The Impact of Training and Diet on Cognitive Performance

Studies show the average college student eats fewer fruits and veggies, lots of processed/artificial food, and are prone to eating disorders…among the most malnourished people in the U.S.

Students are among the most malnourished people in the country. Multiple studies have shown that the average college student is lacking in fruits and vegetables, eats a lot of processed and artificial food, and may even be more prone to eating disorders. All in all, students tend to have a pretty poor diet—the result of lack of money, over-stress, social pressure, and many other factors.

But did you know that your academic performance could be suffering as a result? According to a recent study, a small increase in your iron intake could lead to a noticeable rise in your GPA. Add exercise into the mix, and you’ll see real improvement.

A team of researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln analyzed 105 female college students with an average GPA of 3.68. After putting the students through a number of tests, it was discovered that the students with the highest level of iron in their blood also had the highest grades. Fitness also played a role in academic performance; students that were fit had higher grades than students who weren’t fit, even if their iron stores were the same.

The truth is that iron is one of the most important minerals in the human body. It’s needed to produce red blood cells, which transport oxygen and nutrients to every tissue, muscle, bone, and organ. Without iron, you’re at a far higher risk of fatigue, a decrease in your work capacity, attention problems, and more—all of which can affect your academic performance negatively.

The study did find that fitness (exercise) was the most significant factor in academic performance. The fitter, healthier students tended to be better than the ones who just had higher blood iron levels. However, in the students that were both fit and had higher iron levels tended to have the highest GPA.

The difference in points: as much as 0.34. It may not sound like a lot, but that could be the difference between an A and a B. If you care about your GPA, you definitely want to spend more time exercising and eat more iron-rich foods.

“Improving fitness or maintaining a high level of fitness can be important for collegiate success,” said Karsten Koehler, assistant professor of nutrition and health sciences at Nebraska. “Ideally, we should also make sure the diet is appropriate to prevent nutrient deficiencies.”

An unfit person who makes good on a New Year’s resolution will not suddenly improve their GPA, Koehler said, “but there’s profound evidence that it goes hand-in-hand — that training has an effect on cognitive performance.”


1. Samuel P Scott, Mary Jane De Souza, Karsten Koehler, Laura E Murray-Kolb. “Combined Iron Deficiency and Low Aerobic Fitness Doubly Burden Academic Performance among Women Attending University.” The Journal of Nutrition, 2017; 147 (1): 104 DOI: 10.3945/jn.116.240192.

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