How to Make Gains & Build Muscle at College
There is such a vast amount of information and guidance out there for the everyday gym-goer and fitness fanatic. But what about college students who want to adhere to a similar lifestyle?
College students are out on campus the majority of our day. Being away from our living space (whether it be an apartment, house, or dorm room) for long periods of time can throw a wrench into our seemingly easy plan to get and/or stay fit.
Depending on the size of your campus and the openness of your schedule, it can be fairly challenging to trek back and forth between classes and home for meals, gym necessities, or simply a few moments to recharge. So, how do we overcome this roadblock to gains?
Truthfully, the answer is a simple and timeless one: We must plan ahead. If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.
4 Tips to Help You Make and Maintain Gains on a College Campus
1) Plan and Prepare Your Meals in Advance
This is a pretty obvious and well-known concept for anyone who has previously taken on the journey of bettering his or her health and fitness.
When we don’t have food prepped ahead of time, we tend to reason that we’ll “do better tomorrow” and give into random, non-nutrient dense snacks and meals (food lacking any essential nutrients) throughout the day. That being said, what can you do to ensure that you are eating well and eating enough when you are a student without access to a refrigerator, stove, and/or microwave during the day (or ever)?
If you are lucky enough to live in an apartment like myself and have access to a kitchen, I urge you to learn how to cook and to do it often. Sure, a lot of us don’t have the time to prepare complicated, over-the-top dinners every single evening with the amount of homework and tasks we have to complete. With that said, I promise if you set aside an hour or two on say, a Sunday night, you can have 3-4 days worth of dinners prepped and ready to eat.
You will thank yourself later when you walk in the door from a long day and have the luxury of dinner being ready. There are an abundance of quick, tasty, wholesome recipes on Pinterest, YouTube channels, blogs, etc. That’s one beautiful thing about the Internet. I also cannot stress enough what a lifesaver the Crock-Pot (slow cooker) is for a student; it does the work for you and in larger amounts!
In addition, we must think and plan ahead for what we intend to fuel our bodies with during the day when we are not within an arm’s reach of the kitchen. This is also where planning and packing comes in handy on that Sunday evening while you’re making dinner for the week.
Pack and set out your meals! Baggies and Tupperware of fruit, veggies, cheese, nuts, yogurt… you name it. If they’re already packed and ready to grab every morning, you’re reducing your stress tremendously and adding more time to your day for other tasks. You’ll be focused and motivated in class while you get your education (i.e. brain gains) because you won’t be distracted by hunger pangs or sluggish feelings from a lack of vital nutrients your body needs to perform its best.
Now, this is all still fairly applicable to the student living in a dorm with minimal access to a kitchen. Make food purchases at the store (maybe even consider wholesale stores like Costco or Sam’s to buy in bulk) that are ready-to-eat, on-the-go style that you can easily throw in your backpack. On the other hand, if a university meal plan is all you have or can afford (albeit they are just as, if not more expensive, as grocery trips) make your choices count.
Quit falling back on the cheeseburger and french fries at the campus dining hall and go with choices you know have more nutritional value for you. If need be, take some time and educate yourself on nutrient-dense vs. non-nutrient dense foods! You will feel all-around better in both the classroom and the gym.
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2) Get Smart With Supplementation
Ah yes, supplements. In some circles supplements are notorious for having questionable and/or negative effects. The general public is always quick to question their safety and this is understandable.
However, for the average healthy adult (no history of or current health complications), I strongly feel that supplements can be a great and useful tool in making and maintaining gains, specifically for students who are living in dorms or out on campus all day and have to get creative to meet their daily macro and micronutrient intake. While packing food is great, sometimes you need a little something extra to account for maybe the fifth through eighth hour you’re not at home, because chances are, some of the food you pack will go bad or lose quality after 4 hours.
This is where a scoop of protein or meal replacement is very beneficial to have. Let’s not forget a dose of multi-vitamins or probiotics: Key things we need in our diet that students don’t always have the best means of ensuring they consume an adequate amount of.
See a physician if you are unsure if you’re healthy enough to be supplementing. If you are healthy enough, just be aware and read labels.
Supplements can be a great means to get your nutrition in line, but there are also a lot of products out there, and not all of them may be right for you. It’s also worth mentioning that ultimately no supplement could ever replace whole foods and hard work, so be honest with yourself and see to it that you’re doing your part.
3) Party Less, Cut Down on Alcohol
It should go without saying that if you really want to see and keep the best results, you need to kick alcohol off your list of priorities. It will ultimately be a huge setback to your progress and hard work if you’re drinking every weekend, which is unfortunately a huge norm on a college campus.
Take some time to search for other hobbies to partake in on the weekends (or you know, focus more on studying). If you know you can handle going out with your friends and having a good time without the alcohol, even better.
Moderation and balance is key, as with anything in life. Plus, let’s be real here… I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard the excuse, “Eating healthy is too expensive.” Last time I checked, so is drinking and tipping your bartender all night.
4) Rest More and More and More
The most redundant but crucial bit of advice: Get a good night’s sleep!
When you allow your body to get those 6-8 hours of sleep every night, you are setting yourself up for success the following day. Your energy levels will be up and long lasting, you won’t be crabby, and you decrease the chances of cravings and indulgences.
When you lack sleep, your brain actually responds with a greater desire for unhealthy foods and higher calorie consumption. To go along with these negative effects, decreased sleep over time can lower your immune system, and who really ever has time to get sick? Especially in college. By not sleeping, you’re ultimately ruining your gains in and out of the classroom. Rest, rest, rest.
Get an A+ on Making Gains
Living on a college campus and being away from home is already a pretty unique experience that takes some getting used to, so it’s only inevitable that a decent amount of students tend to feel stressed or lost when trying to tackle their health and fitness goals among all of their other responsibilities. With planning, patience, and a clear-cut will and desire to reach those goals, anything can happen.
Just as you would organize and prepare for your college courses and tests, you must do the same with your diet and training; organize, make a plan, and execute it!