How to eat your way to exam success

Fight tiredness and stress with these foodie tips

Cambridge column eat exam term Exams food success

So, exams are upon us, the End is Nigh, Repent thy Sins of Sloth and Shoddy Note-Taking, &c. &c.

(Actually, I’ve already finished. Yeah, yeah, I know. Please don’t lob an egg at me. Or do, they’re a great source of protein.)

If you’re climbing, or about to climb, the proverbial Exam Mountain, you’re going to have to have a less proverbial rucksack full of trail mix to get you over it.

Remembering to eat our greens isn’t at the top of our priorities during exam season, nor should it be, but eating for exam success isn’t difficult. Just keep a few things in mind.

Quench that thirst, get a first

(Right, that’s my rhyme quota for the term.)

So it’s pretty widespread knowledge that dehydration is Not Good, but exams can make it difficult to know what to do – I don’t know about you, but when I have a 3.5 hour exam on medieval literature, I do not exactly want to need a piss when I’ve still got two hours left of pontificating about Arthurian romance.

So I’d take the middle ground of keeping hydrated the night before / morning of the exam, and maybe stopping drinking half an hour before if you’re worried about toilet-breaks. Dehydration causes sluggishness, headaches and dizziness, and if it’s your last exam, drowning yourself in cava when you’re low on water will likely put a damper on your celebration night: keep a full water bottle in your bag to ease that post-exam crash.

Please resist mid-exam temptation to rehydrate by drowning yourself in the River Cam.

Kill those bad vibes

A lot of ‘vibrations’ surrounding exams aren’t fun (I get the shakes so bad it probably registers on the Richter scale) – don’t make it worse. I’m not saying go off caffeine completely, but if you want coffee it’s probably a good idea not to have any just before the exam. And try and look for slow-release energy like porridge, wholemeal bread and nuts, which will sustain you throughout the exam better than a burst of sugar. Sugar/caffeine crashes aren’t going to help your handwriting – or your mental state.

(Saying that, I had peanut M&Ms as one of my pre-exam breakfasts. Rules are made to be…reinterpreted.)

Battery critically low: plug in your PC now

Keep energy-rich snacks on hand (things like Nakd, Eat Natural and Trek bars / Bounce balls are some of my personal favourites for this, suitable for most dietary requirements and the former two are often on offer) to make it easy for yourself to keep your energy and nutrient levels up.

Take care of your present/future self: nothing sucks worse than being hungry and tired, hall not being open yet, and not having anything in – particularly if you’re not super close to a supermarket.

It’s not the dinner we need right now, but it’s the dinner we deserve

Balance it up

Carbohydrates are great for instant brain-fuel, protein for sustaining and repairing your body during the intense stress that’s been placed upon it, and fats are also a great source of energy, as well as vitamins. Try to make some effort to incorporate all three.

Micro-nutrients, macro-important

Multivitamins Are Your Friend. They’re not a replacement for nutritious food, but they’ll help a lot if you live off noodles for a couple of days.

Particular advice to women: get a multivitamin with iron, or a specific iron supplement. We’re more at risk of anaemia because of the monthly bloodlettings, and exams can wreak even more havoc on periods. Plus anaemia = fatigue = no bueno.

‘Why are you chewing a screw?!’ ‘Boots was shut.’

Go ahead, be a B-R-A-T

Some of us get stomach issues around exams, due to anxiety, stress, disturbed sleep/eating patterns, etc. If you’re worried you’ll get nauseated before your exam or are suffering from stomach cramps / diarrhoea / other gastrointestinal distress during the exam period (and it’s pretty common!), then there are some go-to foods that will be easy on your stomach, such as BRAT, used for stomach viruses (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) – bland, easy-to-digest foods (potatoes are good too).

Fats, spicy food, and too much sugar, artificial sweeteners or caffeine may make things worse. Sorry. I didn’t say exam term was fun.

Instead of that coffee, maybe grab a ginger tea or peppermint tea: both help nausea.

Eat enough!

Simple, but important. Exams are an intense strain, and you need to eat enough to keep your body strong and functional during them.

Well, maybe not strong and functional. Conscious. Let’s go with conscious. (Image Credit: Jessica M. Cross)

In the same vein of keeping your body functional, some light exercise (e.g. going for an evening walk) is a good idea to fit into your routine, even if it just helps your mental state more than being cooped inside all day.

Have a backup

For if you Need Food Now and don’t have the energy to cook / wait for hall. Instant noodles, microwave meal – have a contingency plan.

And most of all, be nice to yourself. We’re all gonna make it – one bowl of porridge at a time.

And it’ll all be worth it! I hope. Probably.

NEXT WEEK: It’s Fish Friday, and what’s on Cambridge’s takeaway menu?