It’s been a while since I last checked in over here. I’ve just gone on study leave (eek) so A level exams are just around the corner, which means I’ll be spending the next month or so pretty much glued to my desk. Not ideal in the slightest, but I thought I would share some useful information and tips on staying healthy and improving your cognition and exam performance based on nutrition. This post is based on my own experience with exams (of which there have been plenty unfortunately) and some very helpful points from registered associate nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert.
- Nutrition is absolutely key, it’s the foundation for everything. Just as a basic example, whilst applying some of my AS biology (technically this is revision): Our brains run on glucose (carbohydrate), proteins makes up our hormones and the enzymes that are crucial for metabolism, and fats are essential, for example they’re used to form cell membranes in each of the countless cells that make us up. And of course the vitamins and minerals we get from micronutrients – fruit and veg – are also vital for these metabolic reactions.
You know what they say – ‘80% diet, 20% training’ to see results and ‘abs are made in the kitchen’. True or not, we know that diet plays a huge role in our health, our performance and in our appearance. As I, like probably most of you reading this, will be very sedentary over the coming weeks, and therefore not using up so much energy, I will be keeping a close eye on my nutrition and being perhaps a bit more disciplined – bikini season is just around the corner after all!
- When you’re sat at your desk, working, it’s fairly easy to get bored and start looking for distractions. A common distraction is food. Often when you’ve been working hard, you feel like rewarding yourself, which is where everything can go horribly wrong, especially in the evening when you’re tired and willpower tends to be lower! Make sure you don’t keep anything unhealthy too close by (or at all) so the temptation isn’t there. Drink a big glass of water or tea and wait for a while to see if the feeling passes, as sometimes hunger can be mistaken for thirst. I like to keep a big glass or bottle of water at my desk while I’m working to help me keep hydrated – your brain won’t function as effectively if you’re dehydrated! Alternatively, ask yourself if you could eat some raw vegetables, such as a carrot – if you don’t want to eat a carrot but just want something sweet, chances are you’re confusing cravings with hunger.
- Be mindful – don’t overeat or keep grazing continuously on food throughout the day. Pay attention to what you’re eating, sit down and eat your food without any distractions – no TV, no YouTube, no phone-scrolling – as this makes you more likely to ignore feelings of fullness and lead to overeating. I have to be honest and say that I enjoy reading a magazine or newspaper whilst eating my lunch, but I find this less distracting than a screen! Listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry and stop before you feel full (it takes about 20 minutes for your body to realise that it’s full).
- If you’re going to snack, keep it healthy – I like to snack on sweet things, so I keep my main meals savoury and tend to go for Skyr yoghurt (it’s very thick, high in protein and satisfying) with peanut butter and frozen berries, or an apple with some hazelnut/almond butter when I’m feeling peckish. If I do fancy something savoury, I opt for houmous with raw veg, or a boiled egg and crudités. Try to avoid refined sugars and refined carbohydrates (you can read why here). A balanced and varied diet will help your health and your focus, so make sure every meal contains all 3 macronutrients (carbs, fat & protein) and plenty of veggies too.
- The lovely Rhiannon Lambert (a registered associate nutritionist who you’ll know as @rhitrition on Instagram) has very kindly shared her top 5 foods to help enhance cognition:
- Whole Grains – Energy is the fuel for every organ in the human body. The brain is no different! The ability to concentrate comes from the sufficient energy intake in the form of glucose in our blood. As the blood circulates in the body, it will deliver this energy to the brain. Low Glycemic Index (GI) carbs are the best choice.
- Pumpkin Seeds – As a powerful source of zinc, a regular intake of 50g of pumpkin seeds are said to enhance memory and thinking skills, not to mention boost our immune system response to the infection.
- Oily Fish – These contain Omega-3 fatty acids, you have probably heard of these before. They come in different forms called ALA, EPA and DHA but we can only get these from our diet, hence the name an essential fatty acid. EPA and DHA are the best form to get from oily fish, nuts and seeds contain ALA which takes a bit longer to convert to EPA and DHA inside the body. The intake of omega-3 will not only enhance the brains function but also heart and joint health. The best types of oily fish are salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, etc.
- Blueberries– Studies suggest blueberries improve or delay our short-term memory loss. With a low kcal count (57 per 100g), high levels of antioxidants and rich in fibre, these berries are the perfect addition to your breakfast bowl or snack.
- Tomatoes– When cooked these contain large amounts of lycopene (a powerful antioxidant), tomatoes offer a great source of protection against free radical damage (from pollution, carcinogenic items/food and illness) of cells in our body and their components (DNA in particular). A frequent intake of tomatoes has been shown to help prevent the development of dementia, which partly occurs due to the free radical damage.
- If you’re not already, then I highly recommend you follow Rhiannon’s Instagram for some meal inspiration, regular health updates, and some kha-RHI-oeke (she’s a fantastic singer too!) You can find her on Twitter here and Facebook here, where she regularly does live Q&As with personal trainer and fitspiration @clean_eating_alice. Rhiannon also has her first book, Re-Nourish, coming out in December, which you can (and should) pre-order here.
🍫Going to town with breakfast today as it's gotta keep me going for a bit longer than usual! 😍My fav proats bowl! Using coconut milk, chocolate protein, seeds, nuts, berries & a cheeky sprinkle of cinnamon popocorn (why not!) 🙌🏻Have a terrific Tuesday everybody! #nutrition #rhitrition #renourish #rhiannonlambert #breakfast #porridge #chocolate
- Finally, with a vast amount of unqualified advice being given, particularly through social media, make sure you get any nutritional advice that is tailored to your needs from those who are qualified, like Rhiannon, and do not take a one-size-fits-all-approach to nutrition – what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you!
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