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 and your rainbow of highlighter pens is glistening in the lamplight. 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 your physical and mental health, and 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.

Whole foods for unbroken concentration

A healthy relationship with your ultimate study buddy – your brain – is built on a healthy diet. 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, legumes, soy and dairy – for increased brain function
  • Unsaturated ('good') fats from avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil – for improved memory and maximum productivity
  • Antioxidants from fresh fruits and vegetables (the more colours you get, the better) – for general brain and body health.

For more information, go to Better Health Channel.

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 or 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?

  • Unhealthy snacking, particularly on the sweet stuff

    Healthier, low-GI snacks – like a handful of nuts or Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit – will give you the energy and nutrients your body needs to study effectively. Plus, you avoid the sugar high-low cycle, so it’s easier to stay awake later too.

  • Skipping meals

    When studying, the day can just roll by without much structure, meaning it’s easy to skip meals. Including regular meal breaks throughout the day allows you to get the nutrients you need without the excess snacking. Aim for three meals, roughly four-ish hours apart, and make sure each one contains a protein (meat, fish, legumes or nuts), some vegetables or fruit, and complex carbohydrates (wholemeal or wholegrain bread, rice, grains or pasta).
  • Too much caffeine

    In large quantities, caffeine can affect our ability to sleep, reduce our ability to concentrate effectively and even heighten feelings of anxiety. Not what you need when you’re studying for an exam. General advice: three to four shots (or regular cups) of coffee a day is acceptable, but more may have negative effects, and stay away from the energy drinks!

Five foods to help you get the most out of your study time?

  • 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.
  • 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).

Number one nutritional tip for studying?

Scheduling! 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.

Did you know?

Wellbeing at Swinburne offers a full range of health services, including fully confidential counselling, to students with both on-site and online options available.

Call +61 3 9214 8483 to make an appointment, or register and book online. You will need your student ID (or photo ID if you are not a student), Medicare card or OSHC details, and your Centrelink Health Care Card if you have one.