Everyone gets stressed out studying for exams and writing papers, whether it is during exam week or just a loaded Sunday evening. While college students are no strangers to stress, what many don't realize is that little things they do each day without thinking may actually be contributing to their stress level, energy level or poor study habits. Whether it's pulling an all-nighter and forgetting to eat, or grabbing three candy bars and a mug of black coffee for breakfast before a day full of exams, your eating habits could be affecting your performance in classes.
The first thing to know when trying to adapt your diet to best serve you in your daily academic pursuits is that breakfast is still the most important meal of the day, even if it often gets lost in the shuffle.
Laurie Schmidt, a health educator with the Schiffert Health Center, said that "when you wake up, it's very important to eat a good breakfast. Your body has been fasting all night, and it needs to refuel to give you good energy."
It's also important because it fuels your brain as well, so if you are facing a long day of studying or exams, it's important your brain gets that energy it needs. Even if you're not a fan of breakfast foods, "it's ok to eat something non-traditional for breakfast, as long as you are getting some healthy foods in the morning," Schmidt said.
The health educators at SHC recommend this system for creating a healthy meal.
"You want something that has protein, grains, and fruits or vegetables when you're making up your plate. So say you're using a nine-inch plate, you want it to be filled with 1/3 of a protein source and the other 2/3 should be grains, fruits or vegetables, and add some calcium, which at breakfast isn't hard to do. Just add some milk or natural orange juice," Schmidt said.
The one food staple to try and avoid for breakfast is sugar. It may give you energy for a few hours, but the energy created by sugar burns very fast in young people, and by midday your body will feel run down and hungry again, which can be very distracting when trying to get through a busy day.
This also goes for soothing your late night munchies with some chocolate or a bag of potato chips. It's usually best to avoid eating right before you sleep, but if you find yourself up late studying, try snacking on some raw vegetables, which can help sharpen your senses and satisfy your hunger without making you feel too full or cathartic.
You may be wondering what the verdict is on one of the most popular study foods, caffeine. Luckily, Schmidt said there is no problem with a cup of coffee in the mornings, "but the most important thing with caffeine is to make sure you stay hydrated," she said, because caffeine can quickly dehydrate the body, leaving you feeling more tired than you were before. Also, Schmidt said, "don't substitute caffeine for sleep."
If you find yourself having the opposite problem and can't get to sleep after working well into the night, there are also a few food remedies that you can try. According to "Men's Fitness" magazine, turkey is full of tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts your body's production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that induces sleep. Milk also contains tryptophan, and warming it up makes your stomach feel fuller and warm, which can trigger your body into sleep mode.
Remember, no matter how busy your day gets, it is important to eat a healthy breakfast and keep track of your meals throughout the day. The small amount of extra time it takes to eat that bowl of cereal or make your own lunch instead of going through the drive-thru will be well worth it come test time.