Best Brain Fuel Practices
There are lots of tips and tricks to aid the study process – trust me I’ve tried a lot of them! 8 years of post secondary education has taught me a few things about preparing for exams. A lot of this was trial and error…so I’m here to help give the best tips to your teen for this years exam period.
Out of all the different methods I tried the ONE THING that always made the most consistent and noticeable impact was food. But, not only WHAT fuel, but when!
1. WHAT Foods Fuel the Brain?
Our brain is actually made of fat and it is necessary to get enough healthy fats in our diet to support all the functions of the brain – especially for memory and learning! An added bonus is that fat is an optimal source for energy body wide. By ensuring each meal and snack involves some sort of healthy fat, we ensure we have sustained energy (ie. avoid energy crashes!) – much needed during extended study sessions! Top 3 Healthy fats: avocado, wild caught alaskan salmon, walnuts
Whether animal or plant based, having adequate protein is absolutely necessary for optimal brain health (and overall health!). Our body needs 9 “essential” amino acids from food because we cannot make them on our own – and we get these amino acids from protein. These amino acids are necessary for building neurotransmitters – these are the communication tools of the brain. There are a few neurotransmitters that are known to be especially important in learning and memory- the top one being glutamate. It can be found in all meat-based proteins, but also found in broccoli, mushrooms, tomato sauce and walnuts.
Our brain does need glucose as a fuel source – but where we get this glucose from is key! Processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup, or any white sugar will increase inflammation both in your brain and the rest of your body. This can actually impair your learning abilities. Finding naturally sweet foods is the best place to start when looking for a healthy source of carbohydrates/sugars – apples, pears, berries, sweet potatoes, beets and whole grains are excellent options.
Added bonus- Colourful fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, providing protective benefits to the brain along with fuel.
Each meal and snack during your teen’s busy study schedule this month needs to incorporate each of these key macronutrients (Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates).
2. WHEN to fuel the brain:
Studying is hard work. It doesn’t seem that way from the outside looking in, but from the inside out, energy demands are incredibly high. Smaller and more frequent complete whole-food meals and snacks will keep their energy up. As I said above – our brains use glucose for fuel – so it’s easy to gravitate towards sugary snacks- your teen may have the munchies A LOT during this time period. So ensuring that high quality nutrient dense options are available is KEY.
Timing wise – be sure that every 2 hours a healthy snack or meal is happening based on the 3 main food groups I mentioned above.
I would be remiss if I left out the importance of water! Staying hydrated is ESSENTIAL for optimal brain functioning. Ideally your teen is getting in 8 glasses per day – perhaps getting them a reusable water bottle that they love to help keep them motivated.
It’s also important to try to stay away from things that dehydrate! Energy drinks, coffee, pops, juices…not only are they counterproductive to hydrating us, they also lead to more energy crashes and less of the sustained energy that’s needed to get through exams.
Sleep is another form of fuel- without it, your body can’t optimally use all the other fuel sources to build the memories and processes your teen is trying to with all their hard work. Also, if they’re studying from screens later at night, blue-light blocking glasses are an excellent idea. These lenses reduce the melatonin-draining effects of blue-light and help negate the impact this blue-light has on sleep quality (and hence, memory improvement!).
Other ways to Optimize the Exam Period:
1. MOVE YOUR BODY
Study intervals should be no longer than 45min each time. Break up study intervals with a 5-15min break that includes physical activity.
Physical activity Increases blood flow – more blood flow also means more brain power – which means more capacity for focus and learning. Bouts of high intensity exercise has been proven to improve memory retention and mental performance.
2. DEEP BREATHING
Not only does this increase oxygen levels, which in turn increases brain power, deep breathing puts the body into a more relaxed state. From this relaxed parasympathetic state, we conserve energy and put our brains into a better position to absorb and retain information. Making time for 10 deep breaths every study session will increase the effectiveness of your teen’s studies.
If your teen needs extra support don’t be afraid to reach out! Book a call to see how we can optimize your teen’s brain health…and health over all!
Dr. TeWinkel is on a mission to improve teen health and build it’s foundations so they can own their health for the rest of their life.
When a teen is supported in their health early on, the stage for success can really be set.
Teens and their families are often given limited choices to deal with their health concerns. Whether it be hormonal struggles, acne, painful periods, anxiety and depression, dieting and healthy weight management or sexual health – all of these can be addressed with a tailored plan to each teen.