Written by Ewa Januszkiewicz
Let’s get real for a second:
|WHAT PEOPLE SAY
|WHAT IT ACTUALLY MEANS
|“I’m too busy to go to the gym”
|Training is not a priority for me
|“I’m too tired from working/studying all day to lift”
|Training is not a priority for me
|“My lifts are not improving because I don’t have access to healthy food”
|Nutrition is not a priority for me
It’s all about priorities.
Currently, I work full time at a molecular neuroimaging company and attend postgraduate courses part time after work. On top of all of this, I have to manage my lifting schedule, and still find time to grocery shop, cook, shower, and sleep. Would I be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult and hectic? Yes. But would I also be lying if I said it wasn’t possible? Yes.
Balancing your schedule to fit all of your daily tasks can seem daunting, but it all comes down to priorities. With some organization and sacrifice you can successfully maintain a solid nutrition, training and recovery program, while achieving as a student. This might mean skipping Thirsty Thursday celebrations and hitting the gym for a late night squat session, or going grocery shopping on Saturday morning (instead of sleeping in because you’re so hung over) so that you can meal prep on Sunday. Before you continue reading, ask yourself, what are you willing to sacrifice to achieve greatness?
Let’s start with nutrition. When I was an undergraduate student, I found this to be one of the most difficult components of my success as an athlete. I resided in campus housing, and was therefore also on the campus food plan. This gave me limited choices on what I had to eat if I was trying to adhere to a healthy diet. Oftentimes, I didn’t adhere to a healthy diet at all. This is where I faltered severely. Through my struggle, I picked up a few bits of knowledge. Here are some of the tips I learned for maintaining good nutritional practices while at school:
- If you are able to, hire a professional.
If you can afford to, hire someone who will keep you accountable for your nutritional practices. This will also take a load off of you to plan your meals and track your macros. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, even something as simple as an RP auto template (roughly $100) can keep you on track to hitting or maintaining your goal weight.
- Ensure you eat enough around your workout time.
Given that class schedules can differ from day to day, make sure the bulk of your eating is directly before, during, and directly after your workout[i]. This includes the bulk of your carbohydrate intake for the day. Eat foods that will provide you with energy when your body needs it. Can’t get a workout in until 7 pm? Fill your morning and afternoon with quality protein sources, high nutrient vegetables, and healthy fats to keep you satiated. My favorite high fat snack: Whole foods honey roasted peanut butter (be careful because you might end up eating the entire container in one sitting…it is dangerous). If the dining hall closes and you can’t get any food after your workout, make sure to grab items that you can eat without much effort that still provide you with high protein/ high carbohydrates, such as a banana (about 25 g of carbs), and low fat yogurt (example: fage total 0 or 2% have about 20 g of protein per serving).
- Cook while you sleep.
Say again? Cook while you sleep? Yes. If you have the ability to cook your own food and make your own meals, I highly suggest you do so. Meal prep is critical to giving you more insight and control over your nutritional intake. My number 1 go to? A slow cooker! You can throw all of your ingredients in one container, turn it on, and you’re good to go. By decreasing the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, you will free up time for other things, like sleeping. By prepping your food, you are also able to eat everyday fairly mindlessly, which will make it easier for you to stay on track with your macros throughout your busy day.
Other minor tips include:
- Using an app to help you track your macros
- Bringing your prepped food with you to lectures or to the library to free up time
- Skipping high calorie coffees/lattes and opting for low carb/low fat energy or diet drinks
Given all of this about nutrition, I would still suggest allowing your body to build muscle during this stage in your life. Do not limit your success because of a number on a scale. Allow your body to get stronger in your natural weight class before making any decisions about weight classes.
Sticking to a training cycle while at school can sometimes feel impossible, but if you treat training like you do a regular academic class, you will find the time and motivation to go do it. Personally, having the motivation to go train (or practice for soccer) was rarely a problem, because for me it was an outlet. It was my escape from all of the work I had to do for my academics. It helped me clear my mind and keep myself from stressing out. The following are my tips for sticking to a training cycle while in college:
- Train with others.
The most obvious one is to join a powerlifting team if your school has one. There is no better way to keep yourself accountable than to have a coach and a team that depends on you. If there is no collegiate team at your university, you can opt for the second best option of training with a club team. The individuals in the club share a common interest with you and can push you when you feel unmotivated. Don’t have a club team? Start one! Finally, you can try to work at the gym you lift at in order to help you get yourself to the gym in the first place. If you’re already there, you have no choice but to lift and stick to your program.
- Pencil it into your schedule (make it a priority).
Make your lifting program second only to your coursework. Establish a block of time that is not flexible. In other words, do NOT plan meetings, study times, lunch dates, or anything that might deter you from going to the gym and getting your training in during that block of time. Try to train at the same time everyday in order to make it a necessary part of your daily regimen.
Knowing you have to step on the platform and perform in front of an audience should be enough to fuel your desire to train. However, if your ultimate goal is not to compete, then simply give yourself a deadline of hitting a specific goal. Such goals can be created with a strength coach or independently if you’re a knowledgeable lifter.
To the average student, the words ‘recovery’ and ‘college’ are essentially antonyms. Between the late night study parties, time spent in class and lab, actual parties, binge drinking all weekend at local bars, fast food, and time spent with friends, recovery sounds like the last thing you’re capable of doing. However, as previously mentioned, life is about prioritizing. Recovery is crucial to being successful in any endeavor. Having said that, allow yourself to be successful academically and in training by allowing your mind and body to rest. Without proper recovery, you will not perform to your potential, and also risk injuring yourself. The following are some quick tips for recovering while in college:
- Utilize your school’s resources.
You have so many amazing recovery tools at your fingertips! Do not let them go to waste during your time at school. Your athletic trainers are not only for the school’s top athletes. Make an appointment with them to get treatment for injuries, use the muscle stim machine, or to jump into the ice bath.
Must I say more? How many scientific studies do you have to read to believe that sleep is directly correlated to both academic and athletic success? Pick a reasonable bed time based on your schedule and stick to it everyday.
- Understand what it really means to recover and how to do it properly.
Many people think recovery is simply foam rolling and stretching. Be aware of the various stressors that can inhibit proper recovery and educate yourself about how to maximize your efforts to recover. I suggest reading Erick Avila’s article, How to Monitor your Recovery which discusses the various methods to optimize your body’s recovery. Some of these include hydration levels, sleep monitoring, and keeping a nutrition log.
Prioritizing your time is pivotal to your success on the platform while balancing college and lifting. Establish a system of accountability to ensure you do not stray from your program, and seek guidance from a strength and nutrition coach when you can. Determine what recovery tools you have control over and capitalize on those offered to you by your institution. By tracking your nutrition, training, and recovery, you will surely enhance your performance in the classroom and on the platform.
[i] Israetel, Mike. The Renaissance Diet. (2014)