Eat Your Way to Exam Success

We have all heard this expression from the 80’s and know that ‘Lunch is for Wimps’ really meant, if you are eating lunch, you weren’t working! The funny thing about it is, we need food to be able to study (or work or do pretty much anything)and skipping meals is as productive as we were led to believe.

We have all heard this expression from the 80’s and know that ‘Lunch is for Wimps’ really meant, if you are eating lunch, you weren’t working!  The funny thing about it is, we need food to be able to study (or work or do pretty much anything) and skipping meals is as productive as we were led to believe.

According to The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, our brain uses up to 20% of our daily nutrition intake. [https://www.indi.ie/fact-sheets/fact-sheets-on-nutrition-for-teens/511-smart-food-eating-well-during-exam-time.html]. Think about that for just a second, is it a good idea to starve your brain of nutrients at this vital time when you are using it at such a high potential?  Surely not.  

It is essential for you to keep your glucose levels up.  Glucose gives us the energy we need to study and when you think about it, the time your glucose levels will be at their lowest are when you first wake up in the morning.  The importance of getting a well-balanced nutritious breakfast cannot be overstated. The amount of people I know who tryto tell me they don’t ‘do’ breakfast is phenomenal.  I couldn’t understand it then and I still can’t understand it now.  Most people sleep for 6 to 7 hours a night (we will talk about sleep at another time) and unless you were sleep eating, you haven’t had anything to eat since before you went to bed.  In fact, because it can lead to its own problems, people do not eat just before they go to bed.  

Anyway, even though you use les energy when you are asleep, it has been a long time since you have feed you body and indeed your brain. Breakfast has many benefits apart from just giving you brain the boost it needs.  There are many resources on the internet advocating a good breakfast and I recommend reading them, especially if you are one of those people who think they just don’t have the time for breakfast, or in fact, breakfast makes people feel ill. It may sound strange but eating even a small breakfast can alleviate feeling ill in the morning as it may be a down to low blood sugar, the result of eating a big meal too late and then going to bed. [https://www.insider.com/4-reasons-you-feel-sick-in-the-morning-even-when-not-pregnant-2018-12] I don’t want to go on too much about breakfast, however, it is important and keeps your brain ticking.

You may be wondering, but I really don’t have time! You know what, the answer to that is the same as studying for your exam..... preparation! If you don’t have time inthe morning, prepare your bowl of cereal the night before and just put someplastic wrap over it to keep it fresh. Pour some milk over it and eat it when you get up, or boil the kettle for your morning tea or coffee and pour the hot water on top.  

The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute link Iprovided above has an example of a daily meal plan and it is very easy to follow.  Again, we spend a lot of time preparing the material for studying, why not include your meals in your planning.  

Now, what types of food are considered the best when you need to use your brain more?  

·       It may not surprise you one of the top foods for brain activity is fish.  We are taught from a young age that fish is "brain food" and the variety of different fish is enormous.  But what kind of fish are the best?  We really need fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Our brain is made up of fat and half of that is omega-3. [https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#section1] Fish like salmon, trout and sardines are the optimal for these fatty acids.  

·       If you are not a fan of fish then there are alternatives and a majority can be eaten as a snack while you are studying. Flax or Hemp seed as well as walnuts and chia seeds are some of the top for omega-3 that are not fish.  

So, you are studying away after you had a well-balanced lunch and you are starting to fade a little.  You can hear your tummy rumbling and you may even feel a little light headed.  In your mind all you want is sugar, a chocolate or a biscuit or cup cake.  There are better ways then a fast sugar rush to keep you going while you are trying to make every second count in your studying. As you saw from the paragraph about, there are nuts and seeds that are very high in omega-3 that will help your brain and will sustain you much longer then a chocolate biscuit. Blueberries are also a great food, high in omaga-3.  There are easy to munch on while you are studying and are great just before or even during the exam. Sugary snacks and especially high fructose drinks (these are drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup – have you ever wondered how they pack all that sugar into those little cans? Well, now you know) cause you blood sugar to spike and causes a number of health problemslike high blood pressure and diabetes. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4682602/]

A much better way to increase sugar to keep you going is from fresh fruit. In my opinion, bananas are the best for this as they are slow release energy and also are high in potassium.  Some fruits like strawberries can be very high in sugar and have been know to spike your blood sugar, however, they are very good in small amounts and are easy to have at hand for snacks while studying.

We have talked a lot about what is the best brainfoods, setting up a plan for meals and preparing for breakfast, lunch and dinner with snack time in between, but what about that midnight snack for justbefore bedtime? One of the main problems of eating a big meal less then 2-3 hours before you go to bed is you will have trouble falling asleep and also getting a restful sleep. [https://www.sleepadvisor.org/eat-just-before-bed-risks/]

We all know how important sleep is at exam time and making it more difficult is only going to hurt you. A light snack before going to bed is fine if this is after 2-3 hour since your last meal but when I say snack, I mean a piece of fruit like an orange. Another good reason to not eat prior to going to bed, is if you do, you may not be hungry in the morning and we know what this can mean: you will want to avoid breakfast. Now, what did I say earlier, breakfast is very important!  If you are one of those people that feels sick in the morning, the meal you had just before going to bed may also be a cause of your acid reflux and this is making you feel ill inthe morning, causing you to skip your breakfast.  

See how the whole thing can just be a vicious circle?  What we should really take from this is theway a big meal just before going to bed can affect your sleep and lack of slee pcan affect your concentration and by not eating breakfast you aren’t giving your brain the omega-3 fatty acids it needs for exam study… see what I mean?

Finally, let’s talk about a widely used supersubstance. A liquid so amazing, you need to have it next to you the entire time you are studying. I can only mean one thing… COFFEE. Your ideal caffeinated drink may not be coffee, but let’s consider it….. [https://info.methodtestprep.com/blog/bid/107111/Is-Caffeine-Good-or-Bad-for-Studying].

What we need to consider is how that burst of caffeine works for you.  Everyone reacts to caffeine differently and you have to be the judge.  Too much for anyone can be harmful for you studying as it can cause irritability, jitters, heart palpitations and high blood pressure. It can keep you focused on the job at hand though, (in moderation).  The alternatives to coffee are tea and soft drinks. Tea tends to be lower in caffeine but a very good alternative.  Soft drinks are another story entirely.  They tend to be filled with high fructose corn syrup and as stated above, has its own list of health warnings.  No sugar alternatives, in my opinion are no better, however, you need to use your own judgement.  

Whether you are drinking coffee, tea or an assortment of other caffeinated drinks, you have to keep in mind you have to stay hydrated.  Making sure you keep a bottle of water with you during your studying is important.  Coffee can actually dehydrate you, so it is important to stay on top of that and drink water along with it.  Many people have said to me though, "but getting up to go to the toilet all the time is lowering my study time."  All I can say to this is, you will be in alot worse shape if the opposite was true. It is also very important to make sure you don’t drink coffee well into the night.  As with eating, drinking coffee (or caffeinated drinks of any kind.) later should be avoided at all costs. Sleep is one of the most important activities during exam time! Being well rested helps with your stress levels, concentration and ability to absorb new information… just like eating the right foods!

It is amazing how linked your actions are and when you are studying for an exam or set of exams, each action you take can help you or hinder you along the way.

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