Polo mints, that’s what I remember fuelling university revision back in the 1980s – or extra strong Trebor mints if you were under pressure of doing maths or law. Dentists could spot nervous students by the remarkable number of back teeth rotted by all that sucking. And I have to say I have absolutely no recollection of what was eaten to aid revision for O levels, O grades, Highers or A levels – possibly Foxes Glacier mints or maybe the iconic Spangles…
As our household heads into exam season it is becoming apparent that things may have changed a little.
The hydrated brain is a better brain, I’m told. It is less likely to over-heat (who knew over-heating was even an option in days of yore) and if you don’t drink enough water you could become dizzy, fatigued, with reduced cognitive abilities. Where the in-house consensus falls to pieces is when we try to agree on appropriate liquid: Lucozade (GCSE-er “Only with sport”); squash straight from a jug (Mother “Really!!!?!”); fizzy anything (GCSE-er “Keeps me going”, Mother “Only 1 bottle and at weekends”, dentist friend who often comes round on Friday when the only bottle of the week is being consumed “I’m not sure anyone should ever drink fizzy drinks ever…”). Water we can all agree on? (GCSE-er “not after sport – it’s pointless”).
The caffeinated brain, apparently, is slightly more able, perky and good-to-go. That’s good to know until you factor in the diuretic qualities of caffeine with the quantities of water needed for the hydrated brain and find sitting through exams a potentially uncomfortable moment. The good news is that some decisions are more efficiently taken while one is in a state of urgency – so a handy tip for multiple choice exams there.
The brain on fish – or more particularly fish oil/oily fish such as mackerel, sardines or salmon – is also a good brain. All the advice would seem to suggest a quick fish-supper the night before won’t do the trick though – for maximum results the student needs to have been incorporating the right fish into their diet since before they attempted the move from Recruit to Regular in C.O.D.
The brain on fruit smoothies is proving to be most successful. In making one’s own smoothie by chopping, slicing and mashing a wide range of exotic fruit, the home-made smoothie handily combines nutrition, liquid and displacement activity. It also, by leaving all peel, juice, dregs and kitchen equipment dirty across every kitchen surface, allows one’s mother a chance to show how much she cares.
My helpful hints – sleeping on the open book so the knowledge seeps up through the pillow, and wearing lucky pants – has been met with mild derision. I was, however, delighted to read a recent news report that said that a sizeable number of exam candidates believed in wearing lucky pants.
On the sporty front there is also a new way of thinking about food. After lengthy discussions, the virtues of off-the-shelf protein shakes were ignored – saving a fortune in money and, apparently, avoiding potential liver damage in the future. The need for white protein immediately following rigorous exercise must be taken very seriously – as must a colossal calorie intake during hours of rowing. I am delighted to share a recipe for “Kick-Ass Energy Bars” at the bottom of this piece.
As I listen to stories of students and parents going to similar lengths to find the right drink and the right food at the right time I wonder if it isn’t all a bit intense and serious today –didn’t we do OK on a small packet of Spangles and a wee lucky Gonk mascot? But when people talk about increased pressure on young people today exam performance is undoubtedly one of the areas which shows it most intensely. They say that to even be considered for a place to study medicine you need 5 A*s at GCSE level. From my Spangles days I don’t remember any pressure to well at O levels in order to do well at A levels in order to do well at university – though I was at a slightly eclectic school and it may have different for other people. What would be unfair in the current system would be to tell young people these results really matter on one hand and then not support them on the other. (This doesn’t mean I’m not going to encourage, quite forcibly, our in-house smoothie maker to clean up after himself more thoroughly though).
Kick-Ass Energy Bars
- 400g golden syrup
- 400g peanut butter
- 200g oats
- 200g cereal (All Bran, Grape Nuts …)
- 200g nuts/raisins/apricots/seeds
- Decent pinch of salt
- Heat the syrup and peanut butter together
- Mix well with the dry ingredients
- Press into a square cake tin (probably lined with baking paper because it’s easier to get it out afterwards) and chill
- Cover with dark chocolate if desired
Cuts into 16 calorie packed squares