Illustration of healthy foods
December 4, 2018
3 mins read

What to eat and drink before an exam

As tempting as it is to learn quantum mechanics while mindlessly munching on handfuls of chips, this is not ideal fuel for your brain.

What we put into our bodies has a huge influence on how we perform physically and mentally. I chatted with UBC’s dietician Melissa Baker to get some insider information on what we should be eating to ensure our brains can operate at their best.

Melissa’s top 3 tips

  • Make sure your meals are balanced. This means they contain vegetables, protein, and whole grains. 

  • Eat a balanced meal every 3 to 4 hours to give your body a stable source of energy.

  • Stay hydrated with water and avoid energy drinks.

Illustration of a healthy, balanced plate of food

Image inspired by Vancouver Coastal Health’s Healthy Plate model

Best food for an 8:00 am exam

  • Overnight oats: They're easy to prepare the night before, which means you can roll out of bed and instantly consume them. Overnight oats are perfect for an early start and will give your brain all the right ingredients to tackle a morning exam. Prepare 3 to 4 portions on a Sunday night and have them ready for the week.

  • Oatmeal: The benefit of oatmeal is that it takes a while for your stomach to digest this meal, which means it will give you energy and keep you fuller for a longer period of time.

  • Toast: A type of grain toast is best, because it has fibre and protein, and Melissa recommends topping it with a nut butter. This meal will also take some time to digest, so it will sustain your body throughout an early exam.

Snacks between back-to-back exams

If you have two exams in one day, it's super important, according to Melissa, that you eat something between them. Your brain needs a source of energy to draw from in order to perform optimally for another few hours.

  • Nuts and fruit: Bring some nuts for a quick source of protein, or pack fruit like an apple or a banana. These snacks will give you another burst of energy that will sustain you.

  • Carbohydrates or sugar: Our brain runs off of glucose for energy. Eating something that will spike your glucose levels can give another burst of energy. Melissa says it’s fine to eat that piece of chocolate or that muffin as long as you don’t rely on these snacks as your only source of food. Remember: although you get a burst of energy from these foods, it also drops quickly.

  • Water: Again, make sure you stay hydrated and have a drink before your next exam (don’t worry, a few sips won’t lead to multiple bathroom breaks).

Fuel for late-night study sessions

A myth that Melissa debunked is the idea that you can’t eat after 7:00 pm. If you’re hungry and are still awake studying, then eat a snack to keep your body fueled! Just make sure it’s the right type of food like an energizing snack or a balanced meal.

  • Stir-fry: An excellent example of a balanced meal, a stir-fry can include whole grains with lots of vegetables and some protein.

  • Popcorn: An easy late-night snack, but one that needs to be consumed correctly. Melissa says to make sure you don’t have the bag open right beside you, but instead, portion out a healthy amount and then put it away.

  • Water: I’m mentioning this again to emphasize how important it is to drink water. Energy drinks can have ill health effects and should not be relied on as a source of energy. Our body needs water to function at its best.

Consume consciously

It’s tempting to focus purely on academics when you're in the study zone, but prioritizing how you’re going to fuel your body will help your exam prep be all the more productive. There are many ways to make quick and easy meals that have all of the right ingredients.

  • Watch this video for some easy ways to up the health of your meal.

  • If you live in student housing, grab the healthy options at your residence's cafeteria. For example, “Simply local” in Vanier residence has a meal with 3 different roasted vegetables and whole grains, which will give your body a good supply of energy.

  • Take the time to enjoy your meals. It’ll be a welcome study break and one that will be very beneficial to your exam success.

What we eat affects our ability to perform. Give your body that boost to keep going and give your brain the sustenance it needs to get you through finals.