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Coffee or energy drink before exams? Why water and other beverages are better

by Mark Miller December 08, 2016

Coffee or energy drink before exams? Why water and other beverages are better

Coffee before exams? Say you have a big mid-term or final exam coming up. You should power down big doses of caffeine in coffee or an energy drink, right? Not according to what we’ve read online. There are few formal, scientific studies about what to drink before exams, but the anecdotal evidence seems to point to water as the best beverage beforehand.

It’s important to get enough water so you don’t become fatigued from dehydration. That said, you can get some water from drinking coffee or energy drinks. Those old stories about coffee being a diuretic are true, but only if you drink so much that you get excess amounts of caffeine. Coffee and other caffeine-containing products are healthy for you when taken in moderate amounts, as we have written several times on this blog before.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

WebMD, in an archived article, states why hydration (drinking water or other fluids or eating water-containing foods) is so important:

  • It has the obvious benefit of maintaining the balance of bodily fluids, which helps maintain normal digestion, circulation, saliva creation, transportation of nutrients, and helps keep the body temperature right.
  • If you’re thirsty, don’t drink a high-calorie coffee drink, substitute it with water. You’ll get hydrated, and you won’t be consuming all those extra calories and maybe gaining weight
  • Water helps energize muscles and keeps people alert and awake, which can help with it comes to exam time, whether the night before or the day of the exam.

Getting adequate water also helps the skin and maintains the efficacious movement of the bowels, WebMD states.

Other beverages suffice

This article, on Kaptest.com, has some advice for healthy alternatives to drinking caffeinated beverages before exams. The first one it mentions is water. The next is milk. Some people say cow milk, which is said to contain all those hormones, pesticides and antibiotics, is detrimental to human health.

But Kaptest.com says milk gives energy, including a mental boost with its acetylcholine, a neural transmitter that helps improve memory and stimulate the nervous system. It also has calcium, vitamin D, A and B, potassium, magnesium, protein and carbohydrates. Milk’s nutrients protect from disease and make the skin and bones and teeth healthier, the article states.

No sugary fruit juices

Kaptest.com also advises against very sugary fruit juices but says natural fruit and vegetable juices are good for health and energy. They can help a person satisfy the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, too. The article states:

Check your nutrition labels to watch out for juices that are very high in sugar content such as drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup; look for natural juices or juices made with 100 percent fruit juice to get natural energy or these juices prove no better than coffee. In addition, these juices will keep you hydrated to beat that fatigue problem.

Green or black tea, even if it contains caffeine, is another good choice. Some teas have much less caffeine than coffee. Most black teas contain less caffeine than coffee, and green tea contains a bit less caffeine than black tea. Here is a breakdown of some of products’ caffeine contents:

Benefits of green tea

Wisegeek.org has an article about the benefits of tea vs. the benefits of coffee that states:

Extensive research has been conducted on the health benefits of tea and coffee. Although research has indicated that coffee does have some health benefits, these are far outweighed by the health benefits of tea. Almost all varieties contain high levels of anti-oxidants, which are nutrients and vitamins that help purge the human body of toxins.

The article states that green tea is the most beneficial form of tea and may help prevent cancer, prevent dental plaque, and lower blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Some people think green tea also slows the aging process because of its large amounts of antioxidants, which are thought to help prevent the body’s deterioration.

Energy drinks

The Guardian, in an article about readers’ experiences with energy drinks, stated: “ Jennifer Hagerty from Oxford uses coffee, caffeine pills and Red Bull for energy around exam time and to get an edge at the gym. She has felt her stomach churning, and one friend had to rest for weeks after too much caffeine. ‘To be honest, we’d probably be better off on Ritalin or something, but no-one’s happy to take the risk.’”

Coffee before exams?

All that said, there does appear to be an optimal caffeine intake, amounts that vary from person to person, to take before an exam. As we wrote on this blog in February 2016, if you can find the optimal amount of caffeine for your own metabolism, one study found the stimulating chemical can enhance memory. And the amount the study recommends is about half as much as the 400 mg of caffeine per day that healthy adults are advised to limit themselves to.

One subhead in that posting states: Is caffeine before an exam a good or a bad idea? Yes

A Scientific American magazine article, online here, states:

“Popular wisdom holds that caffeine enhances learning, alertness and retention, leading millions to consume coffee or caffeinated drinks before a challenging learning task such as attending a business strategy meeting or a demanding scientific presentation,” the article states. The Scientific American articlerefers to a scientific study and says the beneficial memory effects come after caffeine ingestion.

Not too late in the day

It’s good to remember this: Never drink coffee or take caffeine so late in the day that it interferes with your sleep, especially before an exam or other big life event. Adequate sleep helps keep one alert and feeling rested and well. Common sense says feeling adequately rested would help with memory and cognitive function more than caffeine even, but that statement is more in the realm of opinion and is not backed up by science.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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