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Nutrition Tips To Boost Academic Performance

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Nutrition Tips To Boost Academic Performance
By: Samra Sana, B.A.Sc Honours, Major in Applied Human Nutrition (Area of Emphasis: Dietetics), JM Nutrition Team of registered dietitians and nutritionists
In Nutrition Tips to Boost Academic Performance, dietetic student Samra Sana along with our team of registered dietitians and nutritionists provide a number of practical nutrition tips for students with the explicit goal of giving them the best opportunity for academic success. Reason being, nutrition and academic performance are closely interlinked.
List of Nutrition Tips to Boost Academic Performance
1. Do not skip breakfast or other meals and snacks
Unquestionably, this is a fundamental nutrition tip for students, especially those looking to improve academic performance. 
Breakfast serves as a primary pillar for a successful day at school. It provides energy and essential nutrients to support your academic performance. It is, therefore, crucial to make time for breakfast every morning.  No exceptions!
As convenient as they are, a granola bar or a cup of coffee, for example, may not be enough to provide you with sufficient energy in the morning, let alone focus during lessons and lectures throughout the day.
Naturally, many students might skip meals and snack, particularly breakfast, to get more studying done or due to lack of time with busy study schedules, assignment deadlines or during the exam season. However, research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine shows that starting your day with breakfast provides you with energy after an overnight fast, increasing blood glucose to fuel your brain for optimal function (Melanson, 2008).
What to consume
Furthermore, it is important to be aware of the source of carbohydrates you are consuming. A study showed that having breakfast with complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans and whole grains positively affects cognitive function enhancing memory and attention (Wesnes et al., 2003).
Moreover, complex carbohydrates improve memory as they are packed with fibre and have a low glycemic index, slowing digestion and release of sugar in blood (Muth et al., 2021).
What to avoid
On the contrary, it is best to avoid simple carbohydrates commonly found in snacks and sweets. Reason being, simple carbs decrease cognitive function (Muth et al., 2021). Additionally, A meta-analysis study found that consuming regular breakfast improves grades leading to better academic performance (Adolphus et al., 2013).
2. Eat balanced meals
This is another indispensable nutrition tip to boost academic performance, to which every student should pay heed. 
To add on to the previous nutrition tip, the same meta-analysis study also showed that breakfast quality is equally important. That is, it’s important to consume a variety of food groups such as dairy, cereal, fruit and healthy fats. Why, you may ask? Doing so leads to better grades (Adolphus et al., 2013).
As a result, having balanced meals, including carbohydrates, proteins and fats cannot be overlooked.
Another benefit of a well-balanced diet in macronutrients is that it also provides sufficient micronutrients important for our brain health.
Related: nutritionist for brain health support
A review study published in the Journal of Molecular Science shows that having a variety of foods in your diet such as legumes, whole grains, colourful vegetables, nuts and several vitamins such as vitamin A, B, C, and D are important for cognitive function (Melzer et al., 2021).
All foods have calories, but incorporating nutrient-dense food is critical.
What to consume
So what to eat to boost academic performance?
A common problem many students have is that they are short on time in the mornings. Nevertheless, it is important to eat something to help you focus and provide energy to kickstart your day.
Some easy, quick-to-make and nutritious breakfast options are Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit, and whole-wheat pita with sliced egg (Melanson, 2008).
Try incorporating nutritious snacks throughout the day. You can even prep breakfast such as instant oatmeal or chia pudding with milk, nuts, and seeds the day before (Melanson, 2008).
As said before, it is crucial to fuel your body throughout the day. It is equally important to make sure to have a nutrient-rich diet important for brain health that gives the best opportunity to stay awake, energized and sharp.
3. Consume high protein and high fat food
This is another key nutrition tip for students.
Why protein?
Sufficient protein in the diet is immensely beneficial. It also has many important functions in the body.
Protein is used to build and repair bones, muscle, skin, and blood, as well as make hormones (Muth et al., 2021).
There are 2 types of protein including plant and animal protein. Keep in mind, however, animal protein is known to be a complete protein source because it has all the essential amino acids (Muth et al., 2021). Several studies have shown that a high protein diet, particularly amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan help with long-term memory (Muth et al., 2021).
What to consume
Try and consume these sources of protein throughout the day including meat, fish, eggs, soy-based products and nuts.
What about fats?
Here’s another important nutrition tip for academic performance: do not overlook the significant role that fats play.
Fats include saturated (SFA), transunsaturated, monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) (Muth et al., 2021).
Research shows that omega 3 in PUFA improves memory (Muth et al., 2021). To expand on to this, omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 40% of fats in the brain are made of DHA and 1% are made of EPA (Dighriri et al., 2022).
Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, are linked to improved cognitive function and memory retention (Dighriri et al., 2022).
Additionally, DHA also provides structural and functional support to neurons in the brain (Smith and Blumenthal, 2016).
On the other hand, saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids common in processed food negatively affect cognitive function, affecting memory, verbal memory and visual learning (Muth et al., 2021).
What to consume
To improve your cognitive ability try incorporating these excellent sources of omega 3: salmon, tuna, mackerel, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp hearts, chia seeds, avocados, and more (NIH, 2023).
4. Hydrate properly at all times
Once again, this is another fundamental nutrition tip to boost academic performance.
Drinking water is no doubt important to quench thirst. This is common knowledge.
Water intake, however, plays a much larger role.
Adequate water intake is also important in cognitive function, as water makes up to 60% of the body weight (Collins and Claros, 2022). A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition highlights that adequate water intake has been linked to better cognitive performance and even moderate dehydration can decrease attention and motivation to learn, increasing fatigue (Adan, 2012).
Furthermore, another study conducted by nutrition review showed similar findings, stating that mild dehydration has negative effects and it reduces concentration, alertness, and short-term memory (Popkin et al., 2010).
Related: Why is drinking water important?
What to do
Try to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated throughout the day, considering how important it is for your brain function.
Unfortunately, many students forget to drink water, when busy with assignments, tests and exams.
An effective tip to increase water intake is to make sure that you bring a reusable bottle of water wherever you go and refill it when you have the chance.
If you struggle with drinking plain water then try adding fruits and herbs for flavour.
Some combinations you can try including strawberries + mint and vanilla extract + pear.
Carbonated water is also an option for those who like fizzy drinks (Government of Canada, 2021).
Another efficient way to increase water intake is by incorporating vegetables and fruits with high water content including watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, celery, lettuce, bell peppers, cabbage and oranges (Healthline, 2023).
5. Implement mindful eating
Here’s another valuable nutrition tip to improve academic performance: eat mindfully. Unfortunately, this is something that many students overlook or are simply unaware of the concept.
Surely, it can be hard to be mindful of what you are eating with the rush of academic life. This is a fact of student life.
That said, the importance of mindful eating cannot be underestimated as it is positively correlated with cognitive function.
So what is mindful eating anyway?
Mindful eating is when you are aware of what you are eating and have a mind-body connection with what and how much you are eating (CNS, 2020).
A review study published in a health psychology report shows that students tend to make better food choices when practicing mindful eating, increasing consumption of more nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables, and reducing unhealthy food like sugar and fast food (Dutt et al., 2019).
Mindful eating does this by increasing attention, which leads to better decision-making skills and decreasing stress (Dutt et al., 2019).
What’s more, mindful eating is linked to enhanced attention and memory (Chiesa et al., 2011).
While these research studies are not focused on academic settings, practising mindful eating can reduce stress and increase attention and memory which important for academic success.
You can practise mindful eating in the following ways:

reduce distractions
eat only when you feel hungry
engage the senses of smell, colour, texture, and flavour
know that you are eating for your health and wellbeing
be grateful for the food available to you (Healthline, 2023).

6. Do not overeat at meal time
This yet another crucial nutrition tip to boost academic performance.
Overeating has both, short- and long-term effects. Although we’re not going to explore this area in detail here, we will focus on the short-term impact of overeating.
The article from mdanderson.com accurately summarizes what happens to the body when we over eat.
Overeating: a synopsis
1. “Overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size to adjust to the large amount of food. The expanded stomach pushes against other organs, making you uncomfortable. This discomfort can take the form of feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy. Your clothes also may feel tight, too.”
Naturally, feeling this way can make it difficult to focus on studies, let alone maximize academic performance.
2. “Eating too much food requires your organs to work harder. They secrete extra hormones and enzymes to break the food down. To break down food, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid. If you overeat, this acid may back up into the esophagus resulting in heartburn. Consuming too much food that is high in fat, like pizza and cheeseburgers, may make you more susceptible to heartburn.”
If you have ever experienced heartburn, you certainly know how unpleasant and even debilitating it can be. Feeling like this makes taking part in studies very difficult. For some, it may even be impossible. 
3. “Your stomach may also produce gas, leaving you with an uncomfortable full feeling.”
Similarly, feeling in such a way is hardly conducive to focus and high academic performance.
4. “Your metabolism may speed up as it tries to burn off those extra calories. You may experience a temporary feeling of being hot, sweaty or even dizzy.”
Again, feeling hot, sweaty and/or dizzy is hardly an ideal state to concentration in school.
More evidence
Furthermore, overeating may impair brain function, as per the studies cited in a Healthline article.
The last nutrition tip to boost academic performance is related to making sure that meals are balanced. Specifically, it’s important to avoid eating carb-heavy meals, especially lunch. Reason being, too many carbohydrates can spike our blood sugars and lead to them plummeting shortly, causing energy crashes. This can quickly result in sleepiness, lethargy and decreased ability to concentrate on studies. Students beware! 
7. Plan and actually prep in advance
As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” This famous quote certainly rings true in this case as this is a vital nutrition tip to improve academic performance.
Because students tend to lead busy, hectic lives, it is especially important to have efficient systems that help reach our health and wellness goals. And planning is certainly found at the heart of the matter.
Despite the fact that it may be difficult to fit in planning and prepping time into a busy student schedule, especially at the onset, nevertheless, it’s a vital step. Some juggling may be necessary to achieve this. But, as always, it’s about prioritizing. When
Learn more about various meal planning and prepping tips.
8. Do not undereat
Unquestionably, undereating can be just as harmful to academic performance as overeating. As such, this is a nutrition tip for students and their academic performance that we cannot overlook.
It’s quite straight-forward, really. Human bodies need energy to be able to function in an optimal manner. This especially applies to busy students. For this reason it’s important to consume adequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods, so as to give yourself a platform for strong academic performance.
Discover more about the effects of undereating.
Related: How to Boost Energy and Beat the Afternoon Slump
9. Watch your caffeine intake.
This an immensely important nutrition tip for academic performance, at least for those who take in caffeine.
It’s common knowledge that caffeine is known to disrupt sleep, potentially leading to feelings of tiredness, lethargy and low mood the next day.
Although drinking coffee can result in improved mood, boosted energy and increased alertness in the short-term, it can no doubt disrupt sleep for many people if it’s ingested in later in the day–even in the afternoon, for some. 
Caffeine has a half-life of six hours in your body. This means it can take up to 10 hours to completely clear caffeine from your bloodstream. As a result, depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, you may have to experiment with how late in the day you can have it, before it affects your sleep. Test, gauge and adjust accordingly. 
How much caffeine should I consume?
The maximum acceptable daily dose of caffeine for an adult is 400mg. That’s about 2-2.5 cups of coffee per day.
10. Limit alcohol consumption
Without a doubt, this is another significant nutrition tip for students, especially for those who like to frequent the campus or neighbourhood pubs. 
Although alcohol stimulates the system at first, it is a depressant. It can, therefore, cause you to feel sluggish, tired, sleepy, decreasing mental sharpness. Even a glass of wine or a pint of beer can lead to a decline in focus and productivity.
In addition, drinking alcohol in the evening can disturb sleep and have a few other effects related to our energy. When it comes to energy, alcohol is definitely not your friend.
If you you feel we missed any nutrition tips for students that you feel should be on the list, please get in touch and let us know. We will happily add them in.
If you’re interested in receiving nutritional counselling or personalized nutrition tips for students, meal plans and more, book a free consultation and we will gladly lend a hand. 
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Nutrition Tips to Boost Academic Performance: References and Resources
1. Adan, A. (2012). Cognitive Performance and Dehydration. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 31(2), 71–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2012.10720011 
2. Collins, M., & Claros, E. (2011). Recognizing the face of dehydration. Nursing, 41(8), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NURSE.0000399725.01678.b7 
3. Center for Nutrition in Schools [CNS]. (2020, March 18). How can you practise mindful eating? https://cns.ucdavis.edu/news/how-can-you-practice-mindful-eating 
4. Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(3), 449–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003 
5. Dighriri, I. M., Alsubaie, A. M., Hakami, F. M., Hamithi, D. M., Alshekh, M. M., Khobrani, F. A., Dalak, F. E., Hakami, A. A., Alsueaadi, E. H., Alsaawi, L. S., Alshammari, S. F., Alqahtani, A. S., Alawi, I. A., Aljuaid, A. A., & Tawhari, M. Q. (2022). Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Curēus (Palo Alto, CA), 14(10), e30091–e30091. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.30091 
6. Dutt, S., Keyte, R., Egan, H., Hussain, M., & Mantzios, M. (2019). Healthy and unhealthy eating amongst stressed students: considering the influence of mindfulness on eating choices and consumption. Health Psychology Report, 7(2), 113–120. https://doi.org/10.5114/hpr.2019.77913 
7. Government of Canada. (2021, January 26). Make water your drink of choice. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-water-your-drink-of-choice/ 
8. Healthline. (2023, January 4). Mindful eating 101-A beginner’s guide. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mindful-eating-guide 
9. Melanson, K. J. (2008). Back-to-School Nutrition. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2(5), 397–401. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827608320637 
10. Muth, A.-K., & Park, S. Q. (2021). The impact of dietary macronutrient intake on cognitive function and the brain. Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 40(6), 3999–4010. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2021.04.043
11. Melzer, T. M., Manosso, L. M., Yau, S., Gil-Mohapel, J., & Brocardo, P. S. (2021). In Pursuit of Healthy Aging: Effects of Nutrition on Brain Function. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(9), 5026-. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22095026 
12. National Institutes of Health. (2023, February 15). Omega-3 fatty acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/ 
13. Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews, 68(8), 439–458. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x 
14. Wesnes, K. A., Pincock, C., Richardson, D., Helm, G., & Hails, S. (2003). Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren. Appetite, 41(3), 329–331. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2003.08.009 
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