How to eat to support yourself during exam time

Nutritious meals and snacks are important for fuelling brain power around exam time.

Written by spunout


Eating well is good for both your mental and physical health. When it comes to exams and studying, eating nutritious foods can help you to ensure your concentration levels are where they need to be. We have put together some tips to help you to eat well at exam time.

Eating well at exam time

When it comes to planning snacks and meals at exam time, it’s important to make sure you’re eating well.

Avoid skipping meals

No matter how rushed you are, try to avoid skipping meals. Eating meals and snacks regularly will give you the energy that you need to study. 

It is a good idea to start your day with breakfast that includes some protein, fat and carbohydrates. Try to include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole rolled porridge oats or whole grain bread, as they provide slow-release energy that will help to sustain you for a few hours. Adding a source of protein such as milk or milk alternatives, nuts and seeds, yoghurt or eggs can help to keep you full for longer. 

If you find it hard to stomach a meal in the morning, consider something like a smoothie. This is also a good option if you are short on time. Have a look at our article on breakfast for busy people.

The brain uses 20% of the body’s energy, so it is important to eat regular snacks in order to give it what it needs.

Plan ahead

It is likely that you will be very busy in the run up to exams so when it comes to food, it can be helpful to plan ahead. It is easier to ensure that you eat nutritious meals and snacks if you plan and prepare them in advance. 

Try to pick a time each week when you prepare your food for the week ahead. This could be on a Sunday before you start a new week, or any time that suits you. If you are living with other people, it can be helpful to plan your meals and snacks together.

Doubling the quantities of ingredients when cooking will leave you with more meals for the days ahead, without taking up much extra time. Cooking in bulk like this also can help you to save money and minimise food waste. 

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

Try to add fruit or vegetables to every meal if possible. Fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals that can help you to keep your brain and body functioning well. Simple ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake include smoothies, putting vegetables in your eggs, adding banana to toast and adding fruit to porridge or breakfast cereals. Read our advice on getting enough fruit and veg.

Include Omega-3 rich foods

Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits, but are possibly most well-known for their ability to support brain function. It is a good idea to include them in your meals or snacks each week. You can do this by eating oily fish such as salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds or by taking a supplement.

Drink plenty of water

Even slight dehydration can lead to a lack of focus and concentration, so it’s important to drink enough water when you’re studying. Try to drink at least eight glasses to keep your body hydrated. If you’re not a fan of water on its own, you can try adding some fresh lemon or lime juice, mint leaves or a diluted squash. Herbal teas also contribute to your water intake.

Choose snacks that give you energy

There is no such thing as a good or bad food, and it is important to include a variety of foods in your diet. While some foods may not be as nutritionally dense as others, they may have other benefits. For example, sharing a meal or snacks with people close to us can help to strengthen our bonds with them and create positive memories. Some other foods may have cultural importance for you, while some others may simply just be tasty!

There is no need to deprive yourself of any foods as you prepare for your exams. However, it can be helpful to be mindful of what snacks you have around your study sessions.

While foods high in sugar might give you a quick burst of energy, this will be followed by a crash in blood sugar levels, which causes fatigue. This isn’t ideal if you are trying to stay focused. It is best to choose a snack that includes a mix of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat. This could include natural yogurt with berries and nuts or some carrots with hummus, for example.

Be mindful of caffeine intake

Caffeine, which is found in tea, coffee and energy drinks, can make us alert and help us to focus. They can be useful when you are preparing for exams. However, too much caffeine can cause stomach upset, irritability, insomnia, a fast heartbeat, and other issues. 

It is not necessary to give up coffee or tea, but it is important to be mindful of how much you are consuming and how it affects you. If you are relying on it to keep going or if it is having negative effects on you, it might be a good idea to reduce the amount you are having.

Sometimes, people will drink caffeine to prevent them from getting tired while studying. However, tiredness is simply a message from our body to say we need more rest. If you get sleepy while studying, try to take a break, open a window, go for a walk, or take a nap.

Avoid too much alcohol

Drinking a lot of alcohol can make it more difficult to prepare for exams. A large amount of alcohol can disturb your sleep and dehydrate you, which will make it very hard to concentrate the next day. If you have exams coming up, it is a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption. Try to avoid drinking alcohol the night before an exam or study session.

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