Optimal Nutrition for Revision and Exams

May 24, 2018


In the lead up to GCSEs many students are spending lots of time spent hunched over books, feeling stressed, not getting enough sleep and often not putting the right kinds of food into their bodies to keep them in a good productive state.

Keen to find out what students can do to eat properly during these stressful times, I’ve sought guidance from local Nutritional Therapist, Tracey Harper https://www.traceyharpernutrition.co.uk/who shares her top tips for optimal nutrition during exams.

Tracey tells me that during stressful times like taking GCSEs our body produces stress hormones.  She says if we can balance our blood sugar levels it means that we’re not adding to this external stress. Tracey suggests ways we can do this is to make sure that we:

  • Eat 3 balanced meals daily – made up of good quality protein, salad and or vegetables, good fats and starchy carbs
    • Don’t just think about snacks pay attention to meal times
    • Include plenty of fish, green leafy vegetables – there are loads around this time of year – spinach, chard, sprouting broccoli, asparagus, etc. Starchy carbs like sweet potatoes are a better choice than white or baby new potatoes
  • Stay away from processed and sugary foods like crisps and chocolate bars which spike blood sugar
  • Eat nutrient dense foods – real foods

Our brain needs more energy at this time so snacking or mini meals is a great idea, but snacks also need to be balanced as the above suggestions for mealtimes.

Stress hormones prompt our immune system to kick in leading to inflammation so we need to focus on anti-inflammatory foods such as nuts, seeds, berries (fresh or frozen), cherries, tomatoes, fish especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines

It’s also important to keep the gut happy with gut friendly foods because hormones used in the brain such as serotonin the calming hormone are made in the gut.  Our gut microbiome is made up of bacteria so we need to feed the good bacteria with soluble fibre found in vegetables and fruit & oats and starve the bad bacteria.  Feeding the bad bacteria sugary foods allows them to proliferate and creates an imbalance meaning gut can’t work properly.

The brain is made up of fat so it’s important to include good fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish. We need to include foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to provide energy to the brain. The best source is fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Remember to include a variety of rainbow colours.

Here are Tracey’s suggestions for the best foods for the brain:

  • Avocados– packed with the good fats also good source of protein
  • Blueberries & raspberries– high in vitamins and fibre low GI
  • Coconut – a natural anti-inflammatory. You can use oil in baking, add coconut to smoothies and eat raw coconut pieces
  • Celery– contains high levels of antioxidants, is a natural anti-inflammatory, is nutrient dense and a great snack option either to dip in hummus or have alone
  • Dark chocolate & raw cacao- full of flavonols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and help improve blood flow to brain. The darker the chocolate, the greater the health benefits. You only need to have a few squares or you can add raw cacao to smoothies
  • Rosemary– carnosic acid, one of main ingredients in rosemary helps protect against neurodegeneration, protects eyesight from deteriorating – savoury bars
  • Salmon is one of the most nutritious, brain food-friendly foods packed with omega-3 fatty acids to help keep brain running smoothly clarity of thought & focus needed during periods of intense study
  • Turmeric– anti-inflammatory and improves the brain’s oxygen intake. You can add it to almost everything!
  • Greens – It’s the best time of year for leafy greens which can be eaten with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Examples include swiss and rainbow chard, spinach, sprouting broccoli, kale and salad leaves. Greens contain folate and B vitamins and also gut friendly fibre
  • Walnuts - a few a day can improve cognitive health. They contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids

Here’s Tracey’s list of balanced snack ideas: -

  • Pecan and banana bread- https://www.traceyharpernutrition.co.uk/pecan-banana-bread/
  • Smoothie – Add greens, one piece of fresh fruit for sweetness, nuts and or seeds or butter equivalents, water or nut milks
  • Raw walnut cacao protein energy balls- https://www.traceyharpernutrition.co.uk/raw-walnut-cacao-protein-energy-balls/
  • Raspberry flapjack- https://www.traceyharpernutrition.co.uk/raspberry-flapjack/
  • Oat biscuits– Nairns come in handy packs of 6 that are very filling
  • Piece of fruit & natural nuts
  • Sandwich – make sure there’s plenty of salad in it as well as good quality protein such as turkey, chicken, prawns, fish or tofu if vegetarian. You can even substitute bread with lettuce wraps
  • Avocado & mackerel or prawns
  • Olives- great as full of good fats, protein and fibre
  • Hummus and veg sticks- especially celery
  • Fresh coconut pieces
  • Tabbouleh with lots of herbs made from quinoa or buck wheat nutrient dense (not couscous which is refined carbohydrate and an empty food)

I hope you have found Tracey’s nutritional tips useful and that you can incorporate them into your daily routine to boost your focus and brain power while helping you to stay calm and healthy over during your revision, exams and beyond. Good luck!

Tracey Harper

Tracey is a registered Nutritional Therapist, passionate about motivating people to embrace real food and understand the impact it can have on overall wellbeing. She is based in Berkhamsted and further details can be found at https://www.traceyharpernutrition.co.uk/


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This post was written by Beth Parmar