Move over, breakfast. In the middle of the CFA exam, the most important meal of the day may just be lunch.
But what do you eat when you have less than an hour to fuel your body for the next three-hour round and probably feel too nervous to keep anything down?
Opt for simple, nutritious foods that “pack a punch,” said Lindsey McGregor, a registered dietitian based in Calgary.
“One of the main food groups that I’d be thinking about would be your whole grains and having some carbohydrates because your brain runs on glucose,” said McGregor.
“It can be a nice way to get a nice, steady stream of sugar in your body, sugar in your brain and when you’re doing some of that intense logic and your body is in fight or flight it can be helpful that have that.”
Something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich (on whole grain bread) with a banana – to make sure you’re also getting a dose of protein – can help keep you full and focused.
Another option would be sprouted grain toast with eggs and avocado, according to Melissa Baker, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian.
“It’s really about focusing on those balanced meals that will include (fibre, fat and protein) that will keep you full for the duration of the exam and fuel your brain for that amount of time as well,” Baker said.
And while there may not be any scientific proof that eating your veggies makes you smarter, you should consider adding fruits and veggies for the anti-oxidants, which McGregor calls “little squeegee brooms for your neurons and your blood vessels.”
Berries are an easy go-to, or you can add vegetables to your lunch. If you’re opting for a salad, add some protein and make sure it’s big enough to act as a full meal. (Just make sure you don’t overeat or you may get drowsy).
“The anti-oxidants will make sure that the body will stay functioning and in top form.”
This isn’t to say breakfast isn’t also important – eating a fibre-rich cereal with blueberries or steel cut oats with milk, nuts and berries or Greek yogurt before you leave the house can keep you feeling full.
You also want to make sure you stick to your caffeine routine to keep your levels steady, and avoid drinking too much coffee the day before the exam so you can get a good night’s sleep.
“Caffeine stays in your system for 12 hours … so if you have coffee at eight in the morning it doesn’t really leave our system until eight o’clock at night … so (you should) keep your caffeine to the morning,” McGregor said.
Baker also warns against energy drinks, which “have some questionable ingredients in them and have a high level of caffeine, which can increase anxiety and not be good for an exam situation.”
Once all is said and done and your routine gets back to normal, there will be choices you can make to replenish your adrenal system and get your body back to normal.
But immediately following the exam, go ahead and celebrate.
“It would be where the dietitian covers her eyes and says – do what you need to do,” McGregor said with a laugh.
“You made it this far – I’ll just look the other way.”