Everyone knows the attack of nerves you get before a test or presentation. When this happens, your balanced diet and your sense of calm fall by the wayside. But it’s at this exact moment that a healthy lifestyle can reduce your stress level and maximize your performance. That’s how you can be sure of your best chance for top results. So go bite that test real hard!
In a list of six do’s and don’ts, Aramark’s Birgit Schmid, a qualified ecotrophologist, explains what’s important before a stressful phase and what foods you should consider. The mother of two is currently supporting her children through the cramming and anxiety of their college tests and has some valuable advice.
DON’T: Have too much caffeine
With a test approaching, many students reach for the caffeine to get through the long nights of studying. In the short-term, this stimulant does give you an immediate boost. But in the long-term, too much caffeine makes you nervous, shaky and uneasy. Therefore, although coffee and energy drinks will help you keep awake at night, they will also increase your test anxiety. So use caffeine in moderation during the day rather than at night. It’s better to eat nutritious, balanced food so that you have enough energy to concentrate on your work. Taking a short walk to get some fresh air can also reinvigorate your mind and body. And if you can’t do without coffee, then try just a small cup or a caffeine-reduced variety.
DON‘T: The munchies
Stress puts our bodies into a state of alertness and can increase the appetite. Late at night or in the middle of a panic attack, junk food often seems like a tasty, comforting escape. But when the bag is suddenly empty and your belly is uncomfortably full, you start to get a guilty conscience. A junk-food high with a ton of fat, sugar and salt will set you back rather than drive you forward.
To avoid the munchies, ensure you eat regular meals that will provide your mind and body with energy and valuable nutrients. Keep some nourishment for your nerves to hand in case of emergency: Whole-grain crackers, fruit bars, bananas, trail mix or other types of mixed nuts will provide sustainable energy and nutrition, and are a healthy way to fill you up.
DO: Drink plenty
It’s important that you remember to drink, especially when you’re suffering with test anxiety. Fluid loss of just 2% of the body weight can limit your ability to concentrate and perform. To ensure your brain is always running at maximum capacity, place your daily fluid ration of 1.5 to 2 liters on the table in the morning and drink it over the course of the day. Water and unsweetened teas are the best thirst quenchers.
Tip: Try infused water by adding some cucumber, lemon, orange or berries to the water. Or how about some mint, basil, ginger or lemon balm?
DO: Start with breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your energy stores get depleted overnight and need to be restocked. So ignite your engine for the day by eating a combination of whole-grain, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Here are a few good breakfast ideas that nutrition expert Birgit Schmid recommends for everyone, not just for her students:
- Whole-grain muesli with yogurt / low-fat quark and fruit
- Whole-grain bread with cream cheese and jelly
- Oatmeal with milk, apples and cinnamon
- Whole-grain bread with lean sausage or cheese and vegetables
- Whole-grain toast with a hard-boiled egg, tomato or bell pepper
DO: Regularly refuel
Treat yourself to a light meal every three to four hours. This will keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable. Your brain’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. Whole-grain products, fruits and vegetables will provide your grey cells with long-lasting energy. They also provide fiber, which fills you up and promotes digestion. Choose high-quality protein, which will serve as the body’s building blocks and keep you full for longer. A little plant oil will provide the body with essential fatty acids. A balanced mix of fuels such as these will help you to perform a great deal better.
DO: Get enough rest and sufficient exercise
Clever students know that your body needs rest to regenerate and movement to keep it running smoothly. Give your body what it needs. Try to get around seven to nine hours sleep every night. Excessive studying at night takes its toll the next day, causing attention deficit and poor memory. This can cause additional stress and weaken your immune system. It’s better to put away your books or laptop at a reasonable time, set your alarm and get back to work once you’re refreshed the next morning. You should also always include an hour of sport, a short walk or a couple of exercises. This will boost your circulation and clear your head so that you can make better progress later on.
Our recipe for test success: A balanced diet, sufficient exercise and plenty of sleep. Concentrate on your studies and develop your full potential. Birgit Schmid and the Aramark team are crossing their fingers for you – good luck!
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.