It is often said that we are what we eat. But, ironically, it is around revision time, when we need to be at our best, that we can forget to eat and drink adequately. But preparing an optimum exam diet doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.
In fact, one of the best ways to maximise your focus and ensure you can perform well is to simply ensure that you are hydrated. Even mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches and reduced concentration.
It is a good idea to start the day with a big glass of water or a hot drink such as fruit tea. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women drink approximately one-and-a-half litres of fluid a day and men take on two litres.
While water is ideal, healthy drinks such as milk or fruit juice are also recommended. While tea and coffee count in relation to fluid intake, they are high in caffeine and can bring about dehydration if taken with sugar, which will lead to energy highs and lows.
It is probably a good idea to avoid fizzy drinks and energy drinks altogether as they are high in sugar.
When it comes to the exam days themselves, remember to take a bottle of water into the hall with you. Research continually shows that those who bring drinks into exams – especially water – tend to perform better than those who don't.
Research has also found that those who eat breakfast tend to revise better and perform better in exams.
The best exam breakfasts include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole rolled porridge oats, whole grain bread or low-sugar muesli, as they provide slow-release energy.
Add a protein food, such as milk, yoghurt or eggs, to keep you feeling full for longer.
Do eat something
On the day of exams, do make sure you eat something.
Our brains need the energy from food to work efficiently. You need to keep your mental focus on your exam and not on your hunger. It would be counterproductive to study intensively before your exam and then be too tired to do your best on exam day.
If you really cannot stomach food, then try having a protein shake or smoothie.
Ideally, aim to include a portion of a food rich in long-chain Omega-3 fats, such as smoked mackerel, as they are believed to have brain-boosting properties.
Healthy food choices on exam day include eggs, nuts, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Good breakfast combinations might be whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, eggs and toast with jam, porridge, oatmeal, or sugar-free muesli.
When it comes to snacks during revision and on exam days, try to eat nuts and seeds, which will give you a long-lasting boost. Snacks such as cereal bars, chocolate, crisps, popcorn and fruit juice tend to provide short-lasting energy boosts, followed by dips.
Remember too that eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, so it is recommended that your last meal be eaten at least three hours before you go to bed. If needed, have a small snack such as a bowl of high-fibre cereal – for example, porridge – closer to bedtime. If you need sweetener with cereal, go for dried fruit rather than sugar. A warm glass of milk is highly recommended to help you sleep better.
Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate, for at least four hours before going to bed, because some people can still feel the effect of caffeine 12 hours later.