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Exam Food: What to eat before an exam

 Exam Food: What to eat before an exam

Sure, you should arm yourself with sticky notes, revision cards, past papers, and rigorous timetables. In fact, food, sleep , and preparation (click here for our top revision tips) are the three crucial pillars to bear in mind during exam season. But crucially, no matter how much you prepare, if you don’t feed your brain correctly you will be hard-pressed to absorb all of that critical information.


What is a healthy breakfast?

Good morning, sunshine! A hearty breakfast fuels your brain and body for a fruitful day of revision, so make every effort to prioritise it. If you can’t stomach food first thing – or exam anxiety or stress has zapped your appetite – why not fix yourself a healthy smoothie instead? Sometimes the act of drinking is easier than eating.


High protein meals


Protein doesn’t only give you ‘gains’; it gives you ‘brains’! This essential macronutrient satiates the body, keeping you full and energised as you tackle those long stretches of revision. Try incorporating a quality animal or plant protein source at every meal. Think meat, fish, dairy, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Go for slow-release energy: Healthy grains

Slow-releasing whole grains, like jumbo porridge oats, brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, and buckwheat, stave off hunger like no other food group. To keep your energy levels balanced as you hit the daily grind, consider including a portion of slow-releasing grains at each meal.

What are processed foods to avoid?

It can be tempting to reach for ultra-processed foods to soothe any pre-exam stress. But high-sugar, high-fat and high-caffeine foods and drinks (ahem, chocolate, fast food, energy drinks, and sweets) can make you moody, irritable, and hyperactive. In short, they aren’t the revision rocket fuel you need. To supercharge your study sessions, try to eat a mainly whole food diet – that is, foods in their ‘whole’ form. Of course, you should still allow for the occasional treat.

How much water should you drink a day?

Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can lead to lethargy and hijack your study sessions. Aim for at least six to eight glasses of water every day. Tip: Always have a big bottle of water on your desk to prompt you to sip while you work.

Healthy snack ideas

When hunger hits, try swapping your sugary snacks with these nutritional nuggets, poised to power you through revision:

  • Two dates with peanut butter

  • A handful of raw cashew nuts

  • A few squares of dark chocolate

  • Celery and hummus

  • Chopped apple with almond butter

  • Two to three dried apricots

  • A handful of trail mix

  • Roasted chickpeas

  • Avocado on wholegrain toast

What is brain food?

Keeping your brain well-fuelled as you revise is the key to achieving a ‘flow state’ – a place in which you’re fully immersed in energised focus. Alongside our general nutrition tips, you may also wish to include more of this brain food while studying.

Some examples of brain food for studying

Ginkgo biloba (16 years +) 


Beyond your bank of revision cards, acronyms and mnemonics, you may also want to consider Ginkgo Biloba. This herb may help maintain normal cognitive function, which includes mental abilities like memory, and blood system microcirculation. Find it in: supplements.


Zinc is another weapon for your exam arsenal. This mineral contributes to normal cognitive function. (Bonus: zinc is also a popular choice for pesky teen breakouts!). Find it in: chickpeas.


A building block of all life processes, iron contributes to normal cognitive function. And that’s not all – this mineral also contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, helping to power you through that mid-afternoon slump. Find it in: red kidney beans.

Fish oil

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are integral to health, especially at this time. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function. Did you know DHA is a primary structural component of the human brain? A beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 250g of DHA. Find it in: salmon.

B vitamins

This family of vitamins is the perfect companion to your revision. Biotin, folic acid, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6 contribute to normal psychological function, while vitamin B2, vitamin B3, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and vitamin B12 contribute to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue. Find them in: whole grains.


Turmeric is having its moment of late. Why not visit our Blog for recipes containing turmeric as it may support your health as you study.

Green tea

Dubbed one of the healthiest beverages on the planet, green tea is packed with powerful antioxidants. For more information on how this popular brew may support your health as you revise, jump online.


An essential trace mineral, iodine contributes to normal cognitive function. It also contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism, which may be helpful to productive studying. Find it in: milk.


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  1. Vetvicka, V., Vannucci, L., Sima, P., & Richter, J. (2019). Beta Glucan: Supplement or Drug? From Laboratory to Clinical Trials. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(7), 1251. 

  2. Six cholesterol-busting foods. (2022).

  3. De Marco Castro, E., Calder, P. and Roche, H., 2020. β?1,3/1,6?Glucans and Immunity: State of the Art and Future Directions. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 65(1), 1901071.


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Our Author - Keri Filtness


Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.

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