Smart Food: Eating Well During Exam Time
When you’re studying for exams, good nutrition often slides down the priority list. However, a long exam is like a mental marathon in which endurance is critical. The right food and drink can energise your system, improve your alertness and sustain you through long exam hours. On the other hand, the wrong dietary choices can make you feel sluggish and jittery. Follow these simple tips below to help you eat your way to success!
Don’t skip meals, particularly breakfast
Despite the brain being one of the smallest organs in the body, it uses up to 20% of the energy we need every day. Keeping a steady supply of glucose (energy) throughout the day, will ensure you do not lose concentration during both your study and exam times. When you wake up, your body hasn't had any food for several hours. Breakfast gives us the energy we need to face the day, as well as some essential vitamins and minerals. Check out our information ‘Breakfast – a Great Start to Your Day’ for some fantastic breakfast suggestions, even if you’re short on time.
Time is precious – choose quick and healthy meals
The key to achieving the right balance is to enjoy a wide variety of foods, as no single food can provide all the nutrients your body needs. This can easily be overlooked at exam times since the temptation is to prioritise fast foods – in other words, meals that involve little shopping, little preparation and little mess so that precious time can be devoted to study. This is particularly true if you are living away from home and have only yourself to rely on for meal preparation. Try to avoid the pitfall of eating only high-fat, nutrient-poor food choices like frozen dinners and take away meals, just because they are convenient, by trying some of the super-easy suggestions below:
- Wholegrain cereal with milk and glass of orange juice
- Wholemeal bread toasted with chopped banana and glass of milk
Lunch or Tea
- Bowl of vegetable soup and wholemeal bread with an apple and yoghurt
- Chicken / tuna salad wrap and pure fruit smoothie
- Baked beans on whole-grain toast
- Baked potato topped with tinned tuna, baked beans or grated cheese
- Scrambled egg on toast with grilled tomato
TOP-TIP! A 'baked' potato can be easily prepared in a microwave in about 5 minutes
- Chicken or beef stir fry with noodles
- Egg omelette with cheese and baked potato
- Pasta with tinned tuna topped with cheese
TOP TIP! Frozen vegetables are packed with nutrients and are great when you are pressed for time.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
You have heard this a thousand times in relation to study, but preparing some home-made meals and freezing them in individual portions can be a life-saver at exam times. This way you get to eat healthy food without the hassle of shopping, chopping and washing up! All you have to think about is taking it out of the freezer the night before!
Opt for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, popcorn, fruit scones, dried fruit, yoghurt or nuts to keep you going throughout the day. These are better choices than cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets that are high in refined sugars that give you a 'sugar rush' after eating them but leave you feeling flat and in a bit of a slump shortly afterwards. If you are taking a long exam and are worried about concentration levels falling, take a healthy snack with you to eat either during or before the exam.
Keep hydrated – aim for 1.5 to 2L of fluid per day
Dehydration can make you feel lethargic, irritable and tired. Worst of all, it affects your concentration which may make it more difficult to study and perform to your best. Keep a glass of fluid (fruit juice, herbal teas, water) within easy reach while studying and take a bottle of water into the exam (if you can).
Try to reduce your intake of drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and some colas as they can act as mild diuretics. This causes the body to lose fluid and increase the need to use the toilet, which is not ideal during an exam! Although some studies suggest that small amounts of coffee can make us alert, other studies suggest that taking excess caffeine can upset our blood sugars which can affect your concentration levels.
Work, rest and play
All work and no play made Jack a dull boy. It also makes Jack a tired and stressed boy. Adequate sleep is essential to ensure you can recall the information you have worked so hard to learn as well as to absorb the new information you read. Allow yourself time to relax before bedtime. Avoid caffeine-containing drinks late at night.
To help relieve stress, clear your mind and lift your mood, break up your study with short bursts of exercise. You could go for a jog, a swim, a cycle, or even just walk to your local shop.
updated by Niamh Donnelly MINDI, December 2015. Review date: December 2018.
© 2015 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
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