Posted by Julia Wasson

Sep 2, 2014 9:05:00 AM

Any student looking for college test prep strategies to improve his or her scores on the ACT or SAT test should place importance on nutrition and diet.

Although the brain weighs only three pounds, it uses approximately 20 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake. The brain is a highly active metabolic organ, and it must constantly consume energy to function properly.

Foods with the right neurochemicals help aid in concentration, memory, and motivation, while also defusing stress — all very important aspects of SAT and ACT prep. Your child needs to be aware of how foods (including beverages) affect his or her body — especially when studying for or taking an important exam such as the ACT or SAT.

When it comes to “brain food,” it’s important that your child not rely on a single type of food or even a handful of buzz-worthy super foods. Instead your student’s diet should consist of whole grains, beans, whole fruits, and starchy vegetables. These foods provide a steady source of energy to the brain. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, create unstable blood sugar levels that negatively affect brain function.

So, what does a brain food diet consist of?

  • Fats: To maximize concentration and memory for college test prep and school in general, serve your child a diet that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids (most commonly found in fish). Oily fish are best, such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, mackerel, and anchovies.

  • Proteins: Rich sources of protein, such as poultry, seafood, soy products, and lean meat prompt the brain to manufacture important chemical messengers that stimulate alertness and activity. Proteins are also found in dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

  • Carbohydrates: Glucose from carbs provides fuel that the brain uses to produce energy. You just have to be careful about what carbs your child eats during his or her college test prep and testing. Complex carbohydrates, like wheat bran and whole-wheat pasta, provide a steady, long-term source of energy, which can help him power through lengthy exams. Simple carbs, like sodas and candy, on the other hand, cause a spike in energy that then results in a crash. The last thing a student needs during a study period or the test itself is to feel sleepy and sluggish; yet that’s what can happen after a sugar rush from soda or a candy bar.

  • Vitamins and Minerals: On top of a brain food diet, it’s a good idea for your child to supplement his or her diet with specific vitamins and minerals. B-complex vitamins play a large role in producing energy, while vitamins A, C, and E promote and preserve energy. A daily multivitamin does the trick, but check with your child’s physician or a nutrition expert to find out specific recommendations for her body.

Following are college test prep strategies and tips to help your child eat properly throughout the day:

Never skip breakfast!
Skipping breakfast is tempting when your child is running late, but breakfast is the fuel the body needs to start the day. It’s important to have a fresh supply of nutrients each day; otherwise, the body’s essential functions, such as digestion, breathing, and circulation, must draw fuel from old energy storage. When this happens, “nonessential” functions, such as creative thinking, memory, and attention span, don’t receive the fuel they need.

Pack quick and easy snacks.
Packing healthy snacks is a good idea in general, but specifically on SAT and ACT test days, a little nutritious noshing goes a long way. The SAT takes almost four hours to complete, and students are given one 1-minute break and two 5-minute breaks. Students taking the ACT spend two hours and 55 minutes testing, with one short break in between. If they take the optional essay, they get a second short break and then test for another 30 minutes. When there’s not a lot of time to replenish, yogurt is an ideal snack, as well as nuts, carrot sticks, or peanut butter crackers.

Just say “no” to junk food.
When adopting college test prep strategies, it’s a good idea to avoid junk foods, because they hinder study. Trans fats, like pastries, candies, and all fried foods, deteriorate cognitive function.

Stay hydrated with H2O.
If your student feels like he or she needs a pick-me-up, popular energy drinks are not the solution. A simple glass of water hydrates brain cells so information flows more freely. Drinking water also helps to calm nerves — an essential aspect of doing well on college entrance exams.

Be alert to food allergies.
Discussing your child’s diet with a doctor or nutritionist is essential if he or she has food allergies, such as gluten intolerance or a tree-nut allergy. Some foods that are healthy for most students may be dangerous for him or her.

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