I recently received an email asking me what sort of foods are good to eat during the bar exam test days. This post provides one answer to that question and addresses foods that can help you with focus and concentration during your bar exam preparation.
But before I get to that, remember, these are just suggestions based on research and my own personal experience. Everyone’s body is a bit different, so one food that may be great for me, might be not-so-great for you.
And, remember, I am not a licensed nutritionist or a doctor, so this post is just a series of personal opinions based on research and experience, rather than some sort of prescriptive program. If you really want to have someone tell you exactly what to eat to help your be at your best mentally and physically, hire a nutritionist to craft a plan for you.
Also, finally, no matter what you are eating, you can pass the bar exam. Don’t let food choices become a source of anxiety. I knew people who ate pizza and hamburgers every day, drank massive quantities of Mountain Dew, Red Bull, or Monster, and rarely touched vegetables and still they passed the bar exam.
In fact, confession time, I personally was not a poster boy for healthy eating when I took my first bar exam, and yet I passed.
I find that the best way to perform well on a test is to eat foods that provide long-lasting energy and make me feel full for a long time. This way, I can focus on the task at hand, rather than dreaming about my next meal.
For me, this means ensuring that each meal I have consists of a good amount of protein, some slow-digesting carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. The protein and slow-carbs keep me feeling full, and the vegetables give me the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants I need to stay healthy and mentally sharp.
Foods I avoid like the plague: breads, bagels, donuts, cereal and sugary energy bars.
Unfortunately, on the days that you take the bar exam, it can be difficult to eat well. This is especially true if you are staying at a hotel without a kitchen. So, you should make some plans in advance, either to bring food with you or to find restaurants that serve quality meals.
List of Good Stuff
Here is a list of some foods that you may want to consider eating to make your bar exam study days and test days as effective as possible. At the end of the list, you will see links to the various sources where I got the information about these foods.
I personally do not like to eat a grain-heavy breakfast, but many people do. According to several sources, one of the best grains you can eat is oatmeal. Real oatmeal, not the instant sugary stuff. It keeps many people feeling full for hours, and if you add some blueberries to it, you can get a nice antioxidant boost while avoiding excess sugar.
Two or three eggs in the morning are a great source of protein and keep you feeling full. And, many researchers now believe that the cholesterol in eggs is not as a big a problem as it was once thought to be. (Of course, if you have high cholesterol, check with your doctor before eating this many eggs.)
In addition to protein, eggs have high levels of B vitamins and choline, which help keep the brain healthy. Choline is part of the make up of brain cells and is used to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.
A 2006 study in Neurology showed that eating two or more daily servings of vegetables, especially leafy greens, gave people the mental focus of people five years their junior! This sounds great, unless you are six years old. So, try to have a big salad for lunch, and some chard, spinach, kale, collards or bok choy with dinner.
Sweet potatoes are super tasty, and can be prepared easily in advance (roast a few in the oven at 375 for 90 minutes) or on the spot (microwave a medium-sized sweet potato for 4-6 minutes). They also have beta-carotene and have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes and so are digested more slowly for longer-lasting energy.
Not white fish, but fish that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are linked with better brain function and focus and concentration. The best fish are: wild salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines (yummy when grilled Portuguese-style with salt and olive oil), and lake trout.
Tree nuts are a great source of protein and long-lasting energy. And walnuts, pecans and pine nuts also have good levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Just be careful you don’t eat nuts all day long since they are very calorie dense and can pack on the pounds quickly if you are not physically active.
Did I ever mentioned I grew up on an old avocado grove? Seriously, there were hundreds of avocados in my yard at any one time. I never knew how expensive avocados were until I went to buy some in college.
It turns out avocados are worth the price because they are an amazing food filled with antioxidants and heart-healthy oil. But the reason to eat them on bar exam test days is that they make you feel full. So, if you can add an avocado to your breakfast and/or lunch each day, it will help with food cravings that might keep you from concentrating.
Without sufficient water, your body and brain will quickly become dehydrated and function at less than top levels. Dehydration will release stress hormones which negatively affect mental functioning. Not what you what during the bar exam.
So, how much water should you drink? Many authorities state that you should take your weight and cut in half to equal the number of ounces per day of water you should drink. Therefore, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should drink 90 ounces (~2.7 liters) of water per day. (Here is an ounces to liters calculator.)
If, like me, you consume stimulating beverages such as coffee, tea, yerba, etc., keep doing it. But, I would recommend not increasing your consumption to unreasonably high levels. If you become so addicted that you need a huge cup of coffee every hour, it will be difficult to get that during the bar exam and as a result your concentration may suffer and you may get withdrawal headaches.
Also, if you are having any trouble sleeping, try to stop drinking caffeinated drinks by 2:00 pm. A few years ago, I implemented this recommendation and find that my sleep has improved because of it.
If you do not drink stimulating beverages, don’t start. Stay drug free.
Extra Bonus: Sugar
What? I thought sugar was evil? It is, but . . .
Sugar is for emergencies. If you are really finding it difficult to concentrate, you can pop a little sugar for a quick boost. But, I have found that if you are eating good foods with long lasting energy (see above), you have very little use for sugary foods.
Still, you may want to keep a few pieces of candy (or dark chocolate — which also has antioxidants) in your goody bag at the bar exam site. Then, if you find your concentration fading during the afternoon session or on the second or third day, get up and get a piece.
I guess the theme here is to eat minimally-processed fresh foods as much as possible. A pretty simple thought, really.
Do you have a favorite food not listed above? Share it in the comments section!