It’s that time of year once more; you are nearing the end of the semester and just when you think you have mastered the art of being a student-athlete, another obstacle is thrown in your direction: final exam week. Final exam week can be hard on student-athletes in particular because of their busy schedules. Not to mention, some sports have championship seasons very close to finals week so the stakes are high for both halves of the student-athlete title. Read on for some tips that will not only help you survive finals week, but also keep you sharp and at your best while you navigate exams, study sessions, training, and more!
1. Maintain Your Normal Schedule
It may be tempting to stay up extra late to get in some additional study time or challenging to remember to eat when there is so much to do. However, maintaining the same sleep and eating schedule is essential to helping you survive finals week. Research shows that a good night’s sleep and consuming nutrient dense foods are associated with higher academic performance. Think about final exam week as a whole in the same way that you would think of a competition day. For example, you would not want to sleep less the night before competing, so you should do your best not to sleep less the night before a final exam. Think of your pre-game routine. You likely would not change your routine for a championship competition; rather, you would say consistent with what has worked for you in the past. Treat your finals the same way!
Consistently achieving a good night’s sleep is associated with higher academic performance, in addition to consuming high quality foods that contribute to a nutrient dense diet with plenty of variety.
2. Fuel Your Mind with Nourishing Foods
Food is the fuel that allows you to perform on competition day and in the classroom Focus on balancing the majority of your meals and snacks with healthy carbs, lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Your brain relies on carbohydrates for fuel, so be sure to include whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes for sustained energy throughout the day. . Foods high in refined sugar, such as cookies, cakes, soda and candy, may make you feel sluggish while studying; save these fun foods for after the exam! Consuming a variety of nutrient dense foods will keep your mind focused on getting that “A” rather than on a grumbling stomach or feelings of fatigue.
If you don’t have a lot of time in your day and are worried about not being able to eat quality food, packing snacks for the day or meal-prepping is a great way to ensure nourishment is always easily accessible.
3. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is just as important as getting in adequate amounts of food, both during finals week and in general. Dehydration may lead to decreased cognitive performance and is associated with symptoms, such as low energy, dizziness, and headaches. To avoid dehydration during exam week it is important to focus on fluid intake throughout the entire day. An easy way to achieve this is to always have a water bottle around and sip throughout the day. Taking time to hydrate can provide a small break from studying or help you to refocus during an exam.
4. Limit Caffeine
For the coffee and tea loving student-athletes out there, this may be the most difficult to achieve of all. While a cup of coffee or tea with breakfast can help you feel more alert, too much caffeine can cause headaches, jittery feelings, and anxiousness. Remember to drink water while drinking caffeine and to cut it off 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine intake late in the day can disrupt your sleep schedule, potentially impairing academic performance.
5. Take Time for Self Care
Between all the craziness of practices, competitions, study sessions, and exams during final exam week, it is vitally important to take time for self care. Self care can be taken advantage of in many forms whether that be through meditation, playing an instrument, yoga, watching your favorite TV show, reading, painting, spending time with loved ones, or anything else that you find relaxing and rewarding. The goal here is to find time for yourself as a way to reduce stress and anxiety to keep you functioning at your best.
If you enjoy cooking and have access to a kitchen, meal prepping might be a great way to make sure nourishing food is always on standby while also achieving some self care. Painting or decorating a water bottle may also be a fun way to remind yourself to stay hydrated.
Last but not least, stay positive! Who knows? It may be the difference between the grade you get and the grade you wish you had. As daunting as final exam week may be, you got this. Don’t be afraid to put that on a sticky note on the wall or say it to yourself in the mirror because you do. With proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, self-care, and studying of course, you’ll have everything you need to nail those exams! If you’re looking to take your performance nutrition to the next level, whether it’s during finals week or any other time of year, watch our webinar on the topic or check out our RD services.