The MCAT is a monster of a test that can take over 7 hours when you include break times. During those 7 hours, you are pushing your brain to the limit. You will get hungry and the right food can be pivotal for mental stamina.
Eating the wrong things can be detrimental.
Every MCAT “expert” will give you the same obvious advice: “Eat Wholesome grains, fruit, and proteins. Avoid greasy foods and sugar.”
Well, duh. Anyone can tell you that eating healthy is a good idea and Taco Bell probably isn’t.
I’m not here to give you a broad overview of what’s good and what’s bad to eat. I went to the source and surveyed 44 premed students for ideas on practical MCAT lunch and snack ideas.
What Food Should You Bring To The MCAT?
During the MCAT you actually want to avoid any large portions of food, even during your 30-minute lunch break. The key is to bring small, easily digestible snacks such as granola bars, nuts, and fruits. A small pb&j or cold-cut sandwich is fine for those who need a little more nourishment.
After surveying 44 premed students who took the MCAT, I came up with a list of the most popular snacks to bring to the MCAT, leading to a good experience.
- PB&J sandwich
- Cold cut sandwich
- Chicken wrap
- Nuts (almost everyone said almonds)
- Granola bars
- Cliff bars (One of my personal favorites! Small but surprisingly filling)
- Protein bars
- Wheat thin crackers
- Trail mix
- Fruit (Bananas and oranges were most popular)
- Peanut butter to-go cups (Jif makes these perfect snack-sized cups)
- Chicken nuggets
- Mac and cheese
- Soylent (Never had it myself but people seem to like it)
- Beef jerky
The most common trend I found was that premeds preferred to eat small snacks during each break. Almost nobody brought a sandwich or full lunch meal to the MCAT.
The 2 main reasons to avoid larger meals during the MCAT:
- Large portions of food can make you really sleepy.
- There really is no time during breaks. Trust me, 30 minutes might sound like enough time but you lose like 5 minutes on average just signing back into the testing room. You will then probably have to pee. The 10-minute breaks are a joke.
Foods and Drinks To Avoid During The MCAT
The obvious piece of advice here is to avoid eating unhealthy foods. Avoid anything greasy or sugary. Although don’t be afraid of a little bit of sugar, it can help during the last draining hours of the exam.
It is also very important that you don’t eat things you normally wouldn’t eat. Even if it’s something most would consider healthy. The MCAT is not the time to test your tummy.
Personally, I would also avoid fiber. Fiber is normally a good thing, but you don’t want to have a bathroom emergency during the MCAT.
What To Do During Your MCAT Breaks
Your MCAT breaks are very short. Take advantage of these breaks to go to the bathroom, have a sip of water, and quickly eat a snack.
As you are probably aware you get two 10 minute breaks and one 30 minute break.
Every time you go back to the exam room you need to be checked in. This usually takes around 3 minutes, unless there is a line in which case it can take longer! That means you really are only getting like 7 minutes or less during your two short breaks. That is maybe enough time to go to the bathroom and chow down a quick snack.
It may be tempting to just power through and skip your short breaks but I don’t recommend doing this. Even though these breaks seem like no time at all, there is a huge benefit to stretching your legs and giving your brain a mental break before tackling the next section.
What To Eat For Breakfast Before The MCAT
What you eat for breakfast before the MCAT is more important than what you eat during the MCAT. We surveyed the same premed students for what they ate before the MCAT.
Here are the most popular choices.
- Bacon cheese egg bites from Starbucks
Test Different Foods During Your Full-Length Practice Tests
While studying for the MCAT you should be taking full-length practice tests in the same context you would take the real MCAT.
First, you will want to wake up at the same time you plan on waking up for the actual MCAT. Drive somewhere such as a library so that you aren’t taking the MCAT in your own home. Take breaks as you would during the actual MCAT and don’t cheat yourself with a longer break!
Pack the same snacks and lunch you would for the actual MCAT. Test what works for you. What do you really have time to eat that can nourish you for the entire test?
Can You Drink Water During The MCAT?
You cannot bring a drink into the actual MCAT testing area. You can only drink water during your breaks, so plan accordingly!
What Drinks Should You Bring To The MCAT?
I’ve heard the advice to cut out all caffeine during the MCAT so that you don’t get the jitters or have to use the bathroom too frequently. This is among the worst advice you could possibly follow.
If you are a regular coffee drinker then do not cut this out for the MCAT. You do not want to be testing how you perform without caffeine. The reality is that if you drink coffee regularly you have developed some sort of dependence on it.
Although the testing center might have a water fountain, don’t count on it. Pack your own water bottles.
One of the most popular suggested drinks for the MCAT is Gatorade. I totally agree with that option. Yes, it contains some sugar (Depending on which one you buy), but there is a value to drinking electrolytes when working your brain so hard.