First and foremost, thank you for your interest in my article. You either read the title and thought, “what kind of bulls@#% is this!?” or you believed me. Either way, you were interested enough to allow me the chance to elaborate.
I am a current professional student in a full-time vigorous physical therapy program. I also have continued to maintain a number of online and onsite fitness clients during school. Additionally, I am in somewhat of a relationship, I own an old and needy dog, I’m
completely financially independent, and I part-take in social events 2-3x per week. Despite the balancing act I just described, I have managed to maintain my personal idea of optimal fitness level and health.
I will break down the different aspects of college life into several Parts; each providing you with helpful information on how you can manage it to do exactly what the title says. Before I do this, I want you to understand something- you can’t have everything exactly the way you want it. You only have a certain number of days/hours in a week, you only have so much money in your bank account, and I can promise you there will be potholes and deviations almost regularly. The sooner you accept this reality, the better. Remember, you won’t be in college forever (although sometimes it feels that way). It’s up to you to find the right balance for you that allows you to stay in shape, get good grades, not go broke, and still maintain a social life.
PART ONE – DIET
There are two types of healthy diets. Those that are completely balanced, include a large variety of vegetables and fruits, all organic, never frozen, combined into delicious meal combinations…and then there are those that are realistic for a college student. Flat out, you’re going to have to make some compromises.
Here are 10 diet tips I have compiled from what I find works in college.
Tip #1: Buy generic/store brands over brand names
Some stores are better than others (I think Kroger is the king), but most commercial stores have some generic option of most foods, they are usually comparable in taste (though there are exceptions), and its much cheaper; buy it.
Tip # 2: Always look for discounts
They may not look too appealing, but discounts add up over the course of 3-4 years, and can potentially save you thousands in student debt. Also, compare for the cost per oz. (or whatever the measurement they use) that is usually included on the on the price tag to make sure the discounted price is really the cheapest.
Tip #3: Steamed vegetables
Most grocery stores have awesome BOGO deals on these. For example, my store has a 10/$10 deal. Each bag has 4-6 servings. Thats 40-60 servings of vegetables for $10!! They may not have the same edible qualities nor the same outstanding nutritional profile as their freshly-picked counterparts, but they get the job done for a college student.
“Thats 40-60 servings of vegetables for $10!!”
Tip #4: Buy in bulk, cook in bulk
Bags of rice, large packs of chicken, large containers of dairy, etc. The larger you buy, the more you will save per serving. However, make sure you buy what you can finish by being observant to expiration dates; not finishing foods you bought in bulk can lead to losing money.
Tip #5: Stop eating out so much
Going to eat with friends or your significant other occasionally is okay, but it shouldn’t be very frequent. Your typical restaurant meal is $20. That’s equivalent to 10 bags of veggies, 8lbs of chicken, a dozen eggs, and a large bag of un-cooked rice. Two or three times a month is fine; two or three times a week is not!
Tip #6: Make simpler meals
I can eat a bowl of rice, steamed broccoli, and chicken with some fat free sauce, e.g., hot sauce and seasoning for dirt cheap, and it would take ZERO time to prepare if done in bulk. Can you say the same for your 20 ingredient meal full of spices, blends, and chopped up wholesome produce? NO WAY. If you have always been someone who makes every meal elaborate, you’re going to have to change your ways. I typically eat 4-6x a day, if I were to spend 30 minutes preparing every meal, I would be in the kitchen for 2-3 hours simply cooking. Additionally, more ingredients = more money. If you like lots of spices in your foods, get them at the Dollar Store.
Tip #7: Eat faster
This doesn’t simply mean chew faster, although I would suggest that as well. Eating faster requires multi-tasking. For example, if I have a multiple item meal and one item requires cooking, I will eat the other items while waiting. This can save you hours throughout the week and you get fuller faster, so you won’t eat more than you need.
Tip #8: Eat the same foods daily
I eat relatively the same thing everyday; in fact, I have included a sample daily write-up of my day of eating at the bottom of this article. Eating the same day may not be the most exciting practice, but it is VITAL for productivity. It allows you to:
- Hit your macro numbers without calculating everything everyday.
- Quicker grocery trips
- Faster and easier food packing for a long day away from home or traveling
- Less wasted food. You know you’re 100% going to eat what you buy and how much you need of it.
- Less mental time spent planning/worrying about what you’re going to eat all day
You can still have variety with this practice! For example, buy different apple types, different vegetable blends, chicken one week and turkey the next, etc. Minor swaps are easy, possible and alleviate food boredom!
Tip #9: Handle your nights out better
- Keep fat calories low throughout the day if you know you’re going out. Drinking is full of calories, so you’re going to need make roo
m somewhere in your diet. Fat isn’t as crucial from day-to-day as protein and carbohydrates are for the aspiring fitness enthusiast.
- Only bring cash to the bar. This may limit your drink purchases, control your blood alcohol levels, and can even prevent your after bar Jimmy Johns run.
- Either drink straight shots or drinks with sugar-free mixers. When I say this, I always get the “diet drinks aren’t good for you!”. My response? You’re drinking alcohol, which is essentially poison anyway. Keep your diet beverage intake as seldom as your alcohol intake; moderation is key.
Tip #10: Choose your supplements properly
Supplements should be used for..supplementing! I know this sounds obvious, but fitness enthusiasts have lost touch with this principle. You should choose supplements based on whether or not they can fill a gap in your diet. Here are the supplements I recommend for a college student on a budget:
- Protein dense foods are not cheap, replacing 1-2 of those $$ meals with a shake isn’t optimal, but it is effective and cost efficient.
- Eating lean protein foods are often inconvenient. They smell, they usually need refrigeration, and typically take some type of preparation. A shake can save you useful time and money…and friends.
- The lack of variety in your diet can keep you a little low in micronutrients; a daily multi can help fill the void.
- Dairy can be expensive and impractical for people who are often on the go, a calcium supplement may help fill the lack of calcium dairy provides.
- College students drink a lot of caffeine and this can hurt your bone density, but calcium can help. Just make sure you don’t mix the two at the same time, because they fight over the same receptor upon absorption, so you get benefit from only one.
- I honestly don’t recommend this, due to its dependency. However, I typically keep some for emergencies, like long days at class, lack of sleep, etc.
- If you’re someone who needs one every workout, I would suggest get a non-stimulant. As a student ,you need caffeine for studying more than working out, so choose the dosage frequency wisely to keep your tolerance low.
This list is certainly not meant to be all-inconclusive and may not work for your exact lifestyle and needs. That being said, several clients and I have used these techniques with great success. It’s up to you to find the perfect balance that allows you to stay in shape, get good grades, not go broke, and still maintain a social life.
Next Part: Exercise
Sample Daily Diet
Meal 1: 53c/37p/20f
230g egg whites: 0c/25p/0f
14g sharp cheddar cheese: 0c/3p/4f
2 rice cakes: 22c/2c/0f
21g honey: 17c/0p/0f
32g peanut butter: 8c/7p/16f
Meal 2: 59c/40p/11f
Bag of steamed vegetables: 32c/8p/0f
1 apple: 24c/1p/0f
5oz chicken: 0p/28p/4f
14g mixed nuts: 3c/3p/7f
Meal 3: 77c/42p/20.5f
wheat bagel: 50c/11p/1.5f
21g honey: 17c/0p/0f
32g peanut butter: 8c/7p/16f
31g whey protein: 2c/24p/1f
2x fish oil: 0c/0p/2f
Meal 4: 119c/43p/6f
400g sweet potato: 82c/8p/1f
2 caramel rice cakes: 22c/2p/0f
14g honey: 7c/op/0f
6oz chicken: 0c/33p/5f
Meal 5: 117c/38p/8f
90g dry cereal: 72c/6p/3f
1 cup brown rice: 45c/4p/2f
5oz chicken: 0c/28p/3f
Meal 6: 19c/35p/15f
4 carbmaster yogurts: 16c/32p/6f
14g almonds: 3c/3p/7f
2x fish oil: 0c/0p/2f
Note: These numbers are not universal, and I merely shared this to demonstrate the simplicity of my old choices, and further illustrate what I eat 80% of the time. Also, I do not weigh my food, but know a general ballpark of serving sizes through experience.
Kyle Blair, BS Exercise Physiology, CPT, SPT