From your Dietetic Intern Emily Mork, BSc HNU 2018
You’ve survived the passing deadlines, the midterms, the group project meetings, the papers and assignments. You’re almost there, the end of first semester. With finals looming and study hours adding up, it’s important to not just survive but thrive during the dreaded exam season.
Here are a few of the best tips for maintaining healthy habits during the high stress times:
1. Conscious effort
Making an effort to maintain your healthy habits during exams can make the world of a difference! It is common for students to deprive themselves of sleep, exercise and proper nutrition during exams for a variety of different reasons – but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s okay. Instead of justifying your lack of sleep, poor eating or exercise habits and blaming it on the season, make an effort to live the life you did before studying consumed your schedule.
This might mean aiming for 8 hours of sleep, but knowing a solid 6 is more realistic or choosing to walk to the library instead of driving. Sneaking in as much physical activity and sleep as your schedule can handle will help you feel motivated to choose more nutritious options. Just try your best!
2. Prep & pack is the way to go – limit convenience options
It’s super tempting to pick up a fast-food breakfast sandwich en route to the library for a full day of studying, but convenience options are typically high in fat and sodium and could leave you feeling groggy and hungry shortly after. Try packing your own snacks and meals ahead of time. I promise, the extra 15 minutes it takes before bed to pack a nutritious lunch is so worth it the next day, not to mention you’ll save money! Find an option that is easy to pack and go that you’re actually excited to eat – there’s no sense in packing plain veggie sticks if you’re dreading eating them during your afternoon study break.
A few of my favourites are salt and vinegar rice chips, air popped popcorn, hummus and veggies, pretzels and cheese or apple with peanut butter. Choosing a snack or meal with both carbohydrates and protein will keep you fuller (and focused) for longer. I’m not saying to forgo exam time treats altogether, but I do believe that saving bagels or burgers for after your hardest final (or if you have two exams back-to-back) will make it taste that much better!
3. Breakfast is key
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s even more important during exams! A balanced breakfast will help fuel your studying by helping you to remain focused and providing your brain the energy it needs to retain information. While a good breakfast is the ideal start to a study day, it is absolutely essential to eat before a 9am final! I cannot stress this enough! Waking up earlier before those dreaded morning exams to enjoy a coffee and a well rounded meal will help you feel energized, satisfied and confident before entering your exam – and maybe provide you an opportunity to review your notes one more time if you’re into that.
Make ahead breakfast options like overnight oats, or omelet cups are great options that are inexpensive, easy to prepare and nutritious
4. Stay hydrated – iced coffee doesn’t count!
Did you know that adults should consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day? That’s equivalent to 2 small coffees from the SUB or Mini Moe’s! Drinking too much coffee during exams may have the opposite affect you intended as overconsumption of caffeine can lead to trouble sleeping, headaches and nervousness, which are not symptoms you want to feel in addition to stress. If you’re a coffee drinker, limit yourself to 2 cups per day and spread them out, for example have one in the morning and one later in the afternoon as opposed to drinking them back-to-back. Ensure you are consuming plenty of other fluids during exams, preferably water whenever possible. Dehydration can have many of the same symptoms of being over caffeinated - headaches or light-headedness, trouble focusing and tiredness. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day, make some flavoured or infused water or consider trying a sparkling option with no added sugar to help keep you drinking.
The bottom line to avoiding unnecessary headaches and nerves is to drink more water and less coffee this exam season.
Finally, get together with friends and classmates to use what’s left in your fridge and freezer with a potluck meal. Collaborate to avoid buying more groceries this close to the break and get creative in the kitchen! Soups, casseroles, or pasta are great options that you can make, share and hopefully have leftovers to pack for your next day at the library. Cooking with friends is a great way to unwind, relax and take a break from your books without wasting time to enjoy the social aspect of eating. This is also a great opportunity to hang out with your friends before the long winter break - the more the merrier!
Hopefully with these tips you can have your healthiest exam season yet. Keep an eye on our Instagram account @stfxsportnutrition for some exam time recipe ideas.
Just think, this is the final stretch before enjoying all of those yummy holiday goodies and if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is! Wishing you the best of luck and happy holidays, you’ve got this!