20 Brain-Boosting Foods To Eat Before And During An Exam

20 Brain-Boosting Foods To Eat Before And During An Exam

By Jen Evansy / October 7, 2019

Find out what are the best and worst foods to eat before an during an exam and get some brain-boosting power snacks to take with you to keep your mind focused and sharp during the test.

brain and exam results
  • Did you know that you can improve your exam results by eating certain foods? 
  • Do you know what the best diet is for assessment day?
  • Did you know that smart snaking during the tests can help you focus your brain for longer?

Our health-conscious society is leading students and their parents to seek answers to these questions so that they can maximize the chances of success in exams, tests, and assessments. 

Some exams are long and require a lot of mental endurance to get through. Nutrition experts highlight the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet during this testing time. Eating the right foods, they advise, and drinking the right drinks can boost your brainpower and energy to sustain you through long exams. On the other hand, the wrong diet can leave you feeling burnt out at a critical time.

Be you a student or parent of one; you should know these brief and simple dietary tips to give you the edge in the finals. 

Cheat Sheet - Foods To Nourish And Boost Your Brain

Best Foods To Eat Before An Exam

  • Antioxidants (from blueberries, peppers, citrus fruits)
  • Avocados
  • Complex carbs e.g. oats
  • Concord grapes 
  • Dark chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Green Tea
  • Fermented foods e.g. yogurt
  • Nuts, particularly walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sage
  • Salmon
  • Turmeric
  • Water

Foods You Should Avoid Before An Exam

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Muffins
  • Milk chocolates
  • Desserts
  • Sweets
  • High carb foods
  • Deep-fried and junk food
  • Sugary and sweetened beverages

Try to stick to complex carbs in balanced meals the day before the exam, and you must avoid sugars on the big day itself; a sugar rush at the wrong time, and your brain will go to sleep.

Let's look at Some of those Brain-Boosting Foods in More Detail

1. Green Tea - Get More Brain Bower

Green tea

Psychology Today reports that polyphenols, the substance that gives Green Tea its bitterness, can help protect your brain through its restorative qualities.

Green Tea and especially Matcha Green Tea, has been shown to encourage the production of dopamine, which aids in a positive mental state. Of course, under the stress of exam conditions, a positive mindset is something you simply must have, or you'll be so worried that your chances of a good score will diminish.

2. Oats - A Perfect Brain Food For Studying

Oat porridge

Complex carbs like oats are the best sugars to boost your brainpower. Also known as starch, they do not have the same roller coaster effect that simple sugars do. This is because the starch molecules are larger, so they take longer to be broken down in the intestine. This gives your body a slower and more gradual release of energy rather than the rush, then a big drop, that simple sugar gives you.

Starting your day with low glycemic carbs like oats will give you a sustained release of energy throughout the day to see you safely through your exam.

Conversely, having high sugar cereals for breakfast on exam day will set you up for a crash by mid-morning. Oats will satisfy your hunger, avoid a mid-morning crash, and provide healthy fuel for your brain.

Oats are also a good source of choline, which you require to produce acetylcholine; a key neurotransmitter for memory recall.

Oatmeal products are varied and readily available. Steel-cut oats are the best oats for porridge because these are not processed as much as some others. You can top your oatmeal breakfast with other brain foods like blueberries to get a real head start.

3. Walnuts - Food That Will Increase Your Intelligence

Walnuts

A mere handful of nuts will give you health benefits ranging from your heart to your memory and, while all nuts provide these, walnuts are particularly good. 

Walnuts are rich in fats and proteins, making them great for your brain and nervous system. Each individual walnut is composed of about 20% protein and 65% of omega 3 fats.

The antioxidant, vitamin E, is abundant in walnuts, and this helps combat free radicals damaging the brain. It may also be beneficial for reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Walnuts also contain vitamin B6, which promotes healthy serotonin (happy chemical) levels in your brain.

Soaking walnuts in water for around 8 hours before consuming them will make them easier for the body to absorb the beneficial nutrients they contain.

4. Sage - Herb That Improves Memory

Sage leaves

Traditionally, sage's soft savory taste has been used to enhance the memory. Sage leaves are full of flavonoids, volatile oils, and phenolic acids, which can help sharpen your mind, improve your memory, and quicken your recall. 

Some people have found that sage helps to keep them calm and clear their minds, enabling them to focus better. One study found that these effects can last up to 6 hours after consuming sage.

5. Eggs - Healthy Food Choice Before The Test

Eggs

Eggs are rich in choline, which is a substance similar to vitamin B. Choline helps you remember stuff, so having plenty of it during exam time is a must. It's the yolk of the egg that contains the choline, so make sure you have an egg or two for breakfast on exam mornings.

Buy the healthiest eggs as these are the most nutritious.

6. Salmon - Best Fish For Braininess

Cooked salmon

DHA is an Omega 3 fatty acids play important roles in brain development and function. Consuming fish that are high in omega-three will improve your brain function considerably.

Salmon, particularly wild salmon, is absolutely bursting with omega 3. Eating this upstream-swimming fish will improve your brain's functions such as listening, reasoning, and response; all great things to have sharpened for that big day. 

7. Dark Chocolate - Boosts Your Mood, Memory, And Focus

Dark chocolate

Eating dark chocolate before an exam will increase the blood flow to your brain and, thus, improve your overall cognition. 

Dark chocolate contains a high level of flavonols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. 

The best dark chocolate to eat is one that has a minimum of 70% cocoa. Milk or white chocolate does not provide the same health benefits as their dark cousin because they contain too many processed ingredients and sugars.

If you are brave enough, you can try my favorite dark chocolate with 99% cocoa.

There have been several studies that show evidence of dark chocolate's brain-boosting powers. 

These have been identified as:

  • Enhanced cognitive function
  • Reduced risk of dementia
  • Improved memory
  • Increases focus
  • Elevates your mood

One experiment found that a flavonol found in cocoa called epicatechin produces enhanced cognitive functions in tasks that involve memory and processing skills, skills that you really need to ace the test.

Chocolate has even been linked to relieving feelings of depression and anxiety, bringing on calmness and feelings of being content. And, this is not just because it tastes great; chocolates are thought to boost levels of serotonin, the feel-good chemical.

8. Acai Berries - Full Helpful Antioxidants

Acai Berries

This incredibly popular berry's consumption has become clichéd in recent years as it seems to be liked by everyone. For those that have not yet tried it, though, it has a very high level of antioxidants that can also help with blood flow to the brain.

Acai is also packed with omega 3. So it is good for balancing your mood, making you more relaxed, and building your confidence to deal with those more complex exam questions.

9. Cocoa Powder - Improving Blood Flow To The Brain

Coco powder

Coco powder is a really healthy ingredient and, if you opt for the unsweetened version, comes with almost no calories.

Cocoa powders include brain-boosting elements such as antioxidants and flavonoids. The main element is epicatechin, a particular type of antioxidant that improves cognition during the study.

Beyond its antioxidant qualities, cocoa can improve your cardiovascular health through better blood flow to the brain.

10. Wine - Engage More Parts Of Your Grey Matter 

Red wine

Maybe not the best suggestion to give to a student the night before an exam, so perhaps this one is just for the mature students.

Gordon Shepherd, MD from Yale School of Medicine, states that moderate consumption of wine engages more brain parts than any other activity.

He goes on to say that it is all a matter of taste; that the process of wine swirling around in your mouth triggers your tongue muscles and taste buds. This actually engages more of the brain than solving complex problems or listening to music.

11. Beets - Stimulate Your Mental Sharpness

Beetroot

Beets have plenty of nitrates and antioxidants. Antioxidants could help prevent many conditions are beneficially to your overall well-being and nitrates improve blood flow to your brain. 

Eating beets will help you to think clearly; they will also help increase your attention span. Beets will give you an excellent means of increasing your energy levels naturally, boosting your physical performance.

There are plenty of ways to eat beetroots; raw on their own, in a salad, or part of a medley of roasted vegetables. 

I have discovered that the best way to get more beetroot in my diet is to add it to my smoothies along with other powdered superfoods.

12. Avocado - Improve Overall Cognitive Function

Avocados

Avocado is very high in monounsaturated fats and is classed as a superfood. The healthy fats in avocados help maintain your blood sugar levels on an even keel. They also assist in keeping your hair, skin, and nails healthy.

Avocados are also high in folate and vitamin K. This vitamin improves your cognitive functions of memory and concentration. This superfood can be eaten on its own, in a smoothie, as a spread, or as the key ingredient in guacamole.

13. Brocolli - Full Of Choline For Improved Memory

Broccoli

Choline and vitamin K are both in high quantities in broccoli, making this vegetable good for memory and focus. Broccoli is also a good source of fiber and vitamin C.

Fiber helps your body stay full for much longer, helping you get through a long exam session without getting hungry and restless.

Broccoli added to stir fry, as a stuffing, or alongside creamy potatoes are a few ways you can eat this vegetable.

14. Blueberries - Essential For Intelligence

Blueberries

Blueberries top the charts as far as superfoods go. One single blueberry contains more antioxidants than an entire packet of supplements. The nutritional qualities of blueberries can drastically improve your memory, numerical skills, decision making, and comprehension.

Blueberries are also easy and delicious to eat, that make it overall a great choice before and during your test.

15. Beans And Legumes - Improve Verbal And Memory Performance

Beans and legumes

Beans contain plenty of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.

Your brain will consume about 300 calories from carbohydrates each day. This equates to around 20% of your energy expenditure.

There is a strong argument stating that diets that are low in carbohydrates have an adverse effect on cognition, that they reduce reaction time and impair your memory and verbal performance.

Complex carbs and fiber combined to give you a slow and steady energy release throughout the day. Beans and legumes are also a good source of iron, which is good, as iron deficiency can lead to bad moods, confusion, irritation, and other brain-related issues. 

My favorite way to add more nutritious legumes to my diet is by eating pasta made of chickpeas.

Beans and legumes are an excellent source of natural folic acid or folate. Folate helps maintain blood homocysteine at normal levels. If these levels rise too high, there is an increased risk of dementia and a decline in cognition. Folate has been shown to slow brain shrinkage when combined with vitamin B6 and B12.

16. Concord Grapes - Helps Keep Your Mind Sharp

Concord grapes

Despite being available for only a short spell every year, these grapes' juice can provide great brain benefits. One study showed that elderly citizens suffering from cognitive decline benefited from drinking concord grape juice. Positive signs were noted on the brain functions of the patients.

Concord grapes and, indeed, grapes, in general, are good anti-inflammatory foods that aid pain relief. Eating them is simple; just put them in your mouth or blend into a smoothie.

17. Pumpkin Seeds Are Great For Intellectual Capacity

Pumpkin seeds

All seeds are excellent brain foods, but pumpkin seeds are especially so as they are high in omega 3. Pumpkin seeds also have magnesium in them, which is thought to play a positive role in brain function and moods.

Zinc is another element of pumpkin seeds, and this is also important for brain function. Only half a cup of pumpkin seeds will provide you with 30% of your daily zinc requirements.

18. Fermented Foods - Keep Your Gut-Brain Axis Strong

Probiotic foods

The fermentation of food has been practiced all over the world for generations. But today, it is at an increased level of popularity due to the reported benefits not only for improved digestion but also for the gut-brain axis.

As we have come to understand these foods more, there has been a recognition of their benefit to the brain. This understanding is backed up by their biological effects, including protection from neurotoxicity.  

Here is a list of fermented foods you can easily start adding to your diet today.

19. Turmeric - Helps Strengthen Memory 

Turmeric root

I have written a lot about Turmeric, as this is one of my favorite superfoods. What makes Turmeric so beneficial for your body is its active ingredient called curcumin. Some studies also suggest that curcumin can directly enter the brain and benefit your memory and brain function. 

Turmeric is probably not my first choice as brain food, but it is undoubtedly a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. 

Turmeric has shown to have the following brain benefits:

  • Improve memory
  • Elevated mood
  • Boosts dopamine and serotonin
  • Helps to grow new brain cells
  • Could slow age-related mental decline

I could go on and on about Turmeric and how beneficial it is for the whole body. I have written an article about how to add Turmeric into your daily diet and get the maximum Turmeric absorption by using black pepper.

20. Water - Staying Hydrated Can Improve Exam Grades

Glass of water

Simply drinking water can help you improve your test results. 

One of the best ways to maintain concentration and focus is to remain hydrated. The slightest bit of dehydration can leave you feeling tired or give you a headache, so reducing your concentration and diminishing your alertness.

Many chemical reactions in your body require water for them to take place. Your brain speed will slow down if you are working while dehydrated. The recommended volume of water to drink each day is around 1.2 liters or 6-8 glasses. So drink plenty of water before and even during the exam. 

How To Increase Your Mental Ability With The Right Nutrition

Brain
1

Eat Breakfast For Better Brain Function

Eating breakfast

Even if you are not usually a breakfast person, make sure that you eat something on the morning of your exam. Your brain needs energy to work well, and denying it a good start to the day means you could lose focus during your exam.  

 

No matter how hard you have studied and prepared, if fatigue sets in because energy is lacking, all your work will have been in vain. If you really cannot stomach some solid breakfast, at least have a high protein smoothie or shake to keep you going.

 

2

Nourish Your Brain With Protein-Rich Foods

A woman eating an egg

In the weeks and days before the exam, make sure you start eating some or all of the brain-boosting foods that are listed above. 


Remember that foods rich in protein and complex carbohydrates will improve your mental alertness.


  • Good food choices for the day of the exam include nuts, eggs, and yogurt. 
  • A great exam breakfast could consist of wholegrain cereals, oatmeal porridge, eggs on toast, or sugar-free muesli.
  • Fish, seeds, walnuts, and dried fruits are other good food options for boosting the brain.

 

Still, try some of your favorites not already mentioned above: oranges, strawberries, bananas, carrots, spinach, and asparagus and combine them with the protein-rich foods.

3

Avoid Intelligence Killing Foods

College student eating a donuts

Make sure that you avoid brain blocking foods. There is no point in eating the right stuff to have the benefits undone by some stray unhealthy snacks. So, keep away from white flour products like muffins, cakes, and cookies. Also, avoid high sugar foods like milk chocolate, candies, and sweet desserts.


Some Of The Worst Foods For Your Brain Are:


  • Sugary Products
  • Donuts and pastry
  • Junk Food
  • Processed And Pre-Cooked Foods
  • Deep-Fried Foods
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Refined Carbs
  • Foods High in Sodium
  • Trans-Fats 

 

Also, you have probable heard people say that eating turkey before an exam will do you no good as it can make you sleepy due to its content of L-Tryptophan. However, I do believe that it is more of an old old wives' tale and the sleepiness can rather be contributed to eating simple carbs with the turkey then the turkey itself.



The video below can help debunk the myth and explain the sleepiness theory.

As you can see, turkey itself is not to blame but certain food combinations should be avoided, such as protein and high glycemic carbs. This is because when combined, they can make you drowse and feel bloated.


You can eat some simple sugars a day before the exam but on the big day itself try to keep all simple carbs to the minimum.  

4

Drink Water For The Maximum Cognitive Performances

Student drinking water

Make sure you consume plenty of fluids before and during your exam.


Water, of course, is the best for this, but Macha Green Tea is also good, especially if you drink it without any sugar.


Becoming dehydrated will make you feel weak, faint, and it will cause you to lose concentration. Dehydration affects electrolyte and sodium levels in your body, which been linked to cognitive changes.


So, make sure that you drink enough water to avoid dehydration rather than just starting to drink when you already feel dehydrated.

5

Avoid Drinks That Hinder Mental Ability

Woman drinking energy drink when studying

On the other end of the drinking scale are those beverages that cause a blockage to your brain. 


Alcohol is the worst offender and MUST be avoided on the day of the exam. Being drunk during an examination is not good; neither is a headache or nausea that comes from a hangover.


Sugary drinks and carbonated sodas should also be avoided, as should very high caffeine drinks.


If drinking coffee is part of your morning routine, though, you can stick to it but maybe ramp back on the strength and quantity. Completely eliminating your coffee consumption could give you withdrawal symptoms during the exam.


You can try mushroom coffee instead. Mushroom coffee has lower caffeine content and it contains Chaga mushrooms and Lion's Mane and Cordyceps mushrooms. Mushroom coffee also claims to boost brain function and keep you stimulated for longer and without any jitters.


Also, try to eat something healthy along with your coffee to help you absorb the drink.

6

Do Not Overeat 

 Bloating

Avoid the exam binge. Just eat enough to satisfy your hunger. The last thing you want is to go into an exam feeling bloated as this will lead to discomfort and lack of concentration. You will also feel drowsy and lethargic as your body takes care of digesting the food. Maybe try something light like a salad before the exam.

7

Stick To The Safe Foods Before The Exam

Avoiding exotic foods

Stick to what you know. You don't want to be trying some new and exotic dish just before an exam as you may not know of how your body will react to it. Excess gas can put you off your exam questions and the rest of the students will also suffer.


Here is a list of gas causing foods that you should avoid eating before your exam.

8

Give Your Brain All The Necessary Vitamins And Minerals

Nutrients for the brain

Take some multivitamins. Many people of student age don't really consider what they eat. So, their diets do not always provide them with all the nutrients and vitamins that they need.


If you are one of these people, you should take some multivitamins. B type vitamins are great for boosting the brain. Also calcium, iron, and zinc are just a few of these that you need.


This specially designed multivitamin for the memory and brain with the added cognitive boosters is a very popular choice among many students.

9

Prepare Some Power Snack For The Exam

Brain food snack bar

Become an intelligent snacker. In some universities, you may get a five or a 10-minute break between exam segments, and if you do, you should use this time wisely. 


Having two or more exams in one day can be excruciating in terms of revision, and it can also be hard work for maintaining right nutrition. Your brain needs to be fed to be in good condition to perform in an exam. So, if you're sitting a couple of exams in one day, you'll need to eat between them.


With a busy exam timetable, you may not have the opportunity to sit down for a proper meal, so snacking might be the order of the day. Eating healthy snacks between or even during your exam will help maintain your blood sugar levels and stop you from losing focus.


Make sure that you have plenty of healthy snacks available to take during this time; setting you up for the next session. Being prepared will avoid you having to dash to the shop to stave off your hunger or thirst.


Try to replace highly sugary snacks with healthy options such as dried fruit, high fiber bars, nuts, and seeds. Fruits such as apples, bananas, and pears are high in fiber and release energy slowly and steadily, helping you maintain stamina.


Eating nuts and seeds will keep you feeling full for longer as they are full of protein. If you are allowed, bring plenty of these healthy snacks to the exam to keep you going.


Best Foods To Eat During Long Exam:


If you want to be really clever, you can bring a Special IQ Nutrition Bar with you.


Make sure that the snacks you have prepared conform to the advice given above to avoid any negative consequences.


10

Get A Good Sleep To Score High On Finals

Waking up fresh in the morning

The closing piece of advice is not about eating but sleeping. Make sure that you get a good night's sleep before the exam. It is pointless staying up all night trying to cram that last bit of data into your head; that work should have been done weeks before now.


It is much more important to get some decent rest so that you are fresh in the morning, ready for a good healthy breakfast, and with enough energy to take on the challenge of your exams.


Good Luck

Related Posts
About the author

    Jen Evansy

    Nutritionists, researchers, and writers, interested in everything healthy-living related. Helping you identify the best diets, learn about food and nutrition, to help you live happier, longer and stronger.

  • Brie Price says:

    I have a bit of an issue with food when eating before exams. As bad of a habit as it is, I tend to skip breakfast those days because I am so nervous that my stomach actually gets upset. It makes it hard for me to stomach just about anything other than water and tea. What would you recommend I eat in my case? I am open to suggestions because it sucks being the one in a quiet room with a growling stomach!


  • >