| Preparing for exams is a bit like training for a marathon, and just as your muscles need the right kind of fuel to keep pumping, so does your brain. What you eat can affect how well your brain functions and your ability to learn, understand and remember. Here are my top 5 tips for boosting your brain-power with the right nutrition.
1. Wholegrain carbs for brain-fuel
Your brain uses 20% of your energy and needs a constant supply or it will start to slow down. Not good when you’re trying to revise or in the middle of an exam.
Choose wholegrain carbohydrates that release their energy steadily, and avoid sugary snacks or drinks which make your blood sugar rise then fall sharply, ultimately starving your brain of fuel. Try:
- Wholegrain breakfast cereals - porridge, muesli or Shredded Wheat: a good breakfast helps you concentrate, think straight and remember things.
- Wholegrain or Granary bread for sandwiches.
- Brown rice – tasty, easy to cook.
2. Proteins for processing power
Your brain produces neurotransmitters which transmit nerve impulses, enabling you to think, stay alert, get motivated and process information.
It generates more impulses every day than all the phones in the world – even more when you’re studying, revising and doing exams – so it gets through a lot of neurotransmitters.
Protein is essential for making neurotransmitters. Have 2-3 portions/day. Try:
- Chicken or turkey – turkey mince is cheap and makes great burgers
- Fish and shellfish – frozen prawns are cheap and make a good Thai curry
- Eggs – poached eggs on toast or omelets
- Beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds – tofu stir fry, lentil curry or snack on nuts
3. Get your good fats
Amazingly, your brain is about 60% fat – mostly good omega-3 fats. These are essential for brain structure and function. Oily (non-white) fish provide a rich source. Aim for 2 portions/week. Try:
- Sardines or pilchards on toast
- Sandwich with mackerel pate filling: smoked mackerel mashed with low-fat cream cheese and horseradish.
- Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon – salmon trimmings aren’t expensive and make scrambled eggs special.
4. Stay hydrated
Your brain contains a lot of water, and starts to shrivel with even mild dehydration, so:
- Drink enough fluid each day, mostly water, to keep your pee a pale straw colour.
- If you drink tea, green tea is a good choice. It contains antioxidants which help protect the brain, and has been shown to help nerve transmissions associated with learning and memory.
5. Save alcohol until it’s time to celebrate
In excess, alcohol is seriously toxic to the brain. It:
- Weakens brain cell connections.
- Reduces your memory.
- Disrupts sleep, which is essential to back up your memory files of what you’ve learned in the day.
So a long night in the bar is not the best way to relax after a hard day’s studying. Save that for when exams are over.
Please remember to drink responsibly.
This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical or nutritional advice. If you have any concerns about your health or wellbeing, you should consult your doctor.
About the Author
Nutritionist and Wellbeing Coach
Dip ION, Dip BCNH, mBANT, CNHC
Clare is the Student Room’s nutritionist and wellbeing coach. She works 1:1 with people to enable them to feel the best they can and get the most out of life by making targeted changes to how they eat and live.
She blogs about health, fitness and nutrition on her website www.clarecasson.co.uk