria in the actual convention center, but it can get quite crowded). Most importantly, this won’t help you outside of lunch time – if you just need a small snack to smooth out blood sugar fluctuations – and during lunch time, it takes important time away from you.What time? At every SfN, there is a 1 hour lunch break between noon and 1 pm, dividing the morning and afternoon session. As far as I’m concerned, this is my prime time to visit the vendors. While everyone else is heading off to lunch, this is the time to hit the vendors, hard. There is all kinds of free swag to score and it helps that the crowds dissipate somewhat during lunch. Also, there is plenty of time for “eating out” and socializing in the evening (which is its proper slot). Between lab dinners, socials and banquets, there is plenty of free food to be had in the evenings. No reason to blow the lunch break on that, too. There is plenty of time for eating and socializing AFTER 5 pm. As a matter of fact, that is what the time between 5 pm and 1 am is FOR.
So how do I nourish myself before that?
In the old days, I would have gone for liquid food. There are plenty of nutritionally complete formulae to be had. In doubt, I recommend this one:
But I have recently grown suspicious of drinking my calories. I don’t think it is a good idea. Moreover, some of these meal replacement liquids are quite heavy on the soy (non-fermented), and I don’t think it is a good idea to ingest too much of it, as a guy, although this issue is currently quite controversial. Also, these are quite heavy to carry around.
So what do I actually do these days?
Well, that’s how this post started. Note that this is maybe not the perfect solution for everyone, but it is what I do, and it works for me.
So what to do? Not the perfect solution, but it is what I do. If fits all the criteria. It is light to carry around, yields a well calibrated insulin response, can be eaten as snacks, etc.
The bottom line is: Protein bars. Now – make no mistake – most protein bars are thinly disguised candy bars which will actually leave you more hungry than before as your blood sugar levels crash. But not all protein bars are created equal. I recommend this one. While I am not happy with a lot of these parameters either (percentage of saturated fat, processed ingredients, SOY), they are the best of the worst. And they pack 30 g of protein per bar, which at least in my case (I have the data to prove this, in my case) substantially curb hunger and keep it at bay for quite a while. The cookies & cream kind is quite tasty, packs very little sugar but does provide some carbs in the form of sugar alcohols to keep those neurons going. Also some fiber. In other words, this is the perfect conference food, at least as far as I’m concerned.
But be careful. Unless you work in construction, you might want to limit your total protein intake. Protein can have deleterious effects if consumed in excessive quantities for prolonged periods of time. So this is a dietary choice that I observe for the duration of the conference, only. Generally speaking, it is prudent not to exceed daily protein intake of 1g/lb of total body weight (or less, depending of physical activity level).
On a sidenote, bottled water is the perfect conference beverage. Many people got used to drinking bottled water in the office. Most offices have readily available sources of potable water, so the rationale behind using bottled water at the office remains cloudy. However, at the conference, water sources within the convention center will be restricted, so you might want to bring your own. This is where bottled water makes sense. And you definitely want to stay hydrated (see this, this as well as this and this, among others). There will be lots and lots of walking (and talking).
P.S: I am well aware that this might all sound a little radical and appear a tad excessive. But I have the data to show that this works (and works well), at least for me. It is part of a larger context – the data-driven (scientific) lifestyle.