Whether it's for a contest, a sport, or the cute guy or girl in your Economics lecture, many college students attempt to build and maintain a lean physique throughout the academic year. However, with rigorous class schedules, myriad extracurricular activities, and the resulting stress and fatigue, many students find it almost impossible to adhere to a diet and exercise regimen that keeps body fat at bay.
With lines like "I just don't have the time to exercise and eat right" or "I've got other things to do," many students spiral into an unhealthy cycle that can quickly add unwanted pounds and body fat. These are some tips, covering everything from training to nutrition to lifestyle, that have worked for me and will help you stay lean, energized, and healthy during a busy academic year.
1. Designate A Time For Training... And Stick To It
One common mistake many students and busy individuals make is telling themselves that they will train "when there's free time today." For those who are lucky enough to have light schedules with a few obligations sprinkled here and there, this may be an acceptable strategy. However, as full-time students who are often involved in activities or employed, "free time" doesn't really exist.
There is always schoolwork to be done, meetings to attend, or errands to run. Therefore, you must designate a specific time each day when training can be the number one priority... and stick to this commitment! The strategy that has consistently worked for me is to train first thing in the morning, before I have any classes, meetings, or activities. Not only is it a great way to energize myself and start my day, but I have no valid excuse for skipping a session.
2. Just Do It
After designating a specific time to train, many students still manage to play mind games with themselves and wiggle out of their exercise regimen. It has happened to all of us before; we know that we have the next hour or so dedicated to training, but we "just don't feel like it."
We can't pinpoint the cause of this feeling, but it just hovers around. In order to overcome this, stop thinking all together and just do it. Just get dressed, grab a bottle of water, and make your way to the gym. Once you arrive at the gym, there is really no other choice but to train, and trust me, you'll be glad you did it.
Personally, I have this "I just don't feel like it" feeling before every single workout. I would rather go back to sleep, eat, or just sit around.
When I stand there feeling sorry for myself and overanalyzing the situation, I usually waste about half an hour of precious training time or skip my session entirely. However, when I simply get changed and head to the gym, I always complete the day's regimen.
3. Make Workouts Efficient
The number one reason why college students do not train as often as they would like is lack of time. Those same students would be surprised to learn that a solid workout can take as little as thirty minutes.
In order to cut a thorough workout down to thirty minutes, however, training must be efficient. This starts with eliminating those 5-minute chats with everyone you're acquainted with. These little conversations, dispersed throughout your workout, not only add up to waste huge amounts of time, they also sabotage attempts at keeping your heart rate elevated.
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Once idle chatter is eliminated from training, concentration can then be shifted to minimizing rest between sets. By cutting rest time down to less than one minute and effectively utilizing supersets and compound exercises, I can usually keep my training sessions to about thirty minutes of hard work.
1. Cut Down On Junk, Alcohol, And Eating Out
Even if the training advice listed above is followed with maximum effort and focus, there will be no substantial gains in muscle or losses in body fat if fatty foods and alcohol are consumed in excess. The first and easiest way to modify body composition is to eliminate soft drinks, high-fructose juice drinks, and general "junk food" from a diet.
Simply cut out the mid-afternoon trips to the vending machine and late-night pantry raids, and drastic changes will be seen within a few weeks, regardless of exercise. After this is accomplished, the more sensitive issues of partying and eating out need to be addressed.
This is because partying in college is synonymous with consumption of beer and mixed drinks late at night, which is worst possible time for empty calories. In addition, partygoers are known to satisfy their late-night cravings with spontaneous trips to diners and fast food restaurants.
If cutting body fat and getting lean are serious priorities, partying and eating out must be restricted to about once a week or less. I just go to the gym instead because the girls there are better looking than the ones at parties anyway.
2. Eat Small, Frequent Meals
Shedding body fat is simply a matter of burning more calories than you consume, and the body burns calories not only during exercise, but throughout the day. By turning those hefty, three square meals into about six to eight small meals consumed every three or four waking hours, the risk of overeating is decreased and metabolism is drastically increased.
When six to eight meals or eating every three to four hours is mentioned, though, many people's first reaction is "I can't possibly eat that much." There is the misconception that a meal must consist of a soup, salad, appetizer, entrée, and dessert, when in reality, a meal can be something as simple as a protein shake and a banana.
The next reaction to frequent eating is "I don't have the time to stop and eat six times a day." This also stems from the misconception above that a meal must be a large, sit-down affair. When you realize that a piece of chicken and low-fat yogurt count as a full meal, eating frequently is not so impossible anymore.
For me, the hardest part of eating frequently is planning ahead. I suggest having a rough idea of when you need to eat beforehand so you can pack some fruit, a sandwich, or other simple, healthy snacks that can be consumed in class or between activities.
3. More Protein
Once the diet has been "cleaned up" in terms of food quality and meal frequency, a finishing touch is to increase protein intake. As stated above, the body burns calories throughout the day, not just during vigorous exercise.
In addition, a body with more lean muscle mass burns calories much more effectively while at rest. Therefore, by coupling increased protein intake with consistent training, the body will not only burn more calories while working, but also during inactivity. It is strongly advised that at least one gram of protein be consumed per pound of bodyweight, so if you weigh 150 lbs, eat a minimum of 150 grams of protein, with about 175-200 grams being ideal.
"How do I get that much protein?" is often the next question. Chicken, tuna, egg whites, salmon, lean turkey, lean beef, tofu, and milk are solid foundational foods high in protein and low in fat. Protein shakes, meal replacement bars, low-fat yogurt, nuts, and beans are also ways to supplement protein intake.
1. Plan Ahead
With the hectic schedules that accompany being a full-time student, planning ahead is essential to a healthy, lean physique. While the haphazard attitude of "I'll train when I'm free" or "I'm sure there's something healthy to eat around there" may work during the first few weeks when things aren't so hectic, failure to plan will inevitably ruin a diet and exercise regimen as schoolwork and obligations pile on.
Planning ahead involves every facet from training to nutrition to rest to recovery. One of the most effective ways to adhere to a diet and exercise regimen is to use a planner or agenda to document obligations. Every night before bed, take five or ten minutes to review the next day's schedule and assess when training can take place and when meals can be consumed.
Also be sure to have backup days/times for training, as something always seems to come up at the last minute in college. As for dieting, planning ahead often involves preparing meals for a day the night before. A simple sandwich or salad only takes ten or fifteen minutes to prepare but will keep you from making poor food choices on the run.
2. Stop Wasting Time
It has been stated many times in this article that the main obstacle and excuse for not dieting and training is lack of time. A simple solution is to stop wasting so much time. Keeping in mind that an effective workout can be completed in as little as thirty minutes, you can fit in up to two workouts per day if mindless, unproductive activity is minimized. This includes television, surfing the web, chatting online, talking on the phone, and socializing/fooling around when you should be doing schoolwork.
While these unproductive activities cannot and should not be completely eliminated, they can be cut down through preparation. By allotting yourself a certain amount of time to sleep, study, relax, etc. and sticking to that schedule, you will find that there are more hours left in the day to focus on diet and training.
I have found over the years that some small adjustments in lifestyle go a long way. I usually study alone to avoid socializing. I only study by a computer when absolutely necessary to avoid surfing the web. I delete AIM during the academic year, and I try to limit television to important programs.
3. Rest And Listen To Your Body
Three things that will completely derail your diet and training regimen and destroy your hard-earned gains are fatigue, injury, and "burnout" or loss of motivation. In order to prevent these three evils, adequate rest and relaxation are essential. Every individual is different and can handle different degrees of exercise and intensity, so there isn't a specific training split or recovery schedule that everyone should follow.
Instead, get enough rest so that your muscles can effectively recover and so that getting out of bed every morning isn't pure h*ll. One of my rules is that if I'm constantly falling asleep in class, I'm not getting enough sleep. In addition, take days off (on top of your planned recovery) when your body is aching and on the brink of injury.
Finally, take an extra day off every few weeks just to remove yourself from the grind and regain mental focus. One day of total rest will not do any harm, but weeks or even months off due to fatigue, injury, or burnout will take you right back to square one.
I personally aim to sleep at least 6 hours a night during the school year and will not train the next morning if I sleep less than 3 hours. I also take one day off per week and one week off every twelve weeks of consistent training.
With the school year in full swing, I hope this article will help you get on the road to a leaner, healthier body. But remember, it's easier said than done. Reading this piece is the easy part, but if you can tweak these tips to your lifestyle and apply them consistently, you will notice many positive changes. After building a solid foundation of diet and exercise, look out for my next article, which will focus on making additional changes to achieve that elusive six-pack!