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Self-care Tips for a Stress-free SAT/ACT: Eat It Up

Updated: May 29, 2022

Like the body, your brain needs energy to function correctly — ensuring your brain has food for fuel is essential for optimal test performance

Stress is common when preparing for and right before taking the SAT or ACT. One of the best ways to fight stress is with a full stomach. Long tests such as these are marathons for your brain. Marathon runners need lots of stored energy to get to the finish line, just as you will need it to keep blood flowing to your mind.

Your body needs food to make it do the things you want it to do. Your brain is no different. It needs food for energy just like your arms or legs — even more, in fact. According to Scientific American, the brain uses 20% of the body's total energy intake. And just as vigorous exercise tires out your body, long thinking sessions (like taking the SAT) drain the brain’s energy.

For a test as important as the SAT or ACT, you should take all the advantages you can get. Eating right and at the right time means your body will have stored energy to push you through to the end of the test.

This article will dive into what foods you should eat, what times to eat before the test, and which foods you should avoid to do your best on tests.

What To Eat for Brain Food

Here are the five best foods to eat before your SAT or ACT:

  • Fish: Omega-3s are essential for brain function and a great idea to load up on before a test. They help with brain function, alertness and concentration.

  • Dark Fruits and Vegetables: The general rule is: the darker the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you, and the more antioxidants it contains. The best are berries, beans, apples, pecans, artichokes, and prunes.

  • Protein: Protein will give you energy and reduce anxiety, both of which are useful before a test. Eat lean meats, eggs, soy-based food, or low-fat milk.

  • Complex Carbohydrates: Simple carbs from sugar in soda and candy burn up too quickly to be effective. Your brain needs complex carbohydrates that provide energy for more extended periods. Whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables are best.

  • Water: The most vital brain food isn’t food at all. Water will keep you hydrated and focused. Have plenty of water before the test, and take a water bottle with you.

In addition to bringing a water bottle to the test, you should also take a snack. Hunger pangs are a distraction that can be easily remedied with a quick snack. Bring trail mix with dark chocolate, dark dried fruits and nuts, or a banana or granola bar.

At InHouse Test Prep, we plan every preparation activity, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Eating proper meals before a major test might not seem like a significant factor in test-taking, but every step counts on the path to a successful test. To learn more about our test preparation methods, click the link below.

Foods To Avoid

Some foods will help the brain function better for a test, and others you should avoid because they will inhibit elite test-taking. Here are some foods to avoid before taking the SAT or ACT:

  • Alcohol

  • Greasy, fried food

  • Too many carbohydrates

  • Sugary juices and sodas

  • Anything made with white flour

  • Turkey

Try to stay away from certain foods before an exam, as they will slow you and your brain down. Caffeine should be avoided, as well. Caffeine will make you jittery and anxious.

When To Eat Before Your Test

Eat a good, healthy meal for dinner the night before. Not getting enough sleep the night before will impede your memory and concentration. Experts believe memory neurons responsible for converting short-term memories to long-term work most effectively when we’re asleep. The human brain can only store short-term memories for about 30 seconds, so converting test material to long-term memories is vital for test success.

Therefore, what and when should you eat to get a good night’s sleep before a test?

  • Nothing too heavy right before bed — try to eat at least three hours before sleep

  • Have a small snack right before bed, such as high-fiber cereal or porridge

  • A warm glass of milk before bed can help you sleep

  • Avoid caffeine such as tea, coffee, cola, and chocolate four hours before bed

Timing what you are eating can be just as important as what you eat. Try to optimize both what and when you eat for maximum test efficiency.

Final Thoughts

Eating suitable foods at the correct times before an important exam such as the SAT or ACT is just as crucial to success as getting enough sleep, taking study breaks, proper visualization, and keeping the right perspective.

Proper nutrition is vital for living a long, healthy life because it provides the body and mind with everything to operate at optimal levels. The same principle applies to test-taking. If your body and mind are running optimally, your chances of getting the best scores possible are greatly improved.

At InHouse Test Prep, we understand the importance of all aspects of test preparation, not just academics. A hearty, well-timed meal before a big test might make the difference between a top school and an Ivy League school. Why take a chance? Click the link below to learn more about how InHouse Test Prep ensures the best possible preparation for the best results.

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