You’re all set for an all-night cram session. Enough coffee to rouse a hibernating bear. An array of chocolates and candies for your late-night sugar hits. Your phone’s switched to silent, your rainbow of highlighter pens is glistening in the lamplight and you just popped a couple of No-Doz. Everything’s set to go, except for one thing… Dinner.
Sound familiar? Ask any dietitian and they’ll tell you there are several things wrong with that picture. Read on and discover how what you eat and drink can have a big impact on how you perform in that make-or-break exam.
Hit the fridge, before you hit the books
We’re all equipped with our very own super-computers: our brains. These tremendously-complex organs are capable of working non-stop, simultaneously processing thousands of inputs and running literally millions of processes every single day. The one thing our brains need from us is pretty simple: food. Glucose – or the energy carrying carbohydrates found in food – to be exact.
A ‘hangry’ brain has no patience for hypotheses, essays and textbooks. In fact, it doesn’t even care about your stupid test at all. A satisfied brain, however, will help you solve problems and sponge up information as it gleefully laps from golden streams of glucose in your blood. Keep it topped-up, and your satisfied brain will help you reach and exceed your study potential. Easy now: that isn’t a green light to go binge on jelly beans. We’re interested in a balanced diet…
Whole foods for unbroken concentration
A healthy relationship with your ultimate study buddy – your brain – is built on a healthy diet. And a fast-food-affected brain is just about as useless as a hangry one – only lazier. So it’s important to keep up your intake of wholefoods and plenty of fresh water during peak study times.
The nutrients and foods that are important for brain function:
- Proteins from meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, soy and dairy – for increased brain function
- Monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil – for improved memory and maximum productivity
- Omega-3 especially from oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, soy, and also meats and flax-seed products – for boosted mood and energy levels
- Antioxidants from fresh fruit, vegetables, green tea, coffee (!) and juices – for general brain health.
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Spare a thought for nutrition
So, next time you’re up to your eyeballs in essays. or nearing the end-of-year exam rush, stop. Then take another moment to consider how you’ll prepare your pantry for the long days and nights ahead. Get your family, room/housemates on board and you can split the costs and share the benefits. It might seem like a busy time to be thinking about your stomach, but your brain and tutors will thank you.
Ask a dietitian
We asked a Swinburne dietitian their best nutrition tips for busy students
Biggest nutritional mistakes students make while cramming?
- Nuts contain protein and fibre, which are important for brain and gut function, and keep you feeling full between meals. A closed handful (30 grams) is a serve. More info here.
- Greek yoghurt is a delicious, low-sugar source of protein, which also contains probiotics for a healthy gut (linked to better mental health). Top with fresh fruit and a swirl of honey, or eat it plain. Stay away from flavoured yoghurts, as they’re often packed with sugar.
- Popcorn is high in fibre and low in calories – a mindless option for a thoughtful snack. Choose plain popcorn for the healthiest choice, and avoid caramel- or sugar-coated versions.
- Bananas are the original brain food. They contain lots of magnesium, potassium and b vitamins, which are all good for your brain and studying. Plus, they come packaged in their own handy wrapper, making them a great portable option.
- Eggs are high in protein, relatively cheap, and so versatile. Have them for breakfast, a hard-boiled snack, or dinner (just maybe not all three in one day). More info here.
Number one nutritional tip for studying?
Schedule your study day, including time for study, breaks, exercise and food. Perhaps you could plan a ‘treat’ you can look forward to when you’ve reached a milestone, and make sure your schedule allows for healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Even if you’re on a roll, a healthy food break can do wonders for your brain function.