Exam diet for students [tips you can adopt]

Many if not most JC students chose to focus on gaining content mastery to improve their grades. Whilst that is important, it is not the only thing that can help the student in their exam performance. One area that is often overlooked is what they eat. I help my students in this area and I refer to it as the exam diet.

Do you feel drowsy after a meal? Imagine that occurs when you are just about to head into the exam hall!

If the mind is not in the most agile state, how good will the performance be even if the student have content mastery?

And on this note, I have a group of students who are using the ketogenic diet to help with exam performance.

It revolves around having low carb and high fat meals daily for up to 6 days a week.

The exam diet: the science behind it

The basis of the idea is that per unit mass, fats (comprising of triglycerides) store far more energy than glycogen can.

Each triglyceride consists 3 fatty acids. Each fatty acid can have between 8 to over 30 hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbon chains play an important role in cellular respiration. The more times decarboxylation occurs for each of these carbons from the hydrocarbon skeleton, the more potent energy yield subsequently.

Per 100g of glucose yields 9.4kg of ATP. With a single fatty acid in a triglyceride molecule? 10.5kg.

These fatty acids convert to ketone bodies and distribute to different tissues including more importantly neurons in the brain. And are an alternative fuel source.

One reason why ketone bodies has a higher yield versus glucose is because the latter requires 10 steps and enzymes before becoming acetyl-CoA. This is not accounting for energy requirements to synthesize the enzymes that catalyses the reactions at each step yet. The diagram below illustrates my point.

exam diet glycolysis
Ketone bodies bypasses all of them requiring only 3 steps. As you can see in the diagram below.

exam diet ketosis
Far less time and energy usage and far more time producing ATP. Therefore, no drowsiness after meals as well as brain fog.

The exam diet: the benefit

Because the exam diet helps my students gain brain clarity.

This helps students who are studying to have deep learning and productive times.

Which in turn makes it easier for them to achieve subject mastery and therefore exam prep subsequently.

I tell my students to have a cheat day once a week on which they can eat anything they like.

This makes it easier for them to extend their diet through to the exams at least.

The response when they are on the cheat day is how drowsy they feel due to the carbohydrates.

This contrast allows them to appreciate how food can modify brain behaviour.

And this can subsequently be advantageous if modified for performance instead!

The exam diet: the caveat

The main disadvantage of the exam diet is that it is quite a hassle checking what you can or cannot eat. This is because there are a lot of hidden carbs in commercial food preps. So I choose instead to cook a variety of meals at home where I can control what I put in my mouth.

This requires a bit more effort but ensures you stay in ketosis. Because any increase in blood glucose beyond a net carb intake exceeding 20g will push you out of it. And you lose the benefits.

Also, getting into ketosis takes time. One can’t simply eat a fatty meal and hope to get into ketosis.

Finally, people who start the diet for the first time may experience the ‘keto-flu’ as they transit into ketosis. This is especially true for people who have insufficient salt intake. The mechanism and solution is explained here.

The exam diet: how to

In the morning, I will kick start with a blend of coconut oil and grass-fed butter (Anchor) into my tea. The coconut oil I use is a special distillate for caprylic and capric oils found in coconut oil.

These are medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) of 8-10 hydrocarbons which makes their absorption faster allowing me to utilize them for energy without delay. I don’t use brands that don’t label how much of which exact MCTs it contains.

I don’t use coconut oils directly because only 20% of the oil are desirable MCTs.
exam diet coconut oil
And that’s all I have for breakfast!

Sometimes, if I am outside I will order a keto-coffee instead at Starbucks. Here’s how I order mine: short flat white, replace milk with half and half (or which is permissible without extra charges). Heavy whipped cream and water. The mix in a serving of butter they use for sandwiches.

There are many reasons why I have this type of ‘breakfast’. This video summarizes it.

In the late afternoon, I will scramble eggs with some wild rockets.

And by dinner time, a big salad I mix with extra-virgin, olive oil and coconut oil, sea salt and turmeric. An easy way to increase the fat content is to add macadamia nuts.

The exam diet: know the bad fats

Before we end though, I want to talk a bit about the some surprising facts about fats.

This is especially important for students who want to try out the exam diet for academic success.

There are many types of fats and not all of them are great. In fact many vegetable oils are really bad! Many don’t know this. Trans-fats are really awful too but many already know about it.

So let’s focus on the vegetable oils.

These oils are typically polyunsaturated.

Unsaturated fats are those that have a C=C bond in their carbon skeleton. I compare the structure to a saturated fatty acid below for easy reference.
exam diet saturated unsaturated fatty acid
So if there are several of them, they are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).

The problem with these fats are that they are really fragile. Heat, light and oxygen can lead to modification of its structure resulting in inflammatory end products. And inflammation factor into many medical diseases directly such as heart disease.

And the modern diet is now full of PUFAs. Because they are much cheaper. So restaurants start using them for all kinds of cooking.

If you want to know more, this video has a great overview.

The exam diet: bottomline

If you have read all the way through until here. It means you are really serious about your exam performance. Great attitude!

It is not going to be easy but you will begin to reap the rewards the moment you go into ketosis. Because you will realize you suddenly have much more energy and clarity of mind that will in turn aid your exam performance/preparations. All the best for the upcoming prelims! Finally, tell me if this has been useful.

Strategies for being a better student sitemap:
Study excellence
Developing Grit
Morning routine for A students
How to take good notes in class
Sleeping your way to optimal learning
Study productivity and diffuse learning
Foods that boost learning or exam prep
Positive thinking can help improve grades
10 tips for busy students to get more time
Handphone use in classrooms: how it works against learning
Exam Strategies
The exam diet
Boost A level performance
Goal setting for exam success
Solution to exam-taking anxiety
Spaced repetitions and exam success
How to remember everything for exams
Find motivation during exam preparation
#1 problem in biology exam | 3 tips to do well


  • On April 18, 2018