When it comes to exam stress and nutrition you can be treading on very uneven ground. I’d love to say that as a health coach I practice what I preach but with a teenager in the house, it’s not always the case. We went through GCSE’s a couple of years ago and are about to hit the A level mocks so I fully understand the pressure on parents. It’s so easy to reach for the easy option and allow them unchecked time on social media and unhealthy food to fuel their moods but we all know that in the long run this won’t be a good payoff.
Exams can be a stressful time for the whole family. As parents we want to be engaged and supportive but not overwhelming. We want to offer advice and guidance while having no idea how to answer the question ‘who was most to blame for the cold war’ or ‘what does the mitochondria of a cell do’?
I stick to what I’m good at and that’s offering great tasting healthy meals which will fuel body and brain. So here are some of my tips for fuelling your teenagers as they go through the exam period.
Several organisations devoted to children’s health and welfare have reported that there is an undeniable correlation between children’s ability to learn and their diet. Processed, sugary foods such as breakfast cereal can cause children to have an energy spike that makes them hyperactive and unable to concentrate. Following a sugar spike, a crash always occurs, and during a crash it is incredibly hard for children to focus and retain information. Nutrition is so important year round but especially at exam time.
Start with a healthy breakfast
I know we think of breakfast cereals as a healthy choice but when you look at the sugar content you often think again. They are generally highly processed wheat base foods with refined sugar as a primary ingredient. Breakfast is such an important meal but many teenagers turn their nose up at it saying they can’t eat in the morning. This is often a result of eating too late in the evening and not allowing the body to undertake the full digestive and elimination process necessary for good health. I find a healthy smoothie or protein smoothie works wonders here. I even created a special breakfast in a jar smoothie for early mornings on exam days when you want to take breakfast with you. There’s lots of tasty treats in the recipe files.
Healthy porridge with maple syrup or honey on top rather than refined white sugar.
Overnight oats with fresh fruit – berries are particularly good
Fruit smoothie or, my favourite, a protein smoothie which combines fresh fruit and plant based protein for a satisfying meal which will give slow release energy
Eggs on a bagel or wholemeal/sourdough or gluten free toast
Eggs, avocado and smoked salmon. Again you could add a bagel or wholegrain/gluten free toast
Super food Protein pancakes – these are one of my daughter’s favourites served sweet or savoury. Here’s the recipe Link
Having a fruit smoothie, and plant based protein, which is essentially made up of Essential Fatty Acids and Fibre for breakfast, instead of sugary starchy cereal, is a sensible way to begin the day as this combination will cause the nutrient release into the blood stream to be slow and prolonged.
Dehydration – reduces productivity by 14% so try to steer them away from drinks that add to this – coffee and fizzy drinks in particular and get hem drinking herbal tea, water, fruit juices etc. If your teen doesn’t like water then jazz it up a whole series of fruit and herb infusions. Some of my favourites are lemon and ginger, mint and rosemary, strawberry and mint, lemon and lime etc
Try to encourage them to create daily healthy habits around existing healthy habits they already have like putting a glass of water by their toothbrush to drink first thing in the morning when we’re often dehydrated.
Get them to drink a glass of water before each meal and to take a marked bottle to school with them – this way if they’re at all competitive they’ll want to have drunk at least half their daily quote by lunchtime!
Arbonne’s Energy Fizz Sticks which I highly recommend are packed with essential B vitamins, which contribute to normal energy metabolism, and pantothentic acid, which contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Chromium Temporarily helps promote alertness and enhance cognitive performance and contains antioxidants to help fight free radicals. They come in four great flavours too – apple, blackberry, pomegranate and citrus.
Our brain is 75% water and a minimum of 60%fat so to fuel it we need to eat good fats – coconut, coconut yogurt, avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds and omega 3 etc.
Supplements are like gold – you get what you pay for, so adding a good quality Omega 3 I essential. I prefer a plant based Omega 3 so I was delighted when I discovered the Arbonne flax seed and algae formulation. They’re packed with ALA and DHA don’t have that fishy repeating after taste either!
When Arbonne first launched it’s Mind Health drink I was sceptical but I’ve seen some marked results with it and have some amazing testimonies from teens and parents who have been using it. It’s a great tasting cherry-lime flavoured formula with ingredients like grape seed extract, CoQ10, and a sunflower seed-derived phosphatidylserine to help support brain health and cognitive performance.
The key ingredients have all been designed with cognitive performance in mind. Sunflower seed derived phosphatidylserine is a key building block for brain cells and vitamin B12 supports neurological performance like concentration and focus.
Coupled with that, supportive ingredients like grape seed extract and CoQ10 are there to help maintain a healthy nervous system. I’ve long been an advocate of CoQ10 for energy and turns out with good reason - it’s a building block for energy within all our cells. There's more in this blog about how to improve concentration and memory.
A good rest is half the work
The body regenerates cells in the deep phase of sleep, when growth hormone is released. High quality sleep therefore amplifies and expedites the benefits of this cell regeneration. If stress levels are high, and hence levels of the hormone cortisol are high too, the body will psychologically not be able to get into this deep phase of sleep. It isn’t just stress that raises cortisol levels. Sugar and caffeine raise cortisol too so keeping away from refined sugar and caffeine is key to maintaining blood sugar throughout the day and so drifting off to sleep naturally and into sustained deep sleep.
I have a whole blog on sleep which, though not purely focussed on teenagers, you might still be interested in reading.
Having a relaxing bath can also lead to more restful sleep. Try adding these gorgeous essential oil based Detox bath salts to a warm bath and relax for 30 minutes or more. This could be as beneficial to mum and dad as it is to the teenagers in the house! Sea salt crystals are combined with turmeric and sunflower seed oil to cleanse and add radiance.
I try to keep energy snacks to healthy wholefood based snacks made with unrefined sugar which are slow release and not going to spike the blood sugar. Our favourites are
Get some Exercise
I have a really active teenager in the house. She rows 5 times a week and was keen to keep this up during the exam period. After a quick chat we agreed that although this relaxes her and, for her is effectively chill time, she did need to rein it in a bit. That said getting your teen away from the books and out into fresh air and exercising is hugely beneficial. It releases endorphins which are the feel good hormones thus enhancing mood. So a walk with the dog, a run or even taking a yoga class can all be beneficial. As they say a change is as good as a rest and sometimes they need to focus on something else before they get their heads back into the revision.
Using Aromatherapy to change the mood
Adding some aromatherapy scents to your home can help create a calm and soothing home and study environment, so often essential to our fast paced lifestyles.
Scent is a powerful psychological trigger. Our sense of smell ties directly to our limbic centre, or the emotional centre, in our brain. This is why aromatherapy and essential oils can be beneficial to our health and well-being. Whatever their current stressors project deadlines, exams or friendship difficulties — creating an oasis around them can make a huge difference. Combining fresh flowers, plants, and essential oils helps enormously in providing that safe, calm space to escape from it all. My teen loves it when I bring fresh flowers into their study room and I try to always have a vase with a fresh flower on her desk.
Diffusing essential oils serves two purposes it reduces air microbes and alters mood and emotion. I have two blends which I love to use daily and which are essential at exam time.
Focus Blend– A mindful blend of oils including rosemary, basil, and frankincense to promote a sense of focus for mind and body.
Harmony Blend– A sparkling blend of orange, lavender, rosemary and ginger to foster harmony and relaxation.
If you’d like any more tips to help your teen make the most of the exam period please get in touch. My passion is helping people so I’d love to hear from you.