What To Eat Before Your Exams According To An Expert

It all comes down to this — the morning of your exams to determine your overall grade for the year.

Written by Jamie Wright, the head nutritionist at Balance.

You’ve got to make sure that wonderful brain of yours, which has been stretched to its limits over the last few weeks (thanks to a combination of cramming in every last bit of information during every waking hour and all-night revision sessions), is ready to rumble.

It’s you vs. that paper. Who’s going to come out on top?

Well, we’re here to give you the leg up over that paper so you can go and enjoy all the wonders of post-exam nightlife that the university has to offer.

That’s right, we’re in your corner and we’ll be giving you the low down on how you can fuel yourself leading up to an exam to make sure that your brain takes home the win when the dust has settled.

girl sitting exam

The keys to exam success:

  • Your ability to recall information
  • Your ability to remain focused
  • Feeling like you have enough “energy” throughout an exam (which ties in with focus).

Aside from getting a good night’s sleep and being well prepared (in terms of your revision and understanding of the exam topics), how you fuel yourself in the hours leading up to an exam is critical and will make a huge difference in how you perform.

There’s nothing worse than opening to the first page and already feeling your mind drifting off because you’re hungry, tired, or lacking focus because of distraction.

So, what should we be eating, and what should we be avoiding to ensure our brain is in tip-top shape for taking that exam?

What to eat and what to avoid in the lead-up to an exam

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Your ability to recall information will be a defining factor in your exam success. It’s important to consider foods which can help with memory and recall.

Foods such as walnuts and blueberries are fantastic because they contain antioxidants which may help protect our brains and help with memory formation and recollection.

You would also want to consider increasing your intake of foods that improve cognitive health, such as salmon and avocado, as a healthy, happy brain will be one that can recall information most effectively.

These foods are rich in healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats, like omega 3s, and monounsaturated fats) which form an important part of our brain’s structures.

You should consider incorporating more oily fish and healthy plant fat sources (avocados and other nuts as well as seeds, nut butters, plant oils etc.) in your diet generally and especially whilst you’re in the midst of study season.

There are certain foods which can help improve our concentration. These include the likes of eggs, wholegrains, cheese and other dairy products. These all contain Tryptophan, an amino acid which has been proven to help people concentrate better.

Foods with Tryptophan in them are popularly known as ‘brain foods’

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Eggs or dairy are perhaps the best foods you can eat before an exam. They contain a lot of protein and this, again, will help you concentrate.

Cheese is another good choice because it contains phenylethylamine, which has been shown to improve alertness and concentration.

Foods such as milk and yogurt will also work well to boost your “energy†levels and concentration.

Another benefit of including more wholegrains is that they help promote serotonin, which is important because serotonin allows people to think clearly and concentrate better.

Here are a few ideas for pre-exam meals that’ll help you perform your best:

  • Porridge with a tablespoon of nut butter and blueberries
  • A smoked slamon bagel with a light cream cheese spread
  • A fruit and nut snack mix
  • A backed avocado and cherry tomato wholegrain pita potcket with some grated mature cheddar.

We’ve got a whole post dedicated to superfoods to eat before an exam, if you need some inspiration.

Foods to avoid

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One of the more popular foods people have around exams are sugary foods. The thought is that sugar will help you concentrate as foods with a lot of sugar in them can give you an initial boost.

However, that boost won’t last long and you may find that you quickly become tired and lethargic. Ultimately, sugary foods may actually lead to you losing focus, becoming more fatigued, irritable and moody (a pretty terrible mix if your goal is to do your best on an exam).

Should you have coffee?

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Coffee gets a bad reputation too, but this is mainly because of the amount people consume rather than the coffee itself. Coffee may actually be incredibly helpful for you and boost memory recall, concentration and focus. Having too much can however have the opposite effect and even make you feel anxious!

If you’re a habitual coffee drinker, a regular americano could be a useful addition to your exam-taking toolbox. We’d recommend you avoid more concentrated alternatives (like an espresso) as these will have a similar effect to the sugar energy “spike and crashâ€.

If you’re not a habitual coffee drinker, a weaker americano, tea or green tea may be a good option to try. It’d be recommended to try it in advance of your exam and not try something new on the day (just so you can see how your body and brain will react).

In order to perform your best in exams, it’s important to fuel your brain with the right foods. Try some of the pre-exam meals we suggested and let us know how you found them!

Be mindful as well that, no matter how tempting it may be, having a tonne of sugary foods before an exam may cause more harm than good.

Focus on your own process, fueling your brain the right way, and doing your best to have a healthy exam season (getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise alongside a nutritious diet) and we promise, you’ll be so grateful you went the extra mile when you get your exam results back!

If you’re looking for a way to get simple, quick, and nutritious meals during exams, then grab a 50% discount off your first HelloFresh box and a further 30% off the next 3. That’s plenty of tasty meals to get you through exam season.

Want more helpful food and nutrition advice to get you through your study sessions? Check out our advice on how to eat well without the hassle of cooking during exams and the superfoods that’ll give you a much needed boost.

This post is a sponsored post in partnership with HelloFresh.