Do you wake up on the morning of exams with your tummy full of butterflies and feeling like skipping breakfast?

Don’t worry, it is very common to lose your appetite when you are doing exams.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

When you are nervous or anxious it can affect your whole body, not just your brain.  Even though your body is extremely complex it can’t actually distinguish between the worry of an upcoming exam and running for your life from danger.  So, your body reacts in the same way regardless of the source of worry.  Some of the ways that can affect appetite include:

  • Messages of hunger stop being sent from your tummy to your brain – so you don’t feel hungry
  • Your tummy stops producing chemicals to break down and digest food – leaving food to hang around in your tummy, often fermenting and causing a build-up of gas!
  • You may even find you need to visit the toilet more often – emptying both your bladder and bowel which can leave you feeling exhausted.
Why does it matter if I don’t eat before exams?

I’m guessing you have spent many months working hard and preparing for your exams with your brain bursting full of information.  During your exam you need to be able to access that information in your brain and this process needs energy.

By the time you wake up in the morning the last source of energy from food was probably over 12 hours ago, so you really need to top up your supplies in order to give your brain the energy it needs to recall all those snippets of information.

But don’t go reaching for the energy drinks or chocolate bars! These provide a sudden, large burst of energy which will probably make the butterflies in your tummy go wild and can often cause you to make a few more trips to the toilet leaving you lower in energy than you were to begin with.

What are the best foods for me to eat?

Regardless of how ‘amazing for memory’ a food is or how popular it is on social media, it is best to stick to something you are familiar with.

As your body is not feeling as ready for food as normal, it is sensible to eat food which is easy to digest. 

Some ideas include:

  • Porridge
  • Chia pot with coconut yoghurt
  • Overnight oats
  • Banana & oat pancakes
  • Granola with yoghurt & fruit

Try to choose foods which contain roughly 1/3 protein.  This will give you longer lasting energy compared to toast or cereal on its own. 

Simple ways to include protein in your breakfast could be:

  • 5/6 nuts e.g. brazil, cashew, almond
  • Nut butter on your toast or bagel
  • Add 1-2 tsp chia seeds to your porridge
  • ½ – 1 scoop of protein powder in your porridge or smoothie
What if I really can’t face eating anything?

Don’t despair if you really don’t feel like eating anything – worrying can often make you feel even less hungry!

Start by having a glass of water as every cell in your body, including your brain cells, need to be kept hydrated.  If you have had to make a few trips to the toilet, try adding a rehydration sachet into your glass of water (you can buy these from your local chemist) – these will help to replace the lost minerals and help to rehydrate your cells.

Another tip to improve your digestion when you are feeling worried or anxious is to take time to sit down and take 5 long, deep breaths before you eat.  Breathing can be very effective to flip your mind from a state of worry, to being relaxed, which switches your digestion back on.

Smoothies can also be a great option when the thought of food is too much.  Keep your smoothie simple though – easy to digest and not too full of fibre.  A simple smoothie could include:

  • 1 banana
  • 1-2 tablespoons of oats
  • 3-4 brazil or cashew nuts or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or ½ scoop of protein powder
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 300ml of plant milk or coconut water
Are there any foods I should avoid?

The biggest common mistake is to try something completely new, so stick with something you know your tummy likes.

Some foods which include high amounts of fats can take longer to digest which can lead to tummy grumblings in the middle of an exam.  A few choices to avoid include:

  • Pastries
  • Fried foods
  • Caffeine – this can increase the feelings of worry and increase your trips to the toilet!
  • Highly spiced foods – these can irritate your tummy for some people
  • Foods with high amounts of fibre – so go easy on the fruit & vegetables if you are making a smoothie!

Why not start planning a couple of breakfast options for the morning of your exams? Make sure you have all the ingredients and that you have tried them out a few times first.

I will leave you with my top 5 tips for eating before exams:
  1. Eat dinner containing carbohydrates and protein the night before (not too close to bedtime!)
  2. Get some sleep – resist the temptation to stay up late cramming your brain full and go to bed at a sensible time allowing your brain time to order and process the information you have learned.
  3. Have glass of water when you wake up.
  4. Take 5 long, deep breaths
  5. Eat a familiar, easy to digest breakfast or simple smoothie

I wish you all the best of luck with your exam preparation and I hope that these tips will help reduce your worry over what to eat on the morning of exams.