Studying for finals requires energy, stamina, and constant focus. You have been training your brain all semester, similar to the way an athlete trains their body for competition. Imagine if an athlete skipped meals, ate mindlessly, and refueled with candy, junk food, and caffeine in preparation for a big race. Without balanced nutrition, even the best athlete’s performance would suffer!
Surprisingly, our brain, which is only 2% of our total body weight, consumes 20% of the calories we eat. This means that eating quality food consistently throughout the day is essential for our mind to perform at its best.
During this busy time it may feel overwhelming to spend time thinking about meals, so here are a few tips to keep your brain out of the fog:
- Eat a morning meal and get your brain into gear! Grab a breakfast sandwich with a side of fruit, a quinoa breakfast bowl, or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Enjoy a coffee with breakfast, but steer clear of the sugar-laden flavored lattes that can cause your energy levels to crash.
- Don’t skip meals. Aim to eat a meal every 4 to 5 hours to maintain a steady supply of energy to the brain. Pack snacks like trail mix, granola bars, or fresh fruit for those times when you can’t squeeze in a meal.
- Stay hydrated. Water is essential for delivering nutrients to our cells (i.e. brain cells!) and can help curb cravings for junk food. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, which means that extra hydration is in order if you are drinking coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks during long study sessions. Carry a water bottle and use the water fountains around campus to refill regularly!
Now, let’s look at some of the brain-boosting foods that can help you maximize your study time.
Go green with vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, and broccoli! Leafy greens are packed with protective antioxidants like vitamins A (in the form of beta-carotene) and C, and nutrients that boost cellular antioxidant defense like sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale. The good news is that you can find greens all over campus – check out a few of our favorites!
- Grill ‘n’ Greens – every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the Global Flavour station in Resnik, chefs prepare lean proteins and super food greens grilled to order. You can choose from greens like bok choy, Swiss chard, kale, broccolini, radicchio, and more.
- Super Foods Vegetarian Salad at Rothberg’s Roasters II. This salad is packed with good-for-you food: kale, Brussel sprouts, Napa cabbage, red cabbage, radicchio, as well as chickpeas, broccoli, pickled carrots, cucumbers, flax seed, avocado, edamame, and signature lemon vinaigrette.
- Kale salad at Tazza D’Oro – kale, roasted butternut squash, and dried cranberries, served with apple cider vinaigrette.
Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, or flaxseeds may be small, but they deliver big nutrition. They provide a variety of unsaturated fatty acids, which are essential to brain structure and function. A diet lacking in fat can lead to sub-par brain performance, so to ensure you are operating at full capacity, sprinkle nuts and seeds on a salad or grab a handful for a satisfying snack. There are lots delicious ways to enjoy nuts and seeds when dining on campus:
- Harvest Turkey Salad at Au Bon Pain, featuring roast turkey, romaine and spinach, cranberries, grapes, granny smith apples, goat cheese, walnuts, and balsamic vinegar.
- Super Foods Wrap at Rotherberg Roasters II – this wrap will keep you full and focused with wheat berries, almonds, cranberries, bell pepper, ginger, honey, orange, avocado, arugula, and tomato, on a whole wheat wrap.
- Snack on a KIND Bar from Entropy+.
Omega 3 fats are also known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), or fats that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. Among the long list of omega 3 EFA health benefits, brain development and cognitive function are at the top! Omega 3 fats may also boost your mood, something we all need during the stress of finals week. The most potent sources of omega 3 fats are found in marine foods, such as salmon, trout, albacore tuna, mackerel, oysters, and seaweed. If you prefer plant-based sources, reach for walnuts, soy, flaxseed, chia seed, and pumpkin seeds.
These dishes will help you enjoy the recommended 2 to 3 servings of fish each week:
- Create your own unique poke bowl at iNoodle with your choice of rice or noodles, vegetables, up to two types of raw or cooked fish or shellfish, and customized flavor with sauces and spices.
- Blackened Salmon Sandwich at the Underground, featuring a blackened center cut salmon filet topped with melted provolone on a whole grain Kaiser roll with lettuce, tomato, and creamy dill sauce.
- Nakama Sushi – choose from a wide selection of raw, cooked, and vegetarian options, rolled fresh daily. Nakama sushi is located in Resnik Servery, but can be found in grab-and-go coolers around campus as well!
Grains provide a dense form of carbohydrate, the nutrient that is most efficiently used to fuel the brain. The best grain foods for our body and mind are whole, unprocessed plants that digest slowly and provide a steady supply of energy. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, barley, quinoa, whole wheat, corn, or brown rice, which will provide sustained energy as you study.
- Start your day with steel cut oats at the Carnegie Mellon Cafe, complete with your choice of custom toppings like flaxseed, hemp seed, dried fruit, and more!
- Supergrain bowl at Evgefstos – every Monday and Thursday create a custom Supergrain bowl at the only exclusively vegetarian dining location on campus.
- Crunchy Quinoa Salad at the Underground – quinoa, kale, shredded carrot, red cabbage, cucumber, scallion, red pepper, edamame, and cashews, with spicy peanut dressing over spring mix. Yum!
Just like whole grains, beans and other legumes (like lentils and peas), provide slow-digesting, complex carbohydrates. Beans also pack a full serving of protein per 1/2 cup, making them a great choice when you need your meal to keep you satisfied so that you can keep your mind on your studies. Beans offer an excellent source of B vitamins like folate and B6 that are linked to regulating metabolism and maintaining normal brain and nervous system function. When you order food on campus, ask for beans on a salad, in a burrito, or make them your main dish!
- Chana Masala at the Taste of India – chickpeas are the star of the show in this
flavorful Masala curry dish.
- Build your perfect tacos, burrito, or bowl at El Gallo de Oro. You choose between black beans or pinto beans, combined with rice, protein, vegetables, and the salsa that fits your spice level.
- Chickpea salad at Tazza D’Oro – this grab-and-go salad is tossed with Mediterranean spices, lemon, and olive, making it a filling and flavorful treat. Pair with a panini made with a multigrain roll and a mixed green salad for the perfect trifecta of brain food!
Berries are truly a powerhouse fruit. Due to the high skin-to-fruit ratio, berries are low in calories, high in fiber, and provide a dense source of unique plant nutrients, called phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are concentrated in the skin of fruits and are linked to the color of the fruit. The highest concentration of a group of phytonutrients called anthocyanins are found in dark blue and red berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries as well as cherries, and red and purple grapes. Anthocyanins have been shown to improve memory, as well as protect brain cells by reducing inflammation. Take advantage of berry benefits by adding them to your yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, smoothie, salad, or simply enjoy them as a snack!
- Blueberry OTY Superfood Smoothie at the Exchange
- Mixed berry parfait – find this grab-and-go option in the Quik Piks cases around campus at Entropy+, Hunt Library, Rothberg Roasters II, and the Marketplace in the Cohon Center.