Ramen noodle cups lie scattered around your room. Laundry is overflowing from the hamper. And there's nothing but ketchup, hot sauce, and a couple of highly questionable beverages in the mini fridge. It must be the start of a new semester.
The start of classes typically signals the end of consistent training and healthy eating behaviors. Bye-bye working out when you feel like it and having the time to prepare (or have Mom or Dad prepare) food at your convenience. Hello, cafeteria food and your only form of exercise being when you need to run to class because you overslept.
Despite what many people in your situation will tell you, it doesn't have to be this way! You can keep exercise and nutrition high on the priority list while still getting everything done academically and socially. Just don't wait until momentum swings too far in the other direction.
Dymatize athlete Brandan Fokken and I have both been there, so we've got a few hard-won tips to help you fit it all in.
1. Schedule your workout like your classes
You have your class schedule plastered everywhere: your fridge, your phone, and your laptop. You expect yourself to be in biology class Tuesday and Thursday at 11:00 a.m., so why not create the same attendance expectation when it comes to your workout? Put your workout right there on the calendar like any other crucial, non-negotiable item.
By scheduling your workout just like you do your classes, you'll be able to say "no" to other things that come up and go into the weight room with both a plan and a time limit. That's when good stuff happens.
2. Find a workout partner who can match your schedule
The bulk of your day will be taken up by classes, group meetings, extracurricular activities, and potentially an internship or job. Even with your workout tightly scheduled, it will be easy to click "ignore" to that notification sometimes. But it'll be a lot harder if you know you'll be leaving a friend in a lurch.
Find a friend who wants the same accountability you're looking for, and make a pact to train together as often as your schedules allow. Have each other's contact info, and don't be afraid to bug each other about showing up—and doing it on time. Sometimes, you just need a nudge getting to the gym. Once you're there, you'll be grateful you got it done.
3. Have a backup plan for the gym
The times you want—or are finally able—to train may not be the best times for the campus gym. This is especially true if you're looking to smash a chest workout Monday at 5 p.m. along with the rest of the university. Or maybe you're a night owl who likes to train after doing your homework, and the gym hours don't accommodate your needs.
Don't shy away from a home workout! Even 20 minutes in the dorm room or apartment living space will be enough to get your blood pumping and endorphins flowing. "Buy exercise bands, and leave them under your bed" suggests Fokken.
Any exercise you can do with a dumbbell or barbell can most likely be done with a band, and Fokken is a big fan of bodyweight exercises when gym equipment isn't available. "You can do push-ups, squats, jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, lunges, and countless ab exercises almost anywhere," he says.
4. Stock up on snacks
Many days of the week, you may leave your home early in the morning, only to return late in the evening. "You'll probably rely on eating out more when you're in college," warns Fokken. If you rely on dining out each meal during the day, it's likely your wallet and waistline will take a hit. Having a campus meal plan can make getting enough calories no problem, but it can also open the flood gates to living on a steady diet of trash.
To avoid these consequences, Fokken suggests packing plenty of snacks to help fuel you throughout the day. Fruit, nuts, seeds, and string cheese, for instance, have never been improved upon. Jerky and lean deli meat, canned fish, and whey powders and bars are all inexpensive protein sources that travel well.
If you're an athlete whose performance and livelihood demands serious nutrition, don’t be afraid to carry around a cooler. You may feel self-conscious at first, but it gets easier every day.
5. Navigate the nightlife wisely
Your hours during the weekdays may belong to everyone else, but the weekend is (hopefully) still mostly yours. But this means it's up to you to balance nutrition, health, homework, and a social life.
Filling up on lean proteins, high-fiber carbs, and ample vegetables when dining out will fill you up quickly and minimize the likelihood of overindulging. Additionally, no matter what you drink for fun, drink plenty of water, too. It will save you calories and dollars.
6. Build a bedtime routine, and watch out for sleep killers
Your bedtime could change each night depending on the day of the week, what you're up to, and what your morning looks like. You may not always hit your desired sleep-quantity goal, but by developing a consistent bedtime routine, you can enhance your sleep quality and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
Your ritual can be entirely your own; the important thing is that you do it every night. It can be this simple: Clear your bed, change your clothes, have a bedtime snack, brush your teeth, read something light for 15 minutes, and then hit the hay. By employing this routine every night consistently, you condition your body for sleep. This can help you fall asleep faster whether you go to bed at 9 p.m. or 3 a.m.
Also, invest in a pair of blue-light-blocking sunglasses, or download an app that limits the amount of blue light emitted from your laptop or phone screen, such as f.lux. Blue light stimulates brain activity and can make falling asleep difficult. By limiting it as much as possible, you can fall asleep quicker.
If you're currently the "flop down in full daytime clothes on a pile of books and laundry" type of sleeper, you deserve better. Your physique deserves better. Your brain deserves better, too. Making simple, strategic changes like these can mean the difference between leaving college disappointed in how you performed and leaving with a full arsenal of healthy habits to serve you in the years to come.
You're going to have to pay off the loans either way. So make it worth your time!