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Your study support toolkit

Written by Lani Finau |

nutrition tips and advice

It has been business as unusual these past few months, with students all over facing their toughest year yet. College desks were replaced with kitchen benches, fellow students swapped for family pets, and lectures turned digital as Zoom calls became our new (tech-savvy) norm.

If you’ve entered assessment time with an attention span of no more than five minutes, these study boosters will help you focus, fire up that brainpower, and find your motivation… because saying we could all use a little extra support at the moment would be an understatement.

1. Meet your matcha

Matcha is made from ground green tea leaves containing a multitude of health benefits. Sure, it’s loaded with the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC) which has potent antioxidant properties, but it’s also a powerful brain booster.

How? Two words: caffeine and l-theanine.

On its own, caffeine increases cortisol, alertness and the ability to work on taxing cognitive tasks. In saying that, we’re all familiar with the jittery and hyperactive feelings that caffeine also brings, making it difficult to focus on one task at a time. This is where l-theanine becomes one handy sidekick.

L-theanine is an amino acid that has been studied for its ability to enhance self-reported relaxation, reduced tension, and calm.

Together, the synergistic blend of caffeine and l-theanine found in matcha green tea have shown to:

  • Improve memory and attentiveness
  • Aid cognitive duties where quick shifts in attention are required
  • Support focus and productivity
  • Reduce feelings of stress and anxiety

Interesting note: These valued properties were only exhibited when caffeine, l-theanine, and ECGC were consumed together within a cup of matcha green tea. When extracted and administered as isolated constituents in a supplement (or other) form, the benefits were seen to a far lesser extent… yet another example of wholefoods always knowing best!

Take-home study tip:

Sip on a cup of matcha green tea before an exam or whilst you’re studying… perhaps even swapping it for your morning cup of coffee in these periods!

2. (Blue) food for thought

As plump little bites of goodness, blueberries truly are the quintessential brain boosters.

Anthocyanins are the super constituents found within blueberries, that help amplify neuronal signalling. In other words, they help little neurons transfer messages from one area of the brain to another – an incredibly important process when studying!

Findings suggest the polyphenolic compounds within blueberries can cross the blood-brain barrier, localising in important areas of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Anthocyanins have shown to:

  • Support working memory
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Minimise or slow neurodegeneration
  • Improve long-term and short-term brain power
  • Provide potent antioxidant activity

So, onto the golden question… how many blueberries a day do you need?

While there is no “set standard” for blueberry intake, most studies have looked at consuming ⅔ - 1 cup per day, for providing neuroprotective benefits.

Take-home study tip:

Starting your study or exam day with a blueberry-rich breakfast is an excellent way to get all those brain-boosting phytochemicals and flavonoids into the body.

You could try a frozen berry smoothie, overnight oats with blueberries on top, or melting some frozen ones over a delicious pancake recipe. The options are endless!

Bonus mini berry smoothie bowl recipe: Simply blend ½ cup frozen blueberries, ½ cup frozen raspberries, and 1 cup of coconut water and pour into a bowl to serve. Top as desired with nuts, seeds and fruits!

3. So shroomy

Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms… almost as old as time itself, you can never have too many of these fungis in your diet. (Read: “fun guys”... classic nutrition pun).

From reishi to cordyceps, you may have come across a few already, but are you using them to their full potential?

When it comes to improved focus and cognition, lion’s mane is key. It supports brain function by stimulating two super-compounds: brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor. These proteins are involved in the production of new brain cells, as well as helping to strengthen old ones (something that becomes particularly important with stress and ageing... surprise, surprise!).

Take-home study tip:

Try adding 1-2 teaspoons of lion’s mane mushroom powder to your coffee, smoothie, or healthy snacks each day during exam or study time.

Looking for some more boosters to add to your study support toolkit? You could try:

  • Doing a headstand to support blood flow back to the brain
  • Deep breathing to reduce sympathetic dominance (stress)
  • Spending a couple of minutes in the sun to boost cortisol and re-energise the body
  • Apply refreshing essential oils to pulse points, such as patchouli or lemongrass
  • Try a 1-minute yoga flow to bring some energetic movement through the body

Lani Finau

Leilani – known as Lani to most – is an accredited Nutritionist (BHSc) passionate about teenage/adolescent health and female wellbeing. Located in Cronulla, Sydney, she offers in-person and online consultations at her By Lani Nutrition Clinic and also frequently visits schools for workshops, as well as doing group talks and online cooking sessions. She also works as the in-house Nutritionist and Content Creator at SWIISH, a leading Australian wellness and lifestyle brand.

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