Having just started studying again in my late 20s, I am reminded of all the desperate ways we try to overload our brains when exams loom. Record cards, corkboards, exercise books, revision plans, mock tests and lots of sticky notes jostle for space, and while everyone’s capacity for learning is different, you can ensure your brain is ready to absorb all that information with a diet packed with brain-boosting foods.
Late nights, stress, missed meals and quick food fixes will all play havoc with your ability to concentrate, absorb information and function properly. So, if you’re in the midst of a revision frenzy, follow our foodie advice to make the most of your brain power.
Before the exam
Choose your food heroes
From wholegrains, nuts and seeds to tomatoes and sage, make sure you’re opting for brain-boosting foods. In the build up to the big day, try out a few different foods so you know which ones make you feel your best.
Despite the ongoing debate around the benefits or risks of intermittent fasting, while you are revising it’s best to eat regularly.
For lunch, choose foods with a low glycaemic index, these foods supply slow-releasing carbs that keep you and your brain going until dinner. For your last meal of the day, enjoy some oily fish, such as salmon – it’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, that are believed to help support brain function.
Not a fish fan? Try chia seeds or flaxseeds – chia is believed to be the best vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids.
On the day
The speed at which our brains work and process information can be affected if we become dehydrated. The NHS recommends we drink around 1.2 litres (or six to eight glasses) of hydrating fluid a day, most of which should be water.
Find out how much water to drink a day.
Swerve the sugar
Tempted to reach for something sweet to get you through? That’s not the answer – the brain needs a steady and consistent source of energy to function optimally. The temporary high you’ll get from sugary treats will be quickly followed by a crash in blood sugar levels, this is likely to lead to fatigue and muddled thinking.
So, dump the sugar and prepare some tasty snacks instead – check out our healthy snacks including our lemon & coriander hummus and our healthy cookies, or enjoy blueberries, strawberries and other berries – they’re full of vitamin C, which is thought to improve mental agility. Vitamin E and zinc are also believed to have a positive impact on the brain, so have a handful of pumpkin seeds or walnuts the next time hunger strikes.
Try these 10 healthy snacks you can make in minutes.
Don’t forget these exam tips
No matter how close your exam is, keep calm. Stress can have an adverse effect on your appetite and skipping meals won’t do your concentration any favours.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep will make revising more difficult, and you’ll be much more likely to reach for a sugary fix to get you through the learning lulls.
Warm milk and herbal teas before bed may have a sedative effect, while a carb-rich snack an hour or so before you head upstairs will clear the way for sleep-inducing amino acids to reach the brain.
Ditch your phone, tablet or laptop at least 30 minutes before bed. If you must use these devices, make sure they are set to ‘night shift mode’, and avoid taking your tablet or phone to bed with you. Rather than using your phone as an alarm, try an old-fashioned alarm clock – this way, you won’t be disturbed by incoming messages or tempted to go online if you wake up in the night.
Read our guide to getting a good night’s sleep for more suggestions to help you nod off.
Support your immune system
If you’ve been suffering from stress or sleepless nights or had a poor diet during revision, your immune system will likely need a helping hand. Avoid having your hard work scuppered by a cold or worse by filling your plate with the foods you need to stay well including fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
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What are your top foodie tips for revising? Leave a comment below…
Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health.
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