Check out this excerpt from Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”:
“The most surprising discovery made by Baumeister’s group shows, as he puts it, that the idea of mental energy is more than a mere metaphor. The nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body, and effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose. When you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose level drops. The effect is analogous to a runner who draws down glucose stored in her muscles during a sprint. The bold implication of this idea is that the effects of ego depletion could be undone by ingesting glucose, and Baumeister and his colleagues have confirmed this hypothesis in several experiments.
Volunteers in one of their studies watched a short silent film of a woman being interviewed and were asked to interpret her body language. While they were performing the task, a series of words crossed the screen in slow succession. The participants were specifically instructed to ignore the words, and if they found their attention drawn away they had to refocus the concentration on the woman’s behavior. This act of self-control was known to cause ego depletion. All the volunteers drank some lemonade before participating in a second task. The lemonade was sweetened with glucose for half of them and with Splenda for the others. Then all participants were given a task in which they needed to overcome an intuitive response to get the correct answer. Intuitive errors are normally much more frequent among ego-depleted people, and the drinkers of Splenda showed the expected depletion effect. On the other hand, the glucose drinkers were not depleted. Restoring the level of available sugar in the brain had prevented the deterioration of performance. It will take some time and much further research to establish whether the tasks that cause glucose-depletion also cause the momentary arousal that is reflected in increases of pupil size and heart rate.”