All-nighters in the library. A diet of coffee and gummy bears. Sound familiar? It’s exam time - and you’ve got a lot more on your mind than good nutrition.

Girl holding books to studyIf you’re like many students, preparing for exams can lead to a major energy crisis. The foods you choose to eat have a definite impact on both your energy level and academic performance. Poor eating habits can leave you feeling drained and struggling to remember what you spent hours learning. Follow these tips and don’t leave yourself running on empty!

Eat breakfast

After a 12 or 14 hour fast, your body needs food in order to function at its best. Short on time? Try one of these 5-minute meal ideas, choosing whole grains whenever possible:

  • Whole grain cereal, milk, OJ
  • Bagel with peanut butter, banana
  • Instant oatmeal with raisins and milk
  • Toaster waffle with frozen berries, yogurt
  • Bran muffin, piece of cheese, grapes
  • High fibre cereal bar, chocolate milk, apple
  • English muffin with cheese and tomato

Re-fuel every 3-4 hours

Students who eat at regular intervals avoid energy slumps and the extreme hunger that can lead to binge eating. If your meals are more than four hours apart, have a snack. Stock the fridge, freezer and cupboards ahead of time with nutritious, easily-prepared foods: whole grain bread, cereals and pasta, pasta sauce, lentils, bean and vegetable soups, tuna, eggs, pre-cooked sliced meats or chicken, frozen fish fillets, ready-made salads, frozen veggies and fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, cheese, and milk.

Plan balanced snacks

Have a balanced snackAlthough a handful of gummy bears may satisfy you for a few minutes, a quick sugar fix provides little brain fuel and is likely to leave you feeling more sluggish. A nutritious snack should contain a balance of carbohydrate and protein to stabilize your blood sugar and keep you energized. Here are some healthy options: cheese and whole grain crackers, apple with peanut butter, almonds and dried fruit, hummus and raw veggies, yogurt with berries and granola, or a whole wheat English muffin with almond butter.

Don’t depend on caffeine

Caffeine can give you an immediate energy boost, but its effect is short-lived. If you overdo it, you’ll feel even worse...jittery, restless, irritable, and unable to relax. Limit yourself to 2 cups of coffee per day or try tea, which has less than half the caffeine of coffee and contains antioxidants which may be beneficial to health.

Water! Water! Water!

Aim for at least 6 cups/1500 ml of water daily and steer clear of pop, fruit-flavoured drinks, and other sugary beverages. Dehydration can make you feel sluggish and light-headed, so take a refillable water bottle with you and refill your glass often when at home.

Avoid mindless munching

It’s easy to polish off a bag of chips or cookies while you study so don’t bring snacks to your study spot. Eat in the kitchen or away from your desk. Take regular breaks and look for true hunger signs, like stomach twinges or growling noises.

Take an activity break

Falling energy levels can also be a sign that you’ve been sitting too long. A short walk in the fresh air will help your concentration and allow you to feel more relaxed and alert.  

For more healthy eating tips, check out Canada's Food Guide!