Brain Food: 5 Best Foods to Eat Before a Test

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: June 25, 2021

Most people experience some amount of stress when taking a test - which is often why they choose to get tutored in the first place. According to Brain Connection, the increase in standardized testing may actually be adding to the level of stress many students experience in the classroom. Excessive stress can be harmful in a variety of ways, including reduced test scores.

This makes proper diet all the more important for students facing important exams. When your student is focused, well-nourished, and satisfied, they can focus on the task at-hand far better. 

Great Foods for Your Studying Student

By increasing the level of healthy foods your student eats, you may be able to help with his or her test scores. Here are some great food options to improve your student’s brain health, and give a leg up on test day:

1. Fish for Omega-3s

Omega-3s are an excellent food for quality brain functioning, and can help your student stay sharp during his or her test.

According to WebMD, Omega-3s are a wonderful way to maintain concentration abilities, brain capacity and general alertness. The best source is oily, cold-water fish. Wild Alaskan salmon is the prime contender, although trout, sardines, mackerel and herring all contain Omega-3s.

Vegetarians can also get their Omega-3s from vegetable sources. Hemp protein and flax seeds are a quality source. Grind the flax seeds, or buy them pre-ground. Otherwise our bodies cannot access the nutrients.

2. Dark fruits and veggies for antioxidants

It seems that the darker the fruit or vegetable, the healthier it is for you. This may not always be true, but when looking for antioxidants, this is a good general rule. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, antioxidants are the most beneficial when obtained through whole foods. Supplements appear to do much less than previously thought.

Foods especially high in antioxidants include:

  • Berries, especially blueberries
  • Red beans, pinto beans, and black beans
  • Artichokes
  • Prunes
  • Apples
  • Pecans


3. Complex carbohydrates

The brain uses sugar for fuel. Unfortunately, the simple sugars in sodas and candy burn up far too quickly to give your student steady energy. This is why complex carbs are so important. According to The Franklin Institute, our brains need twice the amount of energy as the rest of the cells in our bodies. The best source of this fuel is complex carbohydrates — natural fruits, vegetables and grains that are minimally processed.

Some great sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole grains — steel cut oatmeal is a great pre-test breakfast option
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and other legumes

Whether your student is taking a school exam or preparing for their college entrance exams, quality energy sources will give them the fuel he or she needs to stay sharp.

4. Quality protein

Protein is important for sustained energy, as well. WebMD recommends eating a breakfast that includes protein to lessen anxiety  something that can be quite useful come test day.

Keep your student's protein sources healthy and lower in fat, if possible. Some excellent breakfast proteins include:

  • Lean meats — Canadian bacon or turkey bacon
  • Eggs — egg whites are fine, the yolks do not contain protein
  • Soy foods — soy milk, soy protein meat substitutes
  • Milk — low-fat milk

5. Water

Proper hydration is incredibly important to brain function. Encourage your student to drink plenty of water in the morning, and have them carry a water bottle with them to their test. These are two great ways to ensure hydration and mental focus. Teach them that when they begin to feel fatigued or hungry, they should try drinking a glass of water.

It alleviates symptoms of dehydration, but does nothing to slow them down.

Sticking to These Healthy Habits

Adding these healthy foods to your student's diet is a great way to help them maintain optimum mental performance, both for exams and for life in general. You may even start some healthy, life-long eating habits, as well!

Hopefully, your student isn't relying on the habits above alone to improve their test scores and increase their focus in academics. If you've been noticing their study skills and confidence in test-taking aren't where you'd really like them to be, then it's time to take the next step and upgrade their time management and testing strategies. 

Dive into our free Study Skills Checklist to help your student get better grades now. Don't wait until it's too late to help them prepare, perform, and succeed.

Topics: Test-Prep

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