Food: Hungry for success


A healthy diet is essential for passing exams and with Elaine Lavery’s help, you’ll have no trouble getting straight As.

For many of us, exam time means twelve-hour-plus days of serious cramming. To get through this, everyone has their own routine and knows what works best for themselves. Food is a crucial aspect of the pre-study and exam period; having a nice lunch to look forward to makes it so much easier to get through a morning’s slog. Additionally, exam success is very much about endurance. Taking care of yourself by eating well to maintain your health and energy levels will help boost that stamina.

During exam times, meals should be sacred. Take a break for food and don’t eat while studying. It is important to unwind at intervals every day, so read a magazine or watch TV while you are tucking in.


Experts are blue in the face telling us that breakfast is a must. People who eat breakfast have a higher metabolic rate, snack less and have more productive mornings than those who don’t.  Breakfast is a habit that you must get used to.

Porridge really is fab. It has a low glycaemic index, giving a slow release of energy that will keep you going right through the morning. Cooked in the microwave and made delicious with a little cream and honey, it is a reason in itself to get out of bed. If cooked porridge is too stodgy for you, try soaking some oats in apple juice for one minute, mash through some berries and drizzle with honey for a lighter alternative.

If you are a cereal fiend, go for something high fibre like Weetabix, All-Bran or Shreddies.  Avoid unhealthy breakfast cereals like Crunchy Nut. Yes, it is ludicrously tasty, but with all that sugar you will be wired to the moon for all but five minutes before you have an energy slump.

Peanut butter is a great brekkie staple and it doesn’t have to be on toast. It goes with anything and would even make cardboard taste good. Try on rice cakes, oatcakes and pitta. It’s extra scrumptious with a slick of raspberry jam.

Get into the habit of having a piece of fruit with your breakfast to ensure that you meet your daily vitamin quota.


Protein is an essential component of the diet and never more so than at times when you are likely to be more sedentary but need constant supplies of energy to keep you awake and alert. Eggs, being low in cholesterol, provide one of the best sources of protein. They can be prepared quickly and easily in any number of ways. Surfing the net will give you plenty of recipe inspiration for frittatas, omelettes and baked eggs.

Beans and lentils are another thrifty source of protein. Most come in tins, but if you’re extra savvy, go for the dried, soak overnight variety. Beans on toast are a great staple, but why not add some variety to your diet and try a chickpea salad that can be put together in no time. With many varieties of beans, your taste buds will never get bored and you will be doing your body and mind a big favour.

Turning to carbohydrates, pasta is a great store-cupboard essential. However, much more nutritious and equally simple to prepare are grains such as couscous and quinoa. Combine with your choice of vegetables (raw, roasted or steamed), meats (chicken, sausage, chorizo), herbs, spices and toasted nuts (pine nuts, flaked almonds) for the perfect and ever-changing supper.

If any food were to guarantee you miraculous results, it would be an oily fish packed full of omega-3s like salmon or mackerel. If you can’t manage to get your hands on fresh fish, tinned oily fish such as sardines are just as good. Incorporate into salads or have as an accompaniment to your grains or pulses.


Try to eat a proper meal one to two hours before going into an exam. However, snacks are important in avoiding hunger and topping up energy levels. Add bags of nuts, seeds and dried fruit to your shopping list and always carry a supply with you. With the variety on offer in the larger supermarkets, dried fruits are like sweets, but good for you! Just be careful not to overdo it, as too much will spike your blood-sugar level and bloat you out once rehydrated in your stomach.

A great form of escapism between study periods is to do some home baking. Personal favourites around exam time are oatmeal cookies, fruit muffins and scones – each provide for a tasty and more importantly, satisfying treat.


Coffee, Red Bull, Coke – you can’t get enough caffeine during exam time right? Many of you will completely rubbish this argument, but it is advisable to cut down on caffeine as much as possible during exam time. This is ultimately because caffeine increases your heart rate, making you jittery. This has an adverse effect on nerves. In any situation, people perform best when they are calm and composed.

Keeping your brain hydrated with water is the way to go. Keep a litre bottle by your desk and top it up regularly to remain alert and aware.  If you are finding water too boring, diluted squash or cups of tea are your next best option.