Cognitive performance and its relationship with postprandial metabolic changes after ingestion of different macronutrients in the morning

Br J Nutr. 2001 Mar;85(3):393-405. doi: 10.1079/bjn2000269.


The effect of carbohydrate, protein and fat ingestion on simple as well as complex cognitive functions and the relationship between the respective postprandial metabolic changes and changes in cognitive performance were studied in fifteen healthy male students. Subjects were tested in three sessions, separated by 1 week, for short-term changes in blood variables, indirect calorimetry, subjective performance and different objective performance tasks using a repeated-measures counterbalanced cross-over design. Measurements were made after an overnight fast before and hourly during 3 h after test meal ingestion. Test meals consisted of either pure carbohydrates, protein or fat and were served as isoenergetic (1670 kJ) spoonable creams with similar sensory properties. Most aspects of subjective performance did not differ between test meals. For all objective tasks, however, postprandial cognitive performance was best after fat ingestion concomitant with an almost constant glucose metabolism and constant metabolic activation state measured by glucagon:insulin (G:I). In contrast, carbohydrate as well as protein ingestion resulted in lower overall cognitive performance, both together with partly marked changes in glucose metabolism and metabolic activation. They also differently affected specific cognitive functions in relation to their specific effect on metabolism. Carbohydrate ingestion resulted in relatively better short-term memory and accuracy of tasks concomitant with low metabolic activation, whereas protein ingestion resulted in better attention and efficiency of tasks concomitant with higher metabolic activation. Our findings support the concept that good and stable cognitive performance is related to a balanced glucose metabolism and metabolic activation state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Calorimetry, Indirect
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Glucagon / blood
  • Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Postprandial Period / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Glucagon