Whether mocks or the real thing, exams can be stressful experiences. Alongside preparation with adequate revision, it’s important to also think about managing nerves, getting good quality sleep and fueling the brain with nourishing foods. Here are some top tips to support your body during the exam period.
Preparation is key
While it may be tempting to skip mealtime to gain extra hours for studying, the brain is very nutrient demanding, and without a regular supply of energy it’s unlikely that you’ll get the most out of your revision sessions. Instead, plan out small breaks where you can include some nutritionally dense snacks or meals throughout the day. Having a regular supply of nutrients and energy will ensure your brain is optimally nourished, which will help to improve focus and concentration.
Focus on filling your meals and snacks with:
- Slow and steady carbohydrates – Your brain’s primary fuel is glucose, which your body derives from carbohydrates. Slower releasing carbohydrates (such as wholegrain rice, oats, wholemeal bread, beans and vegetables) take longer to break down in the body, providing a slow and steady supply of glucose through the day.
- Protein – protein gives us essential amino acids in the diet, many of which provide the building blocks for brain neurotransmitters that help process information and regulate mood. Eating alongside carbohydrates also helps slow down glucose absorption, avoiding blood sugar spikes and dips which can impact concentration.
- Rainbow foods – fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are involved in the process of making important brain chemicals. In addition to this, they are a good source of antioxidants which help to prevent oxidative stress in the brain and keep it functioning optimally.
- Don’t forget about hydration – our bodies are 70% water, so we need to stay hydrated to perform at our best. Keep a bottle of water with you throughout your revision sessions to prevent headaches and improve energy and focus.
Some snacking inspiration
Having access to a variety of healthy, balanced snacks will help keep you fueled for your revision. If you’re struggling for snacking inspiration, why not try some of these combinations:
- Hummus and vegetable sticks
- Greek yoghurt with granola and fruit
- Wholemeal crackers with soft cheese
- Edamame pots
- Homemade fruity flapjacks
- Wholemeal scone with cottage cheese
Leading up to the exam
You’ve done the revision preparation and the day of the exam is approaching, now is the time to focus on managing your nerves, getting a good night’s sleep and fueling yourself to best showcase your knowledge in the exam.
When eating the night before an exam, you want to avoid eating anything that’s too greasy or spicy, as these foods can trigger indigestion and may interfere with sleep. If you’re nervous, try to eat something light, focusing on including a protein, some slow release carbohydrates and a mix of colourful vegetables. While you may want to spend time reviewing your notes, don’t let it push your mealtime too late, as you want to ensure your evening meal is at least three hours before bedtime to avoid any sleep disruption.
Give yourself some time to wind down before bedtime to ensure you’re well rested for the exam. If you need some help improving your sleep, take a look at our top tips. On the morning of the exam, it’s important to try and eat a balanced breakfast that’ll keep you full and alert for the exam. Some examples include:
- Porridge oats made with milk or milk alternative with added seeds, yoghurt and berries.
- Scrambled tofu or eggs with wholegrain toast and mushrooms.
- Omelette with spinach and bake beans
- Smoothie made with milk or yoghurt, berries or banana, nut butter, and some oats.
- Smoked salmon, avocado and wholegrain bagel
- Overnight oats with fruit.
- Baked oats topped with nut butter and fruit.
- Greek yogurt, granola and fruit.
If you have afternoon exams, don’t forget to fuel yourself in the same way you’d fuel a long revision session. Prepare some balanced snacks, stay hydrated and try to avoid eating a heavy meal consisting of refined carbohydrates (such as white pasta or white bread). Instead, focus on slow release carbohydrates, protein and vegetables, as this will provide a steady release of energy and avoid the afternoon crash.
Now you’re fueled up and ready to go into the exam, take a deep breath and do your best!
Remember, we can deliver additional support and sessions focused on eating for exams to ensure you feel nutritionally equipped for the exam period.