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I honestly think some days I spent more time doing this kind of research than actually doing my university work. This topic is fascinating, and I’m still debating with myself how much of its positive impact on my studies came from it or from a placebo effect. Having said so, in this post I will explain how I changed my diet to study more efficiently.
I have already spoiled it, so I might as well confirm it; I did notice an improvement in my studies, a sort of boost in concentration and ability to focus. Overall, I was more productive when studying, having what I used to call “quality study time”.
Let me disclaim the obvious here before we continue. I’m not a nutritionist whatsoever, and this is not intended to be medical advice! This is just my experience, my test to see if food and a healthy diet could improve my studies, so please consider that.
Brain Food for studying, reality vs expectations
As you are probably doing right now, I spent so much time researching on how to improve study performances; “what to eat to study better”; “how to boost concentration”; “best brain food for students” and so on. Trust me when I say that I’ve read a lot.. probably too much stuff.
I have also watched hundreds of YouTube videos on this topic, which made me feel miserable considering how disciplined some people are about it. I was not, and I still am not! All I did were simple adjustments to my diet to study better, it will all make sense as you read through.
As all model students do (just kidding, I was average although I managed to get a first class degree), I tried to consult only reliable sources. This leads to the first problem here: unreliable sources = unrealistic expectations.
Food for studying problem n.1, expectations
Nowadays it is just to easy to find articles/videos like: “eat this and you can study for 8 hours in a row”; “this secret food will keep you focused the entire day”; “what to eat to improve student performances in only one day”; I could continue with many other examples.
I don’t blame the so called “clickbait” titles, now that I have a blog I know how it works; unfortunately I have to do that too for in order to rank on Google. What I really don’t like is when, on top of the attractive title, there is misleading information.
This builds false expectations, leads to waste time and money (yes, I was dumb enough to buy supplements to boost “brain memory”). If that wasn’t enough, it might also make you think there is something wrong with you, that you are not good at studying.
Can food improve your study time, focus and concentration? Yes, at least for me. Did it happen overnight? No, it was a gradual process, not something I even noticed straight away. So my first big advice is to be realistic and don’t expect the moon, surely not after few hours.
Brain Food for studying problem n.2, taste..
Going back to the more reliable sources, there are several studies that demonstrated how diet can effect academic performances. There are also, luckily, some good videos on healthy diets that are easy to follow and implement. However, there is only one problem, at least for me, and not a small one: taste
Unfortunately, no matter how convincing these people I was watching were, I came to a sad conclusion; healthy and taste do not walk hand in hand for most cases. I genuinely envy those who can do it, stay regularly on a super healthy diet; they look full of energy!
Here is the answer to the question “what to eat to study better?” (I guess), it’s all related, we are what we eat. Hence, better food = more energy. I tried several times, but I just could not keep up with such diets for more than a week; neither I ever enjoyed the taste of a broccoli and kale smoothie!
It wasn’t something new to me, I lived a similar situation when studying from home during my last year of university due to the pandemic. At the beginning I was very productive and able to study effectively;
However, that effect did not last for long unfortunately. I have talked about it in another post, you can find it here if you want to know more; “How to study at home effectively, my tips”, it might help if you are struggling to study from home effectively.
Adjusting my diet to study more effectively
These two problems led me to doing it my own way rather than giving up. After doing all that research, I still believed it was possible to improve my study time through my diet.
I went through a trial and error process; it was a massive learning curve for me, although it came with high costs in terms of time (and money). So, I really hope my post can help you save that somehow. Without further ado we will now go through how I adjusted my diet for studying:
Diet to study better: Breakfast
Breakfast is widely considered the most important meal of the day for a number of reasons that I’m sure you are aware of. Let me give you my over-simplified version all those scientific papers I consulted:
you cannot eat while sleeping, and assuming you go to bed a few hours after your last meal, and sleep around 8 hours on average, you stay approximately 10 hours with no food and drinks.
Hence, you need to replenish your body once you wake up. You do that with healthy food and you get good energy for the day; on the other hand, you do that with less healthy food and you are going to struggle (without even knowing why). Simple right?
However, there is another constraint that heavily impacts students: time. The last thing you want to do in the morning is to wake up earlier to make breakfast; I used to stay in bed until the very last feasible minute to get up, get dressed and go to university!
That obviously led me to either skip breakfast, or have a really quick unhealthy one (even worse). Results? Struggling to properly wake up and follow lectures, lack of focus, sudden crashes. It wasn’t sustainable, nor productive.
Since I wanted to change diet to improve my study time, I had to find a quick healthy breakfast. If I had to go to university first thing in the morning, I would prepare my breakfast the in the evening; overnight oats was the way for me. There are many recipes you could try, mine had to involve chocolate no matter what!
When instead I had more time in the morning, either because I was studying from home, or going to university later in the day; I would “prepare” my own recipe at the moment (kind of healthy), since the ones I could find in supermarkets were overloaded with sugars.
I used to buy rolled oats; dark chocolate chips (or a bar to break into pieces myself); raw cacao powder; some sort of sugar (e.g. brown, honey, maple syrup); chia seeds; and lastly some simple plain biscuits to break and let them soak. I also tried to put some dried fruits as well as blueberries/raspberries on top but I didn’t really fancy it, maybe you might.
My alternatives for lazy days (we all have those); toasted brown bread with conserve, which usually contains a higher fruit content than jam; or a chocolate spread with high cocoa or hazelnut content; in any case I would always buy the ones with the lowest sugar percentage.
Obviously, I had my treat days (very important!) when off from university or work. It’s nice to “cheat” and get a full English breakfast or sweet pancakes; not even to mention a nice coffee with some chocolate brownies, you got to love that!
Some key points on my breakfast
Some important points I used to shape my diet to study better. I started a milk rotation for my breakfast; cow, almond, soya, oat, cashew and so on. This helped me a lot as it made it not repetitive and boring. Moreover, as well as tasting different from each other, these milks all have different nutritional values, and I liked that rotation concept.
Another thing I want to point out, although this applies for my entire diet and not only to breakfast; I completely switched from milk chocolate to dark chocolate, which comes with the many health benefits of cacao; obviously eaten in moderation!
I did it gradually, my local coop has dark chocolate starting from 70% cacao content and it works its way up. Personally, I now buy the 85% one or around there, either at the local coop or online. I tried higher but did not like it that much.
If you want to give it a try too, I would suggest to start gradually like I did. There is a quite a difference in taste, but once you get used to it you’ll become addicted! Just be aware that some brands add a lot of sugar, which doesn’t make dark chocolate as healthy as it should be; double check that!
Diet to study better: snack
Another massive change I made in order to adjust my diet to study better. Snacking is one of the most important thing to get right for studying effectively; just my honest opinion after changing my student eating habits. I consider snacks as a bridge between the main meals.
Again, my view on it is quite simple; healthy snacks build a solid bridge; unhealthy snacks build a bridge that collapses easily. Moreover, healthy snacks not only promote energy levels, they also prevent excessive anger… I don’t know about you, but whenever I was studying for more than 10 minutes I starved!
Firstly, let me tell you what snacks I used to have throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if it was morning or afternoon, on campus or at home. I was addicted to sugar, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was in my case. Why?
Because I would eat doughnuts, muffins, chocolate (mars, twix), biscuits with flavoured fillings; but also lots of crisps (too much variety plus meal deals nudging me! Kidding here, just trying to make an excuse). Similar to coffee, on which I will touch later on, I would experience an initial energy boost followed by a sudden crash (the bridge collapsing).
Changing my snacking diet to study more effectively
I started to move away from all that, and having instead more healthy snacks. When I would have normally had crisps, I started too buy nuts instead; again, doing a sort or rotation between the different types (peanuts, cashews, etc). Almonds, which are great for studying, became my preferred snack.
I used to buy raw almonds in bulk of 1 kg (*here the ones I used to buy) as it would save me money. However, when at home I would toast them in pan and sprinkle some pink salt over too; not the healthiest way of having almonds, but as I said earlier I was looking to eat more healthy without giving up too much on taste!
I also started to have more fruits, particularly during my first snacking break in the morning (10/11ish). A quick and easy banana or apple (green for me) when on campus, sometimes both. They’d keep me full for longer, plus they’d provide me with good energy due to their (healthy) sugar content. When at home I’d also have some grapes or strawberries.
One thing I noticed though is that fruit, at least for me, would be more difficult to digest if eaten in the afternoon/ close to evening. That’s why I used to have it during my first snacking break in the morning, whereas throughout the day I would have more almonds and some dark chocolate.
Snacking for lunch
Another adjustment I made to my diet to study effectively was lunch time; particularly during busy days/weeks at university (exams, assignments’ deadlines, difficult lectures). This was a bit easier when studying from home, but many times I’d bring my lunch to university too.
In essence, I would try to have more frequent snack breaks throughout the day rather than having a full lunch break. Why? Because I noticed that after a full lunch I would not be able to focus on my studies anymore; at least not for a good hour or two, probably digestion related.
Obviously, my snack/lunch break would include more items than just almonds and fruit. Depending on the day, how busy I was, how hungry of course, if studying from home or at university and so on; I could have some of those on a rotation basis:
- crostini/brown bread with some spreadable light cheese (e.g. cottage, goat, ricotta);
- tomato salad with olive oil and a pinch of salt and oregano (very Mediterranean!);
- quinoa salad with feta cheese, beans or chickpeas;
- some sardines, a very underrated food for studying (cheaper and healthier than tuna);
- boiled eggs, although some days (when home) also scrambled with some butter;
- guacamole, obviously freshly made with real avocados (not the “sauce” you buy pre-made);
- chicken salad, a classic that never disappoints;
- homemade soup, a must go during cold winter times;
Obviously, some of those go really well together and I used to combine them, but that’s not the point. The key was to eat as light as possible so that I would be able to study after lunch time. It worked, I felt lighter and more energised.
Diet to study better: coffee intake
This was tough, I’m not going to lie. I was having far too many coffees during the day, I just could not stop! Similarly to my sugared snacks, it would give me an initial boost (although I’d say more an “awakening” rather than boost), followed by a sudden crash.
Sometimes it would be so hard to actually stay awake and follow lectures; a few times I fell asleep in front of my laptop at home and I risked when in class too! Don’t get me wrong, coffee is great, but relying on it too much is just wrong.
Another negative effect I noticed, probably related to coffee, was my sleep quality. I believe my coffee intake was severely impacting my sleep and causing me insomnia. The real problem is when you don’t fix this and instead get used to it, like I was.
At that point is very difficult to identify the issue, and you just live with it. Have you ever asked yourself why other students around you seem to be more able to focus during lectures (particularly in the morning)? If you did, then you might want to “investigate” on your sleep quality, trust me.
Coffee alternatives, tea and..
The natural alternative to coffee is tea, which also comes with another great benefit for studying: it releases its caffeine a lot slower than coffee. This basically means that you are less likely to experience the sudden crash you might get with coffee.
However, there was another problem (at least for me). In fact, generally a cup of tea contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee, which was not ideal particularly in the morning. On top of that, I did not like the taste of stronger teas I tried, too much bitterness for my liking.
Then I found the answer, matcha tea! If you don’t know what it is (I never heard of it before then), considerer it a super version of green tea. Basically, tea leaves are grounded to produce a fine powder: matcha tea. It’s not only stronger than regular teas, but it also comes with numerous health benefits.
If you think green tea is healthy, then imagine what it would be to drink the actual leaves. I have done so much research on matcha tea and its benefits that I could talk for hours. As a general understanding of what it is and its nutritional benefits, you can read this article from the Healthline.
My favourite matcha tea
This has been probably the biggest contributor to my first question: is it real or it is a placebo effect? Honestly I never found the correct answer, so I think is a bit of both; and yes, I’m still drinking match tea nowadays and not planning to change that.
I replaced my morning coffee with it. When I was studying from home, I would have another matcha later in the morning with my first snacking break, that was it. After lunch, I would have a normal green tea or a breakfast tea if I was feeling tired but still had few hours of studies to do.
Different situation when at university where I’d have coffee as it was much easier; in fact, although matcha tea is also a powder to mix with water, it needs a little bit of whisking in case you are not familiar with it. I tried several brands and let me tell you that many are not worth it, surely no value for money.
In any case, this is the *matcha tea I used to buy when I was a student, an average one. Now that I finally have a job and more income to spend on quality, I buy this *ceremonial grade match tea (ceremonial grade just means better quality, it’s a different production process).
Again, even nowadays when I make my matcha latte I still do that milk rotation I mentioned in the breakfast paragraph; a great way of getting a different taste throughout the week! Anyway, as a general rule I would not have any caffeinated drink after 4pm.
Some tips on matcha tea
After doing all that research and trying so many different brands, I feel I can give some good tips. Generally, I would only buy certified organic matcha tea. This is because, since I drink the actual leaves, I want to make sure I’m not drinking any chemicals too!
I would also tend to buy Japanese matcha over the Chinese one. This is just out of personal preference after trying both, I liked the taste of the Japanese more. (you might have a different opinion, let me know which you prefer in case you try them).
Moreover, it takes a while to get used to its taste; being honest, I did not really like it at the beginning, but once I got used to it I just could not stop! Matcha powder can also be used for baking and other recipes, but I never tried that (did not want to waste my matcha lol).
Another very important thing I want to mention is that the you can probably find matcha tea/latte in the most known coffee shops (big chains and brands). Please mind that, in most cases, their matcha is nowhere near the quality of a what you can do yourself, and it’s also pre-sweetened (making it much less healthy).
Diet for studying, conclusions
Let me say again that everything above is based on my personal experience and it’s not nutrition advice in any way, shape or form. Consider this as my story only and nothing more, always consult a professional if you need help with your diet!
At that time I was obsessed with finding the best food for studying, and I tried so many different things and did so much research. This process led me to create my own diet to study better which I now shared with you. As I said at the beginning, I’m not sure how much this was real or just a placebo, but I could not care at all.
I felt way more energised when studying and overall lighter throughout the day (which I believe it helps). I was able to focus more during lectures and I did not experience those sudden crashes anymore (I really hated those). Obviously, my change of diet was not the only reason of my success at university (you can find my story here), but it certainly was a good contributor!
It all links together, a healthy diet, physical activities, a good study method and strong willpower can have a positive impact on your studies. Thank you very much for reading, I hope you find this post useful!
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