Healthy Buffs: Fueling for finals | CU Boulder Today

Whole grain toast with avocado, boiled eggs and sunflower seedsWhether you’ve got papers, presentations or exams coming up, finals demand a lot of your mind and body. It’s especially important to fuel up with the right stuff during this time to better retain information, maintain energy levels, concentrate and manage stress.

Wardenburg Health Services spoke with Housing & Dining’s registered dietitian, Allison Butler, to get her take on the food that does the job.

The key equation

“During high-stress and high-pressure times, we need high-quality fuel,” Butler says. It’s all about carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats: These major nutrients work together to power your brain, keep up your energy and improve memory and focus.

For breakfast, Butler recommends keeping it simple with a couple of hard-boiled eggs (protein and fat) with fresh fruit (carbohydrates). While all of these nutrients fuel us, a good balance of protein and fat slow down how the body breaks down carbs, meaning the carbs will give us more sustained energy throughout the morning and avoid a crash before lunch.

Plus, eggs have lots of antioxidants, vitamins and choline—essential to the brain’s memory function. Fruit also has vitamins and antioxidants, plus natural sugars, which can make them a good source of sweet, on-the-go energy.

For lunch, you can recreate the carbohydrate-protein-healthy fats equation with a tuna sandwich on whole wheat (hello, fiber!) and avocado, which will keep your blood pressure and stress levels low. With dinner, Butler suggests aiming for something light: leafy greens with an olive oil-based dressing and a lean protein such as chicken or tofu.

Treating yourself

When you’re in Norlin all afternoon or up late studying, snacks can be your best friend. The same equation applies to snacking: Greek yogurt with granola, whole grain toast with peanut butter and string cheese, or even just classic trail mix with fruit and nuts are all great options. Pack a few extra snacks ahead of time so you’re prepared when the hunger hits!

For stressed out treat-cravings that these snacks won’t satisfy, Butler is a fan of dark chocolate. With antioxidants and a little jolt of caffeine, dark chocolate can actually increase blood flow to the brain and give you that extra boost of energy. It also causes your body to release endorphins, which cause you to feel happier and more relaxed.

“Use these snack breaks as a real break,” Butler says. Take a few minutes to really savor what you’re eating, get a little distance from your work and practice mindfulness in the moment. Get a drink of water (staying hydrated is also necessary for focus and energy) and take a quick lap around your study spot before picking things back up—you’ll be more sustained in the long run.

Staying healthy

Your body absorbs nutrients most efficiently when you’re taking care of it. Butler reminds students, just like finding time to eat a full meal and drink a full water bottle, it’s important to find time for self-care. 

Working in just 20 minutes of exercise can alleviate stress by increasing blood flow and releasing endorphins, while getting seven to nine hours of sleep nightly preserves memory and immune function. These actions make you more effective at studying, writing, reading and retaining information.

Taking breaks fuels you, as well. Blow off steam with physical activity, find a sense of calm with meditation or get distracted for a little by chatting with a friend! Just like snack breaks keep you going, these mental breaks give you much-needed time to refresh. And, when you’re feeling refreshed, you’re way more likely to make progress on your goals.