By Gregory Leddy
If you’re asking college students, there is no question that finals season is one of the most stressful times. Long research papers, nerve-wracking presentations and weeks of studying crammed into just a few days can do a number on even the most committed scholars.
In these intense bouts of stress, students may turn to some trusty foods to get through long study sessions. A quick trip to the C-Store can provide students at the College with every snack imaginable — from a Starbucks espresso to an energy drink, many students need the extra energy.
Students like Braeden Aldrich, a junior history secondary education dual major, have their C-store run nailed down.
“Either hard candy or gum,” said Aldrich. “Having something to chew on keeps me from getting distracted by other things around me. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy occupies my body just enough to keep me from getting distracted, but also doesn’t take any conscious effort away from my studying.”
Tips like these are as old as time, and sometimes even vouched for by professors. But what is happening in our bodies during times of stress, and are these the best foods to be fueling our minds with?
Wilfredo Benitez, nutritionist and founder of On Pace Wellness, said it might be time to look at how stress and nutrition interact with each other — and time to ditch some of the late-night gummy worms for something a bit healthier.
Benitez, who became passionate about nutrition after seeing families struggle with their health, says that our natural response to stress, which is influenced by everything from the work we do to the foods we eat, can cause us to crave things like processed foods that might inadvertently increase our stress response.
“If we eat heavily processed foods, drink too much alcohol, eat too many refined sugars, et cetera, then we are likely furthering this stress on the body,” he said. “But if we recognize this and decide to be conscious of it and eat well, then we are providing our bodies the right nourishment and giving it the tools it needs to handle stress better.”
Benitez’s tips for combating stress through nutrition are simple, but can be incredibly effective in keeping energy high and student’s bodies working during finals. The first step is to focus on hydration. Benitez says that dehydration can deflate moods and impact the ability to perform well, so he recommends at least 60 ounces of water per day for students to consume. He also recommends getting some electrolytes at least once a day as well for an extra nutritional boost.
He also said that the consumption of vegetables and having three meals a day can be enough to improve overall health and students’ ability to stay sharp and combat stress.
“Keep them balanced with as many whole food ingredients as possible,” Benitez said.
And although coffee is a morning, mid-day and sometimes evening staple for college students, Benitez says there is an unsung hero that may be more effective in improving our study time — green tea.
“Green tea will still supply a bit of caffeine, but it also supplies L-theanine which is an amino acid that improves cognitive focus, so it would actually be better for studying instead of relying on coffee,” he said.
Aldrich said he would be willing to try green tea for an extra performance boost.
“I’m not a coffee drinker to begin with, but I like the idea of getting a little natural energy boost from green tea,” he said.
Make sure to give your body the proper nutrition, hydration and sleep it needs to perform optimally. It might just be the boost you need.