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Brain food: What to eat during exam time

Diet is key when it comes to boosting brain power during exam time. Whether you're at school, university or studying for a professional qualification, the right brain food can really help your revision. Here are our tips on feeding your brain for success.

Eat regular meals

Brain food: What to eat for exam success
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When you’re revising for an exam, make sure you don’t skip meals. You’ll need more energy during exam time and if your body doesn’t get enough calories, you won't be as effective. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all essential, along with a few snacks to keep you going in between.

Meals help structure your day, split up revision time into manageable chunks and ensure your brain gets regular calories. If your brain doesn’t get enough energy from your diet, it will take what it needs elsewhere in the body, to the detriment of other organs. 

Mix it up

The brain needs around forty different substances in order to function properly, including vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Just one kind of food isn’t going to contain all of these things, so you need to make sure your diet is as varied as possible. In real terms, this means that you should eat something different for every meal during your exam period. Existing on pizza and pasta isn't going to help you.

If you live along or you don't share your kitchen with a keen chef, stock your freezer with healthy dishes and vegetables. Even if preparing meals takes a little time out of your revision time, you should treat this as a break. You’ll be raring to go when you get back to your books.  

Stave off energy slumps

When you rest, your brain will still be eating away at your energy reserves. It actually uses up 20% of your body’s energy gained through food. And when you’re using up a lot of brain power, your brain will need even more energy! All the food groups fuel the body, but the brain prefers glucose (which is produced from carbohydrates).

To make sure you get enough energy, eat slow-burning carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. This includes any food that can be absorbed easily by the body and will keep blood sugar levels steady. Pasta, pulses, yoghurt, peas, cherries, grapefruit, apples and peaches are all good options for energy. They'll stop you from getting slumps in the middle of your revision. Sweet snacks are also a good way to fuel your body and keep you going, so stock up on cereal bars, bananas and chocolate.

Manage stress and anxiety

With an exam looming, the tension is certain to mount up. To calm anxiety and nerves, cook rice or pasta meals (high carb, low protein). This will increase secretion of tryptophan, an amino acid that transforms into serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that works to prevent depression and anxiety. Eat your favourite things for dessert as well. A sweet treat will trigger the release of endorphins, which are similar to opioids and calm stress. 

Last-minute tips

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep allows your brain to go over and retain everything you’ve learnt that day. Eight hours a night is ideal.
  • Avoid stimulants like tea, coffee, alcohol and medication designed to perk you up. If you need a boost, eat some citrus fruit or kiwis for a dose of vitamin C.
  • Get some exercise to energise your body, free your mind and help relieve stress. If you’re more relaxed, you’ll be able to concentrate better and for longer. Go for a quick jog in the morning to brush away the cobwebs.

Posted 03.11.2012

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