25 Sep What is ideal nutrition for studying?
What is the best nutrition for studying?
We’re well aware of the physical health issues related to inadequate nutrition, but spend far less time considering the psychological effects, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Studying for and sitting exams is already an exceptionally challenging time, we don’t need to add to it. Studies have shown that during exam time students’ diets declined, often turning to junk food and caffeine to cope with stress. Despite foods high in sugar and salt making us feel better in the short term (from triggering our pleasure centres in the brain), indulging in these foods regularly can shrink the hippocampus in our brain, which plays a key role in learning. This is far from ideal! This blog will outline some important tips about the best nutrition for studying.
What are the best study foods?
1.Good quality carbohydrates
Our brain needs energy and nutrients to think and learn. The brain’s preferred energy source is glucose, which is broken down from carbohydrates. We also rely on carbohydrates as our primary energy source for physical activity. Carbohydrates come in different forms, the higher the quality of the fuel your brain or body gets, the better it will be able to perform.
The best form of carbohydrates to eat while studying are wholegrain, low GI, complex carbohydrates. They will be absorbed slowly and the energy will be available for longer. Sources include wholegrain breads, cereals and pastas, brown or basmati rice, oats, potatoes and pumpkin. On the other hand, simple carbohydrates, such as lollies and white bread, will give a quick energy hit, followed by a ‘crash’, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish.
Try to include a high quality carbohydrate source at each main meal, taking up about ¼ of the plate. However, you may need more if highly active.
Protein is a key nutrient, playing an important role in muscle growth and repair, digestion and metabolism, hormone functioning and keeping us full.
Ideally, we want a protein ‘hit’ at each meal and snack so that our intake is well spaced throughout the day.
Animal sources of protein include meat and poultry, eggs and dairy products. Most of these foods also contain other key nutrients involved in sharpening memory, alertness and concentration, such as iron, zinc and some B-group vitamins. On the other hand, plant based sources of protein include legumes, beans and tofu. These can assist in improving gut health, which we know is linked closely to brain functioning.
3.Fruits and Vegetables
A diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is always beneficial, but even more so with increased demands on brain functioning. They are important for gut health and are packed with key vitamins and minerals. For example, Vitamin K, found in many green vegetables, plays a key role in building pathways in the brain. Most fruits and vegetables are also great sources of antioxidants such as Vitamin C, which help keep us healthy during increased stress.
Try to fill half your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as including them at each snack.
Key fats to include in our diet are unsaturated fats, in particular Omega-3, playing an important role in brain development and may even improve memory. It also helps with the release of serotonin, known as the Happy Hormone, which we could certainly use more of during times of heightened stress!
Omega-3 can be found in oily fish, such as salmon or tuna, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil and some fortified products, such as some eggs. We only need a small serve of healthy fats at main meals and occasionally as part of our snacks thoroughly the day.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, why not try a delicious Nourishing Salad Bowl for lunch? Brown rice, roast pumpkin or sweet potato can be used for your carbohydrate base, with a can of tuna for a hit of protein. You can include plenty of fresh salad ingredients with some roasted nuts and seeds on top for a crunch. A breakfast option is a slice of wholemeal toast with a couple of poached eggs, served with spinach, tomatoes and avocado.
A tub of high protein yoghurt (e.g. Chobani) with mixed berries and some chia seeds is an easy and healthy option for a snack. If you are more active you can add muesli to include carbohydrates. Snack boards are a fun snack choice, which may include boiled eggs and hummus for some protein, plenty of veggie sticks and a small handful of nuts for your healthy fats. If you are more active you could also add some wholegrain crackers.
What about caffeine?
Caffeine causes the release the hormone adrenaline, which puts your body in a ‘fight or flight’ response. You’ll feel more alert, your muscles will tense and your heart will beat faster. However, once the adrenaline wears off, you’ll be faced with fatigue. Excess caffeine intake can impair sleep and make you feel irritable and anxious.
The best drink for our brain is water. If you want to have caffeine, try to keep it to once a day and in the morning to avoid affecting sleep too significantly. Keep in mind that caffeine is not only in coffee, but also in some teas, energy drinks and many soft drinks.
Other helpful considerations
- Make an effort to be well hydrated, most of us are drinking less while in isolation. Water is essential for many bodily functions, including cognitive functioning and effective food digestion. If you’re struggling to drink enough water, there are a few ways to increase water intake. Have a big glass as soon as you wake up, keep a large drink bottle on the desk and aim to finish one before lunch and another after and have a glass of water with every meal and snack.
- Structure your day with study breaks, including meal and snack times. Try to decide what you’ll be eating beforehand. You can use study breaks to cook up and prepare meals or snacks. When having a break, move away from your work station, especially while eating.
- Try to keep active, it is an important part of looking after yourself. Getting fresh air can be a great way to break up the day and get the blood pumping in your body.
- Prioritise your sleep! This is when your body is recovering and consolidating your memory. We are also able to make better decisions when we are well rested. Never study in bed, we want to associate it with sleep. Try to get into bed at the same time every night, turn screens off an hour before bed and pick up a book or stretch instead.