When Sunday night rolls around and none of his homework is done, Brandon Burr keeps procrastinating. The University of Illinois sophomore plays Minesweeper marathons, watches college football and snacks on goldfish crackers and burritos, stressing over how he's going to accomplish so much in so little time.
His roommate Mark eats a tube of Pringles every day.
The good news is that food can help. Focusing on so-called "functional foods," according to experts, can combat exhaustion and stress, and help keep college students on top of their game.
Natural grains and vitamin-packed produce are worth singling out, said nutrition and food-science professor Mary Ellen Camire of the University of Maine.
Camire suggests a fruit salad of cantaloupe and berries. The natural coloring (anthocyanin in scientific parlance) in the berries helps ramp up brain function. For a dual punch, blend a smoothie of blueberries and yogurt. The active bacteria from the yogurt and antioxidants in the berries combat common illness, said Camire. But eat the yogurt daily, because the bacteria won't stay in your system long.
"Keep replenishing 'em. I swear by it," she said.
If you plan to spend the weekend drinking your worries away, a mid-afternoon cup of Ramen noodles isn't going to alleviate your hangover. Instead, stick to harder-to-digest foods that are high in protein and soluble fiber, like oatmeal and apples. These foods stay in your stomach longer, keeping you full and slowing your body's absorption of alcohol. And eat something substantial before going out.
But Kirk Parkin, a food-science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, isn't a big fan of magic brain foods.
"Most likely, a balanced diet, with copious quantities of fruits, vegetables and grains, with frequent exercise, will help promote health as much as any one food you could ingest," he argued.
Mmmm, Chocolate Milk!
But everybody knows that's much easier said than done.
Food can also be used to fix out-of-whack sleep schedules that lead to insomnia at night and sleepiness during the day. One trick: the traditional sleep-inducing glass of warm milk can be made more palatable with chocolate syrup, attested Camire.
Lean turkey is also a sleep-inducer, said Parkin: "Trying to get to sleep is mostly an anxiety issue," and turkey contains a relatively high level of tryptophan, an amino acid that is the precursor to serotonin, a hormone that tells the body it is time to sleep.
"It's really knowing yourself and knowing which foods respond to your body," said Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of Mindful Eating 101: A Guide to Healthy Eating in College and Beyond.
Meanwhile, caffeine intake should be moderate, stressed Camire. She suggests keeping a list of caffeine drinks — coffee, tea, chocolate — you use during the day to keep from overindulging. Too much caffeine will also interrupt your sleep, she said.
Once you've taken that exam and forgotten about it, it's common to celebrate with a bit of sugar and a lot of booze. Instead of hard-core sweets or fats, buy a dark-chocolate bar, which could prove beneficial.
The chocolate has antioxidants that prevent oxygen and free radicals from damaging your body, according to food experts. Add some vitamin C — orange slices, for example — and you'll have a smart and sweet alternative treat. Plus, the chocolate is an antidepressant so even if you think you bombed the test, you'll feel a bit better.