HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


brain food - what to eat before a test

  • t

I recently read about a study that found that children who eat high carb low fat food such as snackwells perform better. Any suggestions about what I should feed my son before he takes the SAT?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Eggs always helped for me.

    For what it is worth:


    5 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      It's funny you mentioned eating eggs on test day. In Thailand there are many superstitions and one is to never eat an egg on test day. Egg means zero...eat one and you'll get a low score!

      1. re: Fritz

        Hmm, I guess tennis players might be afraid to eat bagels before a test then. ;-D

        1. re: WLA

          No, they just don't make "love" before a match.

          1. re: Peter
            kyndra buckallew


        2. re: Fritz

          Definitely a chines superstition. But if you eat two eggs and a sausage, it adds up to 100.

      2. A tuna fish sandwich. Gets that brain going. Seriously, I read that somewhere and started having tuna on big test days, and I really think it helped.

        1 Reply
        1. re: johnnym

          +1 for tuna. I ate it before every test in college.

        2. i'm not exactly sure where i heard this but try fish and greens...

          1 Reply
          1. re: ali b

            Fish and greens for breakfast? That's sure going to help him with the SAT.

          2. You definitely want complex carbohydrates as opposed to simpler sugars (i.e., a bagel, not jellybeans, for sustained energy rather than a rush) and you should include protein so that he won't feel hungry at all while taking the SAT....
            but I think that the best way to prep someone for a long test is probably to give him what he likes...tunafish for breakfast doesn't sound all that inspiring to me. Creating a positive attitude in the morning is going to be way more important for your son's performance than whether you're giving him certain nutrients.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Adrienne

              Unless that bagel is made from all whole-grain flour, it doesn't really qualify as a complex carb, and even then that'd be stretching it. As I understand it, complex carbs are those that are unrefined and retain their fiber -- think stone-ground wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, beans. Most bagels are made with white flour, which has had all the bran and germ flushed out of it.

              1. re: GG Mora

                Yeah, you're right. I guess I just meant more complex than sugars; the bigger the carb molecule, the longer the energy boost should usually last.

            2. Miso soup with rice. Walnuts. Cottage cheese. Tofu or soymilk. bagels with eggs and cheese. Spinach.

              Be careful with coffee as it magnifies your nervousness. In general, less or no sugar is better.

                1. re: Hiko Ikeda

                  Eating natto should qualify as a test all by itself!

                2. No scientific support for this, but I've had great luck going out to breakfast and eating a large traditional egg breakfast, with coffee. You sure don't want to get hungry during the final hours. Got me through the SAT, GRE, GMAT, a BA, MA, and MBA!

                  1. c
                    Caitlin Wheeler

                    I had fried eggs and whole wheat toast and aced the SATs. (Bagel and cream cheese before the LSAT and that went fine, too). Now I need something for breakfast before the bar exam ...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                      How about a cocktail ;-)

                      1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                        I agreed with the poster above who said that she found preparation and hard work the best way to succeed on the bar (having just done this last summer). That being said, I made my husband take me out to a really nice dinner (Black's Bar & Grill in Bethesda), complete with Gimlet, the night before the bar. I had coffee and bagels with lox spread both mornings of the exam, with a night of crabcakes and beer with my barmates on Tuesday night. And I passed the bar the first time.


                        1. For the Chinese, it's to eat whatever that looks like the part of the body you are trying to supplement. So whatever looks like a brain. Walnut is one, unless your son goes for pigs brain for breakfast.

                          Just make sure he has lots of sharp #2 pencils.

                          1. After having graduated from college, law school, passing the bar exam and successfully practicing law for a couple of years, I have this advice on brain food. Your son will do better on his SAT's (and for that matter, all of his future academic endeavors) if he is well prepared, relaxed and confident. Being relaxed and confident comes from being well prepared. No food is going to do that for him. Only hard, smart work.

                            Sorry this isn't a great chowhound answer, but, it's the truth.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Stephanie

                              I'm writing a professional exam tomorrow and can't say I'll be relaxed and confident. In fact, I've always had good study skills and the ability to do very well on tests when somewhat well-prepared - but I haven't been relaxed or confident about sitting down to write a test since early in high school!
                              Some of us thrive under pressure. Wish it weren't that way!
                              For the record: pizza, caffeinated drinks and chocolate are what get me through the studying. When allowed I always brought a Hershey's with Almonds to an exam, for the instant sugar rush and the sustaining fat and protein.

                            2. Fish has traditionally been considered "brain food" -- probably because it is high in protein and low in fat.

                              I'd start the night before with what someone else suggested: simply prepared fish and greens, with some kind of complex carb (brown rice?). Tell him he's in training and no junk food after dinner (he can have pizza and ice cream after the test!). Get some exercise and go to bed early (and don't do any more test prep). That way he should wake up feeling healthy and alert (half the battle).

                              Then more protein and complex carbs for breakfast. Keep it fairly low fat so he won't get that logy feeling after he's eaten. Of course it should be something he likes, but there also might be a placebo effect in eating something "special" because he believes it will help him perform better.

                              I seem to remember there's a break in the middle of the SAT -- pack some energy bars to get him through the second half. Or a Snickers will do just as well (the nuts help control the blood sugar spike). Your brain actually runs on glucose, which is why you feel so hungry and low-blood sugar after a long test, even though you've just been sitting at a desk. So you need to keep the blood sugar up but steady.

                              Good luck!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I agree about the snickers bar (chocolate & nuts also being features of my hershey's almond solution).
                                But I have to seriously disagree with the low-fat breakfast option. I need fat in my breakfast (along with protein and carbs) to get me past 10:30am without snacking. I imagine a teenage boy only needs MORE slow-burning sustenance to get through the day - let alone before a big test. How long are the SATs (sincere question, I'm Canadian)? And how long does the average teenage boy EVER go without eating?

                                1. re: julesrules

                                  LOL! Good point!

                                  IIRC, the SAT comprises six segments of about 20-30 minutes each, with a break halfway through.

                                  What I meant by low-fat was that I wouldn't recommend one of those overstuffed cheese omelets and sausage breakfasts that put you into a grease coma. And I don't know about you, but when I'm *moderately* hungry (not so much that my blood sugar crashes), I'm more alert. You definitely don't want all your blood in your stomach digesting a heavy meal.

                                  A candy bar with peanuts or almonds is as good as many (although not all) energy bars and drinks, at a fraction of the cost.

                              2. I used to work for a major SAT test prep company. We always taught the kids to eat what they normally eat for breakfast. If your son never eats breakfast or has a granola bar at most, it's not a good idea to eat a bacon, eggs, and pancake breakfast that morning. But make sure that even if he's nervous, he eats something to give him the energy to last through the test. If you want to feed him any of the brain food suggestions, it would be a good idea to start training weeks beforehand. Have a routine of getting up at the same time each Saturday morning, eating the same nutritious breakfast, then sitting through a full 3 hour practice test. That way, not only is he used to the brain food breakfast, but he's used to the entire routine of SAT morning. And whatever you do, make sure he's relaxed the night before (no last minute cramming!) and gets a good night's sleep. Packing a snack, like someone's suggested, is a great idea too.

                                Good luck to him!

                                1. I read something years ago that suggested that you eat the same thing when you're testing that you ate while you were studying. The study suggested that this may have something to do with brain chemistry, so if you drink something while studying, you should always drink the same thing before you test on the material you studied. We did it at college and it honestly seemed to help. I even had a friend who smoked one, and only one, clove cigarette near the end of a study session and one before the test. Yeah, yeah, I know...she probably got lung cancer, but she swore it helped.

                                  1. Protein. When I took the SAT's, almost 6 years ago, they suggested a chicken breast or something else similarly high in protein. The funny thing is I don't actually remember eating breakfast before, although I think I must have, but I do remember them "telling us to eat" a breakfast "high in protein." The brain is a muscle and needs protein to function well...

                                    As a side note, as a tutor, I concur with the previous opinions suggesting rest and confidence. Show up with plenty of time. Put everything out the night before, i.e. pencils, calculator, admission ticket, so that nothing is a question in the morning. One more thing that eased the pressure (even though I'm the one that tends to be the hardest on me) is my mom telling me as I got out of the car that she loved me. She's always told me that all I can do is my best, and that so long as I gave it everything I had, she'd be proud of me.

                                    1. Water. Nothing increases oxygen to the brain faster or quenches the cells more. Certain carbs can give you a rush but can also run you a risk of crashing. Asparagus on a bed of quinoa or even huevos rancheros with green chile with or without a little bit of cheese if you prefer, are going tro give you a great source of fuel prior the exam. A fruit plate, perhaps made with melons or white meat/dark skin composition also urge the body and brain on long stretches. - rjs

                                      1. Studies show that the combination of Dilaudid and one mojito can add up the 22 points to one's IQ.

                                        1. Something that will not upset his stomach or make him crash during the test. I'd do oatmeal or jook with chicken (but that's my go-to comfort food). YUM. No grease, nothing out of the ordinary, etc.