If you’re revising and studying intensively, you need to take very good care of your most important asset, your brain. This incredible organ remains the most complex and least understood in the human body. Research has proven that the brain has some fundamental nutritional requirements so a diet rich in healthy brain food is essential if you want it to perform at its peak.
1. Hydrate your brain regularly & consistently
Your brain is composed of 75% water so in order for it to function properly it needs to be hydrated properly, and regularly.
Your basic level of water intake should be 1.5 to 2 litres of water every day. That includes plain tap or bottled water, herbal tea and, to a lesser extent, fruit juice. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and coke don’t count as caffeine is a diuretic so it triggers your body to excrete water.
Avoid sugar flavoured waters as these can contain as much sugar as a can of coke and it’s ‘synthetic’ sugar such as sucrose and aspartame which can cause headaches. Stay away from so-called ‘energy’ drinks as these are also just a mix of synthetic, toxic chemicals which have no nutritional value and cause weight gain and headaches.
If you don’t like drinking plain water, add a small amount of no added sugar fruit juice to each glass. Alternatively add small pieces of chopped fruit or cucumber to your glass, then pour on the water.
Headaches, tiredness and lack of focus can all be caused by dehydration. If you regularly get headaches, feel tired and struggle to focus, drink 2 large glasses of water before you start studying. Top up your glass during every ‘brain break’ which should be every 45 to 60 minutes. You will need to urinate more often but you’ll feel far more alert and your entire body will function better.
If you tend to forget to drink water when you’re out during the day, use a free app such as WaterMinder and set reminders at optimum times during the day that suit your schedule. If you have an iPhone, you can also use Siri to remind you to fill up your glass every hour.
2. Give your brain plenty of energy
Your brain alone uses up around 40% of your carbohydrate intake which explains why we get hungry and ‘the munchies’ when studying intensively!
Instead of reaching for Type-2 diabetes-inducing sugary junk, ensure you’re getting a regular intake of complex carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. Spelt pasta, which you can buy in most large supermarkets, is preferable to white as the carbohydrate sugars are released more slowly into the bloodstream and it’s more easily digested.
If you can’t find spelt pasta, choose wholewheat and always choose wholewheat, wholegrain, granary or even spelt bread. You could even invest in a bread maker (club together with your housemates) so you don’t have to buy industrially made sugar and preservative loaded loaves.
3. Maintain your myelin to enhance your neuronal function
Your neuronal stems are coated with a fatty substance called myelin. Think of it like the outside insulating layer of an electrical cable that protects the delicate wires inside that carry the signals.
A healthy layer of myelin protects the neuronal stems and increases the speed at which electrical impulses travel between your brain cells. Good nutrition is vital to support and maintain the cells that create the myelin (oligodendrocytes), in addition to the actual myelin itself.
Vitamins B12 and D are argued to be significant contributors to myelin production. Vitamin B12 is found in fish, lean red meat, chicken, cheese and eggs while Vitamin D is also found in eggs, fish-liver oils and oily fish as well as from sun exposure. All the more reason to take a break and go for a walk!
If you’re a vegan it may be wise to take a Vitamin B12 supplement as deficiency can cause anaemia which leads to low energy, in addition to damage to your nervous system, of which your brain is a vital part. A Vitamin D supplement can also get you through intensive study in the winter months and prevent you from slipping into ‘hibernation mode’ over the winter break, especially if you have January exams.
Not all supplements are equal as many of the cheapest brands contain only small amounts of the actual nutritional support you require. Always check the label for additives including bovine gelatine. Higher Nature and Solgar are two of the best brands for vitamins and minerals although Solgar can be expensive. I’ve researched and picked out some of the best value vs quality supplements for you below:
Price: £11.07Was: £15.53
4. Snack on walnuts & dark chocolate
Walnuts are packed with Omega-3, a vital essential fatty acid (EFA) your brain needs. On days when I’m completing complex tasks that require higher levels of concentration my favourite mid-morning or afternoon snack is a portion of walnuts and 2 or 3 squares of dark chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate is also good for your cognition!! At least that’s what some Portuguese researchers have discovered (although the study was conducted on people over 65) and I’m certainly not going to argue 🙂
All nuts, including walnuts, contain high levels of fat, as does chocolate. And even though it’s largely non-saturated fat you still need to keep your portion sizes small. A portion of walnuts is about 6-8 and a portion of good quality dark chocolate is about 3 chunks. Oh, go on then, 6 if you’re studying really hard 😉
Bear in mind when indulging in your chocolate that anything less than 70% will contain higher levels of added sugar and milk. So I’m afraid the average bar of cheap dairy milk chocolate won’t have the same positive impact on your cognition, it’ll just make you gain weight. Always think quality over quantity!
As with any living organism, dehydration and starvation of essential nutrients will cause your brain, and you, to suffer. Regular and nutritious feeding and watering on the other hand will enable you and your brain to thrive. And that will empower you to learn more efficiently and, of course, successfully.