10 rules to improve exam performance

By: Judy Davie

If your child is sitting, or about to sit for his final year exams you might find these dietary recommendations from four of Australia's leading nutritionist and dietitians useful.

Emma Stirling APD and blogger on Scoop Nutrition cannot stress enough the importance of eating a good breakfast.
But don't just take her word for it. Recent Australian research showed that breakfast improved cognitive function. The study of 800 children tracked over 5 years, found that an increase in the nutritional quality of breakfast resulted in an improvement of literacy and numeracy scores. Study author Prof O'Dea concluded that breakfast is strongly and consistently linked to children's academic performance in primary and secondary school, independent of known predictors such as parental education and socioeconomic status. The study also found that skipping breakfast decreases literacy and numeracy scores in all age groups

Rule 1: Never skip breakfast

Rule 2: Eat a nutritious breakfast complete with protein, whole grain cereals and good fats.

Nutrition consultant Karen Kingham believes dietary advice for students should have a two pronged approach. In the lead up to exam times stock up on foods rich in iron and zinc to ensure your child is in peak health when the exams start. During the exams Karen stresses the importance of an 'event plan' to provide optimum fuel to ensure concentration and optimum performance.
What not to eat is as important and what to eat and Karen suggests organising quality meals and snacks for the day ahead. Satisfying the body with lean protein and low GI carbs will ensure an even supply of fuel unlike sweets and biscuits which fill an immediate craving followed by a sudden crash soon after.

Rule 3: Plan nutritious meals and snacks in advance for the day

Rule 4: Avoid sweets and biscuits

Not surprisingly dietitian Glenn Cardwell supports all this advice and adds to it the importance of drinking water. He backs this suggestion with information on three papers written in 2009 study which revealed that regular consumption of water while learning helped with memory in young children. Although this research was conducted on young children Glenn says that while he can't presume the same results with year 12 students having a bottle of water close by during study and exam time seems like a very smart thing to do. (Can kids take water into exams? I'm not sure)
Mindful of kid's behaviour, Glenn also adds that kids will invariably break their study time by wandering into the kitchen in search of snacks. Regular breaks taken during study time are important and while he recommends going outdoors to get some sun, and exercise, if kids are to snack, they should snack wisely and never to the point of getting full.
Adding to the not to eat list, Glenn recommends our next rule:

Rule 5: Avoid alcohol and energy drinks

Bestselling author and nutritionist Catherine Saxelby from Foodwatch advocates plenty of foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as canned and fresh salmon, sardines, Omega 3 fortified eggs, bread and grass fed beef -also rich in iron and zinc for improved memory and concentrations. She also suggests plenty of vegetables, wheatgerm and good grains for their high concentration of B vitamins and minerals to keep your brain and nervous system in top order.

Finally on caffeine - if you are seeking a performance enhancing drug for your child - Two cups (approx 300 g caffeine) of espresso coffee a day acts as a mild stimulant to the brain and nervous system reducing feelings of fatigue. Anymore can cause feelings of anxiousness, irritability and an upset stomach.

Rule 6: Eat Omega 3 rich foods

Rule 7: Increase consumption of wholegrain carbohydrate and other foods rich in vitamin B.

Rule 8: Drink a maximum of 2 cups expresso coffee a day.

All four of our experts agree on the importance of a good night's sleep, so encourage them to go to bed at a reasonable time and avoid coffee later in the afternoon and at night as it can keep you awake. A warm glass of milk will offer comfort and aid a good night's sleep.

Rule 9: Avoid coffee after 4.00pm

Rule 10: Get good nights sleep.

Breakfast suggestions
Boiled egg with wholegrain toast and avocado, Grainy cereal (such as Goodness Superfoods - Protein) with reduced fat milk and fresh fruit, Baked beans on toast

Small tub yoghurt, sardines on toast, Raw nuts and dried fruit, grilled chicken drumsticks, tahina or nut butter on rice cakes or wholegrain crackers, fruit smoothie, small piece of cheese and apple, hummus with vegetable crudités, mango, bananas

Chicken, beef, tuna, or salmon salad wrap, chicken and veggie soup, sushi and edamame

Grilled lean red meat or fish with stir-fried veggies, spaghetti bolognese with wholemeal pasta with loads of veggies in the sauce, lean burger with roast veggies, sautéed mushrooms with cheese sauce on spinach

I hope this helps you and your child.Good luck with the exams and do drop us a line with some of your memory and performance enhancing meals.


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