Coffee or energy drink before exams? Drink water instead

February 09, 2021 5 min read

Healthful lemon water

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 stated repeatedly on this blog before.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

WebMD, in an archived article [1], 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 to try

This Healthline.com article [2] has some advice for healthy alternatives to drinking caffeinated beverages before exams. One choice is water.

Another is milk. Some people say cow milk is detrimental to human health. Some brands of milk contain all those hormones, pesticides and antibiotics that hurt cows and people.

This speaker talks of the benefits of taking caffeine before college exams.

But 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.

Healthline says you should try:

  • Caffeine-free chicory coffee
  • Matcha tea with anti-oxidants
  • Lemon water, another anti-oxidant, with good citric acid that neutralizes bad acids
  • Yerba mate, a tea from South America that has about 80 mg of caffeine per cup
  • Chai, a black tea with herbs and spices
  • Rooibos or red tea
  • Apple cider vinegar, which is good for diabetics and has the good acid acetic acid in it
  • Kombucha, a fermented tea

If you want to drink water or another beverage without caffeine, you can always get your caffeine from Viter Energy Mints [3], with 40 mg of caffeine per mint. You would need about four mints to equal a cup of joe.

The mints also contain B vitamins. They are sugar-free and freshen the breath without damaging your teeth.

Avoid sugary fruit juices

Health experts advise against very sugary fruit juices but say 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.

Avoid fruit juices that have high sugar levels. One thing to avoid on the list of ingredients is high-fructose corn syrup. Try to drink natural juices that say "100% fruit juice" on the label. 

Green or black tea, even if it contains caffeine, is another good choice. Add some healthful stevia leaf sweetener or honey and some lemon juice to get the detoxifying effect of the citric acid.

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 [4] 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 [5] about readers’ experiences with energy drinks, stated:

JenniferHagerty 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 reported in an earlier blog posting [6], 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 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 article [7] refers to a scientific study and says the beneficial memory effects come after caffeine ingestion.

Avoid caffeine 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.

Sources:

[1] https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/6-reasons-to-drink-water#1

[2] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coffee-alternatives

[3] https://amzn.to/3jb7Gwg

[4] https://www.wisegeek.com/is-tea-healthier-than-coffee.htm

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/07/energy-drinks-health-readers-respond

[6] https://www.goviter.com/blogs/viter-energy-blog/is-caffeine-before-an-exam-a-good-or-bad-idea

[7] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/should-you-drink-coffee-before-or-after-a-learning-task/

Mark Miller
Mark Miller



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