Bite-sized tips to fuel your brain for finals week

salmon rice bowl

With finals week approaching, we tend to neglect our health while cramming for exams. The University Health Center registered dietitian Sarah Keegan, MS, RDN, LMNT, CDCES, shares simple ways to help you fuel up for finals.

Are there specific snacks that are known to enhance cognitive function or focus?

Yes, walnuts, specifically, but any nut or seed paired with fruit is a good snack option – think homemade trail mix. Nuts offer healthy fats that enhance cognitive function, and fruits provide carbohydrates for energy; they both provide a little fiber too. The mix of these nutrients help keep blood sugar levels.

What quick and easy meal ideas do you recommend for students nearing finals week?

Don’t try too many new things, as you don’t want to upset your stomach and then be unable to concentrate. Keep it easy and simple with a protein, carb and vegetable:

  • Baked chicken or salmon, a 90-second whole grain rice or quinoa mix and steamed vegetables.
  • A burger on a whole grain bun with some carrots and dip.
  • A packet of tuna with a little dressing on whole grain bread topped with lettuce and an apple or a handful of chips.

How can we include healthy snacks into our study routine to prevent energy crashes?

Remember to fuel yourself throughout the day. Aim to eat within a couple of hours after waking up and then something every three to four hours throughout the day to keep energy levels up. If you can, try to have two food groups in your snack:

  • Light Greek yogurt with a fourth cup of nuts.
  • Apple with peanut butter.
  • Cheese stick with fruit.
  • High-fiber cereal, like Frosted Mini Wheats®, with a protein shake.

Does hydration play a role in cognitive function?

Absolutely! If we aren’t well hydrated, chemical reactions throughout our body don’t run accordingly. Make water your primary source of hydration. A high caffeine option may sound like a good idea, but it can make it more difficult to concentrate or make one jittery or anxious, backfiring the original intention.

What recommendations do you have on caffeine consumption during finals week?

I recommend not having more than your usual intake or no more than 400mg per day. Your body will react differently to 100mg four times per day versus 400mg all at once. Again, it’s not the time to try new things! Aim to get as much sleep as possible, even if it’s a short 20-minute nap between exams or as a study break. Sleep is very important and gets put on the back burner all too often.

You’re almost there! Take a deep breath, drink a glass of water, and put your best foot forward!

If you need help navigating healthy eating, schedule a telehealth nutrition counseling visit with Sarah Keegan. The first visit is free if you pay student fees. Call 402.472.5000 to schedule.