Aug 22, 2013

10 Tips to get your brain working top-notch whilst studying

Over my years as a student (which I have to say have been more than the years I have not been - even if I discount school years) I have learnt a thing or two (some the hard way) about what works best and what should really be avoided if I am to have the best brain power. Sure some of these are no-brainers (no pun intended) but in times of assessments piling up, exams lurking, work and other life activities to get too, stress and poor memory signs... I know it's too easy to let a good brain-food-rich diet slide. So, I've compiled the best of the best (for both you and me) nutritional ways to get you through your studies with flying colours.

+ Build a bangin' breakfast; if you fail to break-your-fast (and by that I mean skip brekkie) your body is still in sleep mode. It is still in it's fasting state and so will not boost itself up and out to get into the glorious day just beginning. Whether you're up for a day at the laptop with assessments or heading to college or uni, if you don't have a good protein rich brekkie in your belly, there is no way knowing you will be able to listen, pay attention, focus, understand, integrate and learn. And no, a coffee with milk will not suffice. Try eggs with veggies, mushies, and tomato. Or overnight-soaked oats with almond butter, seeds and fresh fruit. A protein pancake. Or throw greens, berries, coconut water, nuts, flax, and yoghurt into a blender and go.

+ Learn to love fats; your brain is about 60% fat as it is largely made up of fatty membranes, and it is the essential fatty acids (namely our Omega-3 fats) that are best for your brain. Think salmon steaks (mmm - excuse me), walnuts, oily fish, dark leafy greens, flaxseed oil... and enjoy them baby!
A student eating mostly processed cakes and crackers, French fries and fried meats loaded with trans and saturated fats, will build a different brain than a student who is eating fish, nut butter, salad dressings made with olive or safflower oil, eggs and lean meats. Your choice.

+ Add in antioxidants; remember your brain is largely made up of fat and fats can be unstable. In addition to this, your brain cells (or your neurons fyi) are prone to damage from environmental toxins that make their way into your system, as well as toxic by-products formed in your body. So what can you do about all this? Up your antioxidants from food. Coz this is your first and best defence. Start including more acai, all types of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries), most types of beans and legumes (surprised me too), plums and prunes, artichoke hearts, cloves, cinnamon and nuts into your diet.

+ Pack your protein; protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks that are used to form neurotransmitters (the guys making the connections between your neurons) and support structures in your brain cells. Tryptophan (an amino acid) from turkey and bananas is used to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter creating feelings of well-being. Tyrosine, an amino acid found in almonds, avocado, and meat, is used to make dopamine, which fills us with enthusiasm. And get this, amino acids are also reassembled into those powerful antioxidants that are used to protect your brain from damage. Win Win!

+ Enjoy nutrient rich snacks; kinda a no-brainer but when you're tired, cramming for exams, struggling to understand something and have a paper due in the morning... hello chocolates, sugary treaties, salty snacks... pretty much anything in the pantry or fridge that is not a fruit or vegetable right? I'm the same. Do I want an apple? Pfft. Hell no! But that apple would probably do me more good than the chocolate which won't curb my hunger, won't fuel my brain, and will only lead to me wanting more chocolate. What do we want then? You guessed it - proteins and fats.
Instead, have cut up veggie sticks ready to go with a bowl of dip in the fridge (or your backpack) for when you need a snack pronto. Or some trail mix and a cuppa tea. Even a protein smoothie is wonderful. Add some acai for Omega-3 essential fatty acids. This week I've had Joe the Juicer pre-made cold pressed juices in my fridge coz I get lazy making my own at times, but I also knew I had a pretty big week on. And I know that if there's ever a juice around I'll drink it! Stacking the odds in my favour here.

+ Know your carbs; you've got simple sugary carbs and then you've got complex carbs (which will also end up as simple sugary carbs) so this is a tricky one for me to try and explain in a nutshell here, but I will suggest you fiddle around a bit with sugars and carbs and see how you feel. Some people need more than others, and yes our brains feed on glucose, but others say that proteins broken down can also feed our brains (thanks to a process called gluconeogenesis) and that glucose is not needed.All that aside, a lot of stuents consume excessive sugar, even for breakfast, causing bursts of energy followed by fidgeting, headaches, trouble concentrating, or drowsiness - often in mid-morning or mid-afternoon. As sugar levels rise in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, which directs sugar into cells, to keep blood sugar at a stable level. The more sugar eaten, the more insulin released, the drowsier you get. Then wanting more energy, out comes the sugar again. Viscious circle (kinda like eating hash cookies when you've got the munchies - did I just say that?). But like I said, play around with what works for you. A raw snack bar with both nuts and dried fruits can sometimes be the perfect combo if you want some of the sweet stuff.

+ Hydration; this goes without saying but I'm going to say it anyway. Yawning and the first signs of a headache are often dehydration, and this can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities. Even mild levels of deydration can impact study performance. Water prevents your brain from over-heating (which can cause cognitive decline), but water is also essential to brain health and function. Every time you sit down to study or attend class, have a glass of water. Mid way through have a glass of water. During your break have another glass. When you're done have another glass. Optimal requirements will vary depending on where you live, your activity levels, and your size, but "generally speaking" aim for 2-3L per day.

+ Brahmi and Ginseng teas; lifesavers! Both these herbs aboost brain power to put it simply. Brahmi helps with circulation (getting blood up to your brain), it nourishes your brain nerve cells, enhances learning, and improves both short- and long-term memory. Ginseng helps to stimulate brain cells thereby improving concentration, thinking ability and memory. Put the two together and you're onto a winner!
Why a tea? I much prefer teas to supplements for many reasons - they're more gentle yet just as effective, anyone can drink teas, they are safe for me to suggest to you, and digestion of them is optimal ensuring you get all their goodies. In supplement form, yes the dose is likely stronger, but stronger is not always better. You would also want to check with the nutritionist at your health food store if they are safe for you to take.

And two extra tips I use whilst studying...

+ Essential oils; burn a different one for every different subject you study for. And then during your exam, take it in with you and have a sniff, or pop a drop or two on a tissue and take that in with you. Your brain recalls what it took in whilst experiencing that particular scent - and why you always remember your mum when you smell home cooked lasagna, or your nan when you get a whiff of lavendar. This way you'll always remember Biochem when you smell Rosemary, and Anatomy with a waft of Lime.

+ Study for 2 hrs max at home, and then go lie down and do nothing for 20 minutes. This does two things; firstly it gives you and your brain a well needed break, and secondly it gives you time for everything you have just put into your short term (frontal) memory to integrate into the long term (back brain) memory. Remember to also grab a cup of water, step outside for some fresh air, and you'll feel like a new person ready to go again.

Christie xx

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1 comment:

  1. I know it's too easy to let a good brain-food-rich diet slide. So, I've compiled the best of the best (for both you and me) nutritional ways to get you through your studies with flying colours. brain supplement product