What To Eat For the Best Exam Results

What to eat for the best exam results is vital information if you have a Year 11, Year 12 or even a uni student in your household or family about to start prepping for exams.

All exams are important but the Year 12 journey is certainly at another level with all the expectations (real and perceived) that travel alongside the actual assessment.

This time of year auspiciously marks the beginning of mock exams for Year 12 students. The mocks are then followed by the real deal and they can be a true test of grit and determination in so many ways.

The thing is, studying and preparing for exams is SO similar to athletes preparing and training for an event or game.  If you are an adult with ever ‘useful’ hindsight, you know from experience that it takes discipline, tests of endurance, endless concentration and skill. 

That’s why the fuel going in needs to be full of the good stuff at the right time.

You may have done the prep and the studying to get you to the exam but have you considered what to eat for the best exam results?

Consider your day as a football game or any game you love. 

This means breaking your day into four quarters and the first quarter bounce down starts when you wake up.

First Quarter

Breakfast is key to exam success and your brain working at its best.

In fact there is good evidence to suggest that eating breakfast improves memory.   It is true that some people do not feel like eating in the morning but once again, it is can be a matter of training your stomach to take food.  When considering what to eat for the best exam results, good choices for breakfast include:

  • High fibre cereal (Weet-bix, porridge, natural muesli, Sultana Bran, Mini-Wheats) with milk and fresh fruit
  • Wholegrain toast with baked beans, spaghetti, tomato, egg or avocado
  • Pancakes with fresh fruit
  • Fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and yoghurt

Anxiety and stress may mean your stomach is doing gymnastics on exam mornings so if you can’t deal with any other breakfast options try a banana with an Up and Go or Sustagen drink. Avoid arriving at an exam with an empty petrol tank.

Second Quarter

The second quarter of your game starts at around the mid-morning break and this is an ideal time to take a physical and mental break. Your lifestyle will determine whether you are a three meal per day person or a ‘grazer.’ The term ‘grazing’ is so called because cows like to do the same thing.  You may not like to think of yourself out in the field chomping down on grass but ‘grazing’ here means snacking or having 5-6 ‘meals’ spread out over the day. There could be some perfect recipes for you right here.

Five tasty snacks to keep you alert and awake

Snacks can be a nutrition trap to students as it is so tempting to grab something quick and easy like chocolate, lollies, muesli bars, biscuits and cake, none of which will give you the long-lasting energy that you need to study for the rest of the day. 

Instead you could try:

  1. 200g tub of yoghurt (ideally no added sugar)
  2. Fruit bread with jam, honey or a little butter
  3. Toast or crumpet with a light spread of peanut butter or vegemite
  4. Fruit Smoothie with milk, fruit and yoghurt and a handful of oats
  5. Crackers with cheese.

Third Quarter

As every decent coach will tell you, what happens in the third quarter of a game will determine whether the final quarter is grand final material. Wondering what to eat for the best exam results in the afternoon?

Does caffeine give you a buzz?

Late afternoons can be tough in the energy department but try and avoid relying on caffeine to keep you alert and awake. 

Caffeine stimulates every organ in your body and in small doses can be a useful study tool but too much can mean over-stimulation of your nervous system, increased heart rate and erratic sleep patterns. 

Sources of caffeine include coffee, tea (to a lesser extent), cola drinks and energy drinks eg.  Red Bull, V, Lift Plus etc.  Energy drinks contain a mix of caffeine and sugar, which gives you an extra hit but they are equivalent to drinking a cappuccino, flat white or latte. 

Boost brainpower

Omega-3 fats are known to boost brainpower and should be an essential part of every students diet. Fish, shellfish and fish oils are good dietary sources of these fats and are found in particularly ‘oily’ fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon.  Canned, fresh or frozen fish are all good sources of omega-3 fats.  Try and include them 2-3 times per week.

Bugs

Probiotic’s are foods or supplements that contain live beneficial bacteria (bugs) that keep your gut healthy. Exam stress is one thing that can upset intestinal balance and probiotic’s may be especially useful during this time.  There are a number of sources of probiotic’s including liquids, yoghurts, capsules and powders.

Pump the Iron

Iron is essential for getting enough oxygen around your body and this is obviously important during study and exam time! 

The best sources are liver (there are very few lovers of this one but you could try reduced fat pate if you are not keen on the actual liver), lean red meat, breakfast cereals and legumes (baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans etc) and to a much lesser extent chicken, fish and leafy green vegetables.  Include some fruit or vegetables, which contain Vitamin C with your iron-rich food and this will assist with absorption.

Liquid refreshment

Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids while studying to avoid brain drain.  There are no rules that say you have to drink eight glasses of water every day but regular intake is the key.  Water will always be the best choice but you could mix this up with some coffee, tea or Milo (but not mostly Milo with milk) for a change in pace.  Avoid getting stuck into sugary drinks like soft drinks, cordials and energy drinks. Yes, they increase blood sugar levels but oh so briefly and are a sure fire way of getting tired quickly. 

The Final Quarter

If you know what to eat for the best exam results,  you will arrive at the 3pm time spot in the day feeling energised and ready to tackle the final quarter or evening segment of your study game. 

If not, your brain and body might want to have a rest or start looking for the lolly jar.

A successful nutrition game plan will mean your body and brain will perform at their best not just for studying but also for the grand final, your exams.

Good luck and go get ’em!

 

Nutrition in the News

In the early part of the year, it shouldn’t be surprising that nutrition and well-being is at the top of the list in the media. Many of us may have been lured into making those rash New Years Resolutions, which lasted for a couple of days at the most and yet, we are still looking for ways in which we can boost our health and well-being. Thats a good thing. I have been doing some writing and contributing for various publications over February and some of the nutrition in the news below might just contain the tip that can help prepare you to do amazing things. This year is the International Year of Pulses and we are not talking about whether your heart is beating, but those little nutritious treasures such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas and their friends. You can see what I had to say about them as a Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador here. You might also like to check out the resources of Pulse Australia and grab some recipes here too. The school year took off with a bang a couple of weeks ago in Western Australia and ‘Today Tonight’ ran a story on an innovative concept called BakeSw@p – initiated by a group of women and mum’s at a West Australian primary school.  Each parent registered with BakeSw@p brings a plate of their own healthy snacks for school, meets at the designated meet-up spot and swaps their own kids snacks with other parents. Each family then takes home a variety of healthy school snacks for the week.  The story than ran on Channel 7 a couple of weeks ago, generated huge interest – I always love hearing about people being engaged in improving the health of their children by home cooking and limiting the use of prepackaged foods.  You can check out the segment here and what BakeSw@p are all about here. Lastly, lets not forget the annual issue of getting back to work after taking a festive break – this one can most certainly be a tough gig. Getting traction and enthusiasm can be all too elusive at the beginning of the year but never fear, there are ways and means to enhance our focus and concentration while at work. My article over on WatchFit runs through some strategies to do just that – you can take a look here. Not all news is bad right?    

Sea urchin, radish salad and fish fluff

My heart was touched today. I was privileged to visit Nishikasai Elementary School just out of Tokyo. The Grade Four students sang and danced to entertain their overseas guests and then we sat in their classroom and ate lunch with them. 99% of elementary schools provide lunch for their students and today this consisted of rice with kelp and fish fluff (very fine fish shavings) , grilled salmon with miso, radish salad, miso soup, fruit and milk. It was divine. All students sit at their desks and eat together and a catering company prepares the meals onsite. The kids were so excited to have us sitting at their desks and it was truly amazing how much two cultures can communicate when they have absolutely no language in common. Despite no English these 9 year olds knew what a kangaroo did ! Our Indian friends on tour with us explained their lunch program which is free and provided to 130 million children each day. Our Australian team couldn’t really explain to the other countries why we do not have a lunch program. Any explanation didn’t seem adequate next to 130 million meals per day! What if we could though? Each school meal costs parents $2.00, it ticks all the nutrition boxes and no home preparation, what an innovative and progressive idea. Each school has a nutrition teacher who may also be a Dietitian on their staff full-time, they are truly advanced in this area and their long term vision inspiring. Around 10% of children here are overweight and only 4% skip breakfast. Statistics to dream about in Australia.