Health & nutrition tips to help with exam prep

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Whether you have exams coming up or you just want to learn how to improve your focus and concentration in general, the following information will be useful to you!

In order for our body to perform optimally both physically and mentally, we must make sure we are getting enough quality nutrients from whole foods.

‘Good’ nutrition is the key to good mental and physical health and should include macronutrients – protein, fat & carbs, micronutrients – vitamins & minerals, as well as focusing on proper hydration, physical activity & sleep.

The type and quantity of food you eat affects the way you feel and how your body works. Your brain and body works best when fuelled with whole, single-ingredient foods. Therefore, aim to have 80% of your diet from these foods. These include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts etc. which don’t need a nutrition or ingredients label.

Sleep

The quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity of sleep you get. Regularly sleeping less than 4 hours a night has been shown to have a negative effect on the body, especially when trying to study.

Some reasons for this include:

Leptin – This is the hormone made by the fat cells that helps prevent hunger. It leads you to snack more and crave quick, convenient foods which are most often sugary.

Ghrelin – This is the hormone made & released mainly in the stomach that stimulates appetite. High levels of ghrelin also promote fat storage.

Energy & concentration – If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, you know how it feels to try and drag yourself out of bed for that early morning lecture. How hard is it to stay awake never mind concentrate? Poor sleep has a negative effect all round whether you consciously feel it or not.

Tip: Apple phones with the latest software update now have a setting that is called ‘Night Shift’ which switches the blue light that is normally emitted from your screen, to a more red light. The blue light affects our circadian rhythm more, which as a result prevents us from getting a quality sleep. So if you can’t stay away from your phone in the hour before you sleep, I would suggest iPhone users to turn this ‘ON’.

Physical Activity

Exercise releases endorphins which lift your mood, but it does so much more than that, which can be beneficial for improving academic performance. We know that exercise helps maintain healthy blood pressure & weight, it improves energy, lowers stress & anxiety, and helps keep the heart healthy and these all contribute to improved brain health.

“Exercise also stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better”

–Dr. Radley author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008).

Importance of good nutrition for academic performance

  • Hunger reduces focus and retention, therefore highlighting the importance of eating breakfast in the morning.
  • Eating breakfast has been associated with greater class participation and higher academic test scores, again reason why you should eat breakfast!
  • Iron deficiency is linked with a decrease in dopamine transmission which in turn negatively impacts cognition, hence why you may find it hard to concentrate. Include foods such as dark green leafy vegetables and red meat into your diet.
  • Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, vitamin E, vitamin B, iodine and zinc are shown to inhibit cognitive abilities and mental concentration. If you don’t eat enough variety of fruit and vegetables, it would be worth taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Protein and carbohydrates can help improve perception, intuition and reasoning. Choose sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, fruit, veg, & some complex carbs such as oats and potatoes.
  • Poor nutrition leads to an increased risk of obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Ask yourself are the foods you are eating benefitting you or causing a negative effect on your health.

A recent report published by The Lancet medical journal in the UK states that the rates of obesity worldwide are continuing to rise and by 2025, 18 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women worldwide will be obese.

As well as that, almost a fifth of the world’s obese adults live in six high-income countries, with Ireland being one of them alongside Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the US.

All the more reason to stay physically active and eat well. We all know the medical problems associated with obesity, never mind the unnecessary consequences it has on academic performance.

TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR NUTRITION & HEALTH FOR ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

  • Include a protein source with every meal. (Meat, Fish, Eggs, Beans, Nuts, Dairy, Protein shake/bars)
  • Have a big breakfast if you feel you won’t have time/facilities to have a healthy lunch – take snacks with you to keep you going such as nuts, fresh fruit, chopped veggies, protein shake/bar.
  • Hydrate! Carry a water bottle around with you every day. Aim to drink 30-40ml water per kg of your bodyweight (you should never feel thirsty – you’re already dehydrated when this happens).
  • Exercise, whatever it is you enjoy – do that! Exercise on a daily basis to keep your brain functioning at an optimal level (remember BDNF for memory).
  • Eat MORE vegetables – fill half your plate with veg, then add a protein source and some carbs/fats (The veg is full of micronutrients that improve cognitive abilities and mental concentration).
  • Eat LESS takeaways, you don’t have to cut them out but cut down to once a week max!
  • Prep your meals for the next day. If you don’t like getting up early prep your breakfast so you just have to eat it when you get up! Check out my page @Caloriesandcarbs on Instagram for recipe ideas/tips or caloriesandcarbs.net.
  • Reduce fizzy drinks – have sparkling water with fresh fruit instead (lemon/lime is good).
  • Limit your starchy carbs at lunch if they make you feel tired (pasta/rice/potatoes). Keep them for your evening meal if they are affecting your energy levels during the day.
  • Omega-3 supplement & multivitamins are good if you find that you are not getting enough fruit/veg in your diet as well as good fats (salmon, mackerel, avocado, olive oil, flaxseed, walnuts).
  • Limit caffeine intake to 2-3 cups per day as well as no caffeine after 1 – 2pm.
  • When eating out or in a canteen, choose the grilled options, the food with less sauce, add more vegetables to your plate or visit the salad bar. It will make you feel much better afterwards than a burger and chip will!
  • If you love chocolate then try to stick to Dark chocolate over 70% mainly, keeping other mainstream sweets/chocolate as treats. The more you eat them the more you crave them!
  • Eat after you exercise in order to refuel and prevent yourself from feeling too lethargic, especially if you are studying after you train. Aim for carbohydrate and protein based meals to replenish glycogen stores.
  • Get at least 7 good hours sleep per night, that means limiting TV, laptops and phone use in the lead up to bed time.

For more info on all things health, food and fitness you can follow me on my social media platforms: FacebookInstagramSnapchat & Twitter or if you are interested in what I offer as an online coach you can download my brochure here!

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