Most MCAT top scorers gain an advantage even before stepping foot into the testing center on test day. The top-performing ones usually start the moment their alarm clock sounds. Their secret is not reviewing quirky acronyms or listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata – it’s eating a “power” breakfast. When it comes to MCAT day, for successful test-takers, breakfast is kind of a big deal. You have the chance to give your brain and body the fuel it needs to help you perform at the top of your game and you shouldn’t want it any other way.
So you get it, breakfast is important. This we know. A ton of evidence points to the countless benefits of even eating any kind of breakfast. And when you throw essential nutrients into the mix, the effects of a “power” breakfast could mean the difference between a good score and a great one. In one study of 1,259 college students, researchers found that students who ate breakfast had a higher success rate on General Biology exams than those students who did not eat breakfast. And while the benefits of eating breakfast are well-documented – it can improve concentration, reduce fatigue, sharpen memory – what you actually eat will determine whether or not you’ll reap those benefits.
Even if it’s for one day only, give yourself the unmentioned edge by eating to win. Research shows that by simply eating breakfast, one can improve concentration, mental performance, memory, problem-solving skills, and even mood.
steel-cut oatmeal + fresh blueberries
It’s ridiculously simple to make and also easy to find already prepared, steel-cut oatmeal is a powerful, hearty superfood that’s too brain-boosting to skip. Research suggest that this old-school go-to breakfast can not only improve brain function – memory and cognitive ability – but also stimulate serotonin production in the brain to boost your mood. The myriad of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and carbs can help boost your energy levels to maintain a steady level of energy to your brain and body. If preparing your oatmeal at home, try making it with skim or soy milk to boost your protein intake (brain performance is affected by the amount of protein in your diet). And if you want more of a boost, add a snatch of sliced almonds. Also, skip the sugar – if the berries didn’t sweeten up your oatmeal enough, try adding some honey.
eggs + whole wheat toast + fresh fruit
If there was ever a time you needed to remember stuff, test day would definitely be it. Research has found that consuming a specific nutrient from the vitamin B family called choline helps improve memory and attention-holding capacity. While eating a food rich in choline – like eggs – on the day of the MCAT when you never really eat it often won’t help much, for those who eat eggs more regularly, the benefits may be priceless. You can also rely on this high-protein meal to improve your focus and keep you feeling full long enough to hold you through your first break. And swapping out white bread for whole wheat bread will provide you with the complex carbs you need to help fuel brain function.
greek yogurt + blueberries + banana smoothie
This quick, morning starter is chock full of brain-boosting benefits. First there’s the blueberries, which as you already know are great brain food. And aside from stimulating blood and oxygen flow to the brain, these super fruits will also help kick in when the time comes to remember and recall information you’ve been studying over the last several months. For this fast option, you’ll need blueberries, a banana, greek yogurt, and oatmeal. In once study, researchers found that students who ate bananas at breakfast, break, and lunch were more alert through their exams. And when it comes to greek yogurt, this will be your secret weapon to help relieve any anxiety and stress you may experience building up to test time. But you’ll need to get a headstart with this one if you want to see the benefits. Specifically, researchers from UCLA’s School of Medicine reported that the probiotic-rich yogurt two times a day for a month reduced activity in the region of the brain that regulated these emotions.
whole wheat toast + lox + fresh fruit
If you want to fancy things up a bit, try this protein-filled bite of lox toast. This made the list because for starters salmon is a go-to source of omega-3 fatty acids which researchers say may help cells in the brain to communicate better. And again the whole wheat toast is going to be the best bet here since it will be more rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, zinc, and magnesium, but will also help you feel full longer. The protein and fiber you’ll get from the whole wheat toast will also supply you with a steady stream of energy. When it comes to what fruit to pair your meal with, you options are overflowing here; for the purpose of performing well on the MCAT, try a banana which will improve your mood, help you relax, and help sustain energy levels and concentration for the first few hours of the test. Or strawberries, oranges, apples, grapes, or kiwi which experts say improve memory recall and increase blood flow to the brain.
almond butter + whole wheat english muffin + fresh fruit
With a glass of low-fat milk, this simple, super-rich breakfast will deliver a ton of benefits – enhance memory and brain function, alter mood and cognition in a positive way. Packing a little more punch that the traditional peanut, contain essential nutrients proven to boost brain activity. So go ahead and spread this super nut on a whole wheat english muffin, slice of toast, or even a waffle. And, again, don’t forget the fruits. You have a whole lot to choose from when it comes to what’s best. Take your pick, but you can’t go wrong with blueberries of course!
This article was published in the May/June 2014 issue of PreMedLife magazine.