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Finals are a stressful time of year for most college students, and one may not realize how his or her eating habits impact academic success and productivity.

Some students tend to load up on sugar and quick snacks in order to study, but what seems like a good idea in the short-run may not always pay off in the long-run.

Some students may try to completely change their diet to focus on healthy eating for finals, but Allison Childress, registered dietitian and assistant professor and director of the online master’s program for the Tech Nutritional Sciences department, said making a huge dieting change could cause more problems than it solves.

“Any sort of drastic change, whether that’s a positive change or a negative change, is going to throw our bodily processes off a little bit,” she said. “This can lead to things like mental fog. It can lead to issues with either sleeping too much or some insomnia. It can lead to issues with energy, focus and concentration levels.”

Students sometimes use simple sugars like caffeine to stay awake and study longer, Childless said. This can end up throwing off bodily processes more.

“What happens is students actually sabotage themselves,” she said. “So, they’ll stay up all night studying and drinking coffee or energy drinks or whatever and maybe they studied well, but then when it’s time to go and actually take the exam, and they’re coming back down off of that caffeine, they can see some bad effects of that.”

Coffee is not all bad, however, as Childress said it is fine in moderation. Students still can enjoy their beverages, but they should simply impose the recommended 400-milligram daily limit.

“In an eight-ounce cup of coffee, there’s anywhere from about 120 to 150 milligrams of caffeine, so you can have two,” Childress said. “Now granted, that’s an eight-ounce cup of coffee, and rarely do we drink eight ounces — we’re usually drinking 16 or 20 ounces of coffee. In that case, it may be one coffee a day is going to give you enough caffeine, so you don’t have to stay away from it.”

A problem can arise when one combines coffee with other forms of caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks and sodas, but Childress said it is possible to gain energy without harsh consequences.

“I think timing it is important,” she said. “It usually takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for you to start to see the effects of caffeine. If you’re needing it to study, I would probably start drinking it early in the studying bout because the effects of caffeine can last for a while. And just sip on it. Keep it to those recommended amounts and try not to go over that, and then also making sure that as you are drinking coffee that you’re also drinking water.”

To prepare to the best of one’s abilities, Childress said students should try to maintain their average nutritional routine during finals week and should hydrate with non-caffeinated, unsweetened drinks, such as water. She said students who want to make a big change to their diet should do so about six weeks before finals.

“Other than hydration and limiting caffeine, you really want your body to stay kind of in that homeostasis that it’s been in because even though you think you might be making a positive change, your body might rebel a little bit against you,” Childress said.

Healthy dining options can be found throughout campus. Alan Cushman, manager of business development for Hospitality Services, said supporting student health and success is a team effort involving employees including a director, an executive chef and registered dietitians, such as Mindy Diller, unit manager for Tech Hospitality Services, who oversee the food selection provided to students.

 “One of the big things that Mindy has been instrumental in developing is our Smart Choices Wellness Program. This is a program that is going on yearly, it’s fall, it’s spring, it’s summertime,” Cushman said. “It’s not something that we see students just perk up at certain times wanting. It’s a daily need that we see our students are looking for, and faculty and stuff like that.”

The Smart Choices Wellness Program at Tech is meant to help students navigate their dietary needs, Diller said.

“It has a couple of components,” she said. “We have our website, we have brochures, we have a blog post that we post every week, we have nutritional videos and then, certainly, nutritional content like nutrition facts and things like that for each location and all of our foods on campus.”

Students may look to resources such as “MyPlate,” the government-led alternative to the food pyramid, for a simple explanation of what is healthy to eat in a meal, Diller said. Some foods provide more useful energy than others.

“Having quality carbohydrates from whole grains over simple carbohydrates, like those quick sugars and things that don’t last a long time in the digestive system, and then adding in things that have brain power, like servings of seafood and berries and avocados and walnuts, things like that that have Omega-3s, which is going to be that fish and the walnuts, and then healthy fats from avocados and of course, those berries for that antioxidant brainpower,” she said.

Finals and interim hours for on-campus dining can be found under the Quick Links area on the Hospitality Services website homepage.

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