Nutrition Tips

Exam Time Coming? Fuel Yourself for School

Posted on
February 25, 2019

There is a lot of pressure to perform and bring home good results for elite athlete's and students. I have been a parent of a year 12 student and I know the pressure they can be under. I have also worked in elite sports and see the pressure they are under to perform week in week out. My advice to my son was start the year like training for a sporting event with finals time being exam time. In both cases looking after your body is essential for long term performance and results. Each week there is a game to play in order to be good enough for the grand final, this is like the regular assessments tasks and homework to be done.

As an athlete, your focus is on improving your physical skills to perform at your best during a game. For a student, skill development is gaining knowledge to perform at your best on assessments.

After a training session or a day of classes there is still plenty of work yet to be done. To keep your body on the field as an athlete there are more things than just on the field training. You have recovery ice baths, massages, yoga, watching videos of your game, seeing the sports dietitian(of course), the equivalent of homework.

Both professional athletes and year 12 students make sacrifices with time, needing to prioritise.  Looking after your body is essential for a student like it is an elite athlete. You need to get your body through each week in the best condition it can be, with the stamina to still peak at your best when finals and exam time arrives.

What are my 8 tips to you?

1.      Sleep

My first tip is getting enough good quality sleep. I believe if you get a good nights sleep you will make better food choices (as you wont be looking for quick energy), retain knowledge, be more likely to exercise and be positive about things.  Sleep is important for physical and mental health. When tired quick pick me ups like sugary foods and caffeine are often the go to. If this is regular it isn’t going to be the best way to fuel your body.

2.      Keep Hydrated- Drink Water and Brush your Teeth!

We know athlete’s do not perform well when dehydrated and one reason is concentration is reduced and students are likely to be the same. Check your urine, it should be pale similar to the colour of straw as one indicator that you are well hydrated. Also listen to your body, if you are thirsty grab some water, don't ignore it.

Did you know being well hydrated also helps with fresh breath and good dental hygiene? Saliva helps keep the bacteria under control that are the cause of bad breath and dental decay and when dehydrated there is less saliva to do this. These bad bacteria can also affect your immune system and your overall health. This is an important one to do as your parents probably say and brush your teeth (and your tongue) to keep these bad bugs at bay!

3.      Eat Breakfast

Fuel yourself in the morning. When you are ‘hangry’ it is hard to concentrate. It also allows for nourishing food rather than snack foods mid morning because you are staring. Include protein to aid with cell repair and brain function producing neurotransmitters important for memory and carbohydrate for energy e.g. cereal with milk and yoghurt, egg or peanut butter on toast, handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, banana smoothie.

4.      Look after your Immune System

Include 2 pieces of fruit a day for vitamin C, this helps support the immune system. Foods containing zinc are also important for fighting infection; such as wholegrain cereals, legumes, nuts, meat and seafood. To help your immune system, eat well, sleep well and keep physically active. As the year goes on for athletes and student’s you can become fatigued. It is your aim to be at your best by the end of the year not run down and out of fuel.

5.      Keep iron sources up.

Iron is essential to make haemoglobin that carries oxygen around your body. You will feel fatigued if you become iron deficient. Red meat, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, lentils and legumes are the best sources. Include some of these in your daily diet and if choosing the plant sources of iron remember to add some vitamin C- fruit, capsicum, broccoli, tomatoes as it is needed for the iron to be absorbed.

6.      Snack Attack- brain food

Choose study snacks wisely- fuel yourself and plan. Nuts, small amounts of dried fruit, wholegrain bread with cheese, tuna, egg or nut spreads, soup, cut up vegetables with hummus or tzatziki, crackers and cheese, milk, fresh fruit are all great. Nourishing food choices help our body both physically and mentally. The gut contains millions of bacteria that you are also feeding. As they digest food they produce substances that have effects all over the body, including our brain. The gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain so your snack foods literally are 'brain food' in more ways than one.

Not every break needs to involve food, you may be thirsty and a glass of water will do. Think whether you are hungry first. It might be great to skip, run, walk, meditate, dance to music or anything active to get the happy hormones flowing (endorphins) and grab a glass of water.

7.      Eat at Home -Most of the Time.

Eating at home has been shown to increase your vegetable intake. Vegetables contain antioxidants to help reduce inflammation, important for a healthy immune system and that can be beneficial for our gut bacteria that influence our mental health. They also have plenty of dietary fibre some of which also feeds the gut bacteria that influence over our mood. A better mood can only be of benefit.

Pack your lunch, with some protein, carbohydrate and ‘plant’ matter e.g. wrap with chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce or Rice paper rolls, soup, crackers with cheese and tomato, homemade muffin, fruit and nuts, it also saves you money. Cooking might be a nice relaxation tool between study. Cook for a few friends or the family.

 8. Practice and have a Plan

Like an athlete has a pre match meal and routine, develop your pre exam routine. Have a few meals that you know you perform well with- eating not too much that you feel heavy and tired and not too little that you feel hungry half way through the exam.  Foods that are very high in fat such as deep fried foods, pastries and many take away meals may make you feel sluggish, salty foods may make you feel overly thirsty and high sugar foods provide short term energy when you are looking for sustained energy. They may also leave you feeling hungry and it is hard to concentrate on an empty stomach!

Try foods that will provide a sustained energy release such as porridge, muesli or wholegrain toast with an egg, avocado and tomato for breakfast before a morning exam and a wholegrain bread toasted sandwich with cheese, tomato and spinach or a bowl of pumpkin and red lentil soup (see my blog recipe) or chicken rice paper rolls. If needing a snack just before your exam top up with a piece of fruit or a tub of yoghurt, handful of nuts or a hard boiled egg. Remember to sip on water, rather than sculling a whole lot a once. which is more likely to have you needing to run to the toilet.

Athlete’s have coaches and students have teachers. Athlete's attend training and students classes. Athlete's eat to perform at their best and student's can too, why wouldn't we all want to, 'Eat Like An Athlete' to perform at our best! My new (and first) book, is titled Eat Like An Athlete. You can grab a copy online, or in book stores

Good luck to everyone and nourish your body with sleep, rest, kindness and optimal nutrition. It is the key to your performance.