Academic Resource Center



There is a relationship between what you eat, when you eat it, and how your feel.

Proteins (3 ounces will do - about the size of a deck of cards)

Seafood, chicken, lean beef, cottage cheese, skim/low-fat milk, tofu, low-fat yogurt, eggs

  • Increase alertness and motivation
  • Have an energizing effect on your mind

Carbohydrates (1½ ounces will do, eaten alone, without protein)

Breads, cereals, crackers, cookies, pasta, potatoes, rice, corn

  • Have a calming effect
  • Ease anxiety and frustration

Fruits and Vegetables (5-6 servings a day)

  • Provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
  • Improve memory and reduces stress

Choose foods that are low in fat—high-fat meals cause blood to be diverted away from the brain, leading to drowsiness and decreased mental energy. Doubling the amount of protein or carbohydrate does not double the effect—it only adds calories.

Planning a late-night study session?

  • Eat dinner as late as possible (9:00 or 9:30)
  • Dinner should be low in fat
    Good: Chicken (skinless), vegetable, rice, fresh fruit, water
    Bad: Cheeseburger, fries, chocolate cake, soda
  • Eat the protein first
  • Once you have started studying, take a food break every few hour (low- fat protein, fruit, nuts)
  • Caffeine in moderation
  • Get up and move around from time to time
  • Breakfast—eat protein first, before carbohydrates, to avoid a drop in mental energy (No bagel bombs—try hard-boiled eggs or yogurt with fruit and whole wheat toast)

Bottom line?

  • Avoid saturated fat and simple sugars at all meals
  • Caffeine in moderation
  • Eat protein before carbohydrates to maintain alertness and mental energy
  • Avoid eating carbohydrates without proteins, unless you are ready to relax

Fun Fact: Research has shown that eating peppermint while studying for an exam, then eating peppermint while taking the exam improves recall of information.

Adapted from Judith J. Wurtman’s Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.