Your typical day: wake up at 7am, go to class at 8am, dedicate your day to an intensive seminar where you will do two presentations, take one test, start one group project, listen, write, deliver. All this is part of your amazing learning process, and you embrace it without giving it a second thought. Until the day when, exhausted as you are, you wonder: are there ways to boost my learning process and make it smoother and steadier? Is it me, or my brain is slowing down?
Your overall lifestyle and motivation obviously count, but have you ever thought about nutrition and hydration?
Time for a pause.
When stimulated, your brain cells connect, send impulses. During the learning process new bits of information arrive, new connections between neurons are made to make sure the information is carried around, processed, delivered, learnt, old information discarded and so on. This is a pretty complex and demanding process for which the brain needs fuel.
Not just any fuel, good fuel.
This is when food comes into the picture, hand in hand with hydration. They are capital assets as they ensure the proper functioning of neurons in your brain. Neurons “feed” on good fat, carbs, proteins, micronutrients and water to ensure the neurochemical process takes place smoothly and efficiently and the brain can still be responsive.
What could you eat to help your brain work properly? Here are a few helpful examples. Get your lunch tray ready!
Fats are one of the main components of the brain! Good fats from fish are a good way to boost your brain functionality: think tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon… Cod liver oil anybody?
On to sugar and food with a low glycemic index such as fruit and particularly blueberries, oranges, apples, cherries and grapes. Legumes are going to be your next best companion: soybeans, chick peas and lentils, for example. You can top them off with a bowl of plain yogurt or bran and oatmeal to roundup the low glycemic index foods. Basically, complex carbohydrates will help prevent the not so popular mood swings and sugar ups and downs by acting as a steady source of energy.
Proteins can be brought into to picture thanks to nuts and almonds – but steer clear of peanuts and nuts that have been exposed to very high temperatures that damage the oils they contain.
The next step is for you to be careful regarding the food combinations in order to make sure each and every bit gets to work wonders; for example, simple sugars tend to sedate the brain, while complex carbs can counteract this effect. A good idea is to plan the contents of your meals based on your plans: if you need your brain to be active and responsive during a 4-hour class, plan a light meal, low in sugar and calories but still bringing in a fair amount of complex carbs. Keep in mind that the heavier your meal, the slower your brain.
To bind all this together, an important element should not be missed (sadly, it often is): water! Dehydration can cause fatigue, laziness and poor brain productivity. If you wish to be more attentive, water can definitely help you get there. It is worth keeping a bottle on your desk so that you can drink regularly while working, at your own pace. Remember: once you feel that you are thirsty, it is already too late!
So, tell us: what would be your preferred day-off meal? And what would you eat right before an exam?