The fall season marks the start of the school season. Alas, if you're a student, your days of sleeping till noon and lounging around in your PJs are sadly behind you—at least for a while. Being in school unfortunately also means that your funds could be tight, which can impact your fitness progress. Unless you have a plan, of course. Never fear! It's possible to beast your nutritional needs without a beast of a bank account.
If you look ahead and plan things right, as per the following tips, your progress and results will truck along just fine. I'm here to help you start your school year off on the right foot and feed your muscles without breaking the bank.
Create Your Budget
This is a highly underrated step that many students unfortunately skip, but it will help you avoid lying penniless in a dark alley—or even better, make sure you finish school as quickly as possible.
First, consider the cost of your basic and necessary expenses. Things like tuition, books, rent, and transportation are obviously non-negotiable. Calculate the total expenditure from these major money sinkholes to fully grasp the flexibility of your food budget.
"Take the time to do the math and see how much you approximately have left after paying all your needed amenities," recommends Beast athlete Sean Sarantos. "Once you have a better understanding of what your food budget is, it'll be much easier to make a game plan every time you head to the grocery store."
Along with Sarantos's advice, it's crucial to organize a grocery list and do your shopping when you're not hungry to ensure that you go by the list. Otherwise, an errant bag of chips here and a 12-pack of beer there will surely sap your reserves. When you're shopping on a budget, it's absolutely vital to stay within the budget to ensure you aren't shortchanging your own nutritional needs by the end of the month.
Focus On The Essentials
Money has a way of evacuating your wallet, your pocket, and your bank account when you're not keeping a close eye. Sarantos recommends that you focus spending only on the absolute essentials. "That one day a week when you go out with your friends and buy some drinks can easily be converted into an entire day—or even days' worth—of meals," Sarantos advises.
Put it another way: Compare the opportunity cost of buying a couple of expensive cocktails now that aren't necessary for your goals with adequately being able to feed yourself sustenance (that isn't Top Ramen) for a couple of days. The choice is obvious.
Be smart. Get your priorities straight. If going out and having fun is a priority for you, you'll need to account for that in your budget. Try and seek out more free or very low-cost things to do for entertainment. Many establishments offer student prices, and these cheaper options will help you stay on course. In the end, it's all about give and take.
Eat Only Nutrient-Dense Foods
Plan your weekly meals. In fact, plan the majority of your diet to come from nutrient-dense foods, meaning foods that are satiating and full of the necessary macro- and micronutrients to help your body function at its best.
"Each macronutrient—protein, carbs, and fat—usually has a healthy handful of choices to choose from that will meet your nutritional needs while going easy on your bank account," explains Sarantos. "Know what these choices are and focus on them for optimal budgeting."
Peanut butter, avocados (if budget allows), and olive oil constitute some of your "good" fat options; tuna and eggs will be the lowest-cost options for protein. For your carb needs, oats, dried beans, whole wheat (or corn) tortillas, brown rice, and bananas all are very affordable.
When it comes to grocery shopping, it pays to clip and save. "Sales and coupons make a huge difference," says Sarantos.
Protein may eat up the biggest chunk of your food budget, so it's best to buy in bulk (Costco, anyone?) and freeze the portions. You know those endless stacks of coupons in the mail? Comb through them to find deals, or simply buy the meat or protein that is on sale that week. When you pay attention to the cost and can see what would be cost-effective that day or week, you may come across foods you've never tried or heard of before, thereby expanding your kitchen arsenal.
Some people woefully misunderstand supplementation. Many types of protein powders and meal replacement shakes can be had on the cheap. Protein powders and mass gainers can be an especially cheap and convenient protein source.
"If you actually take a second to look through all the supplements available, you'll find replacement shakes that can easily take 1-2 meals off your daily consumption plan," Sarantos states. "Most of these products come in month's-worth of servings at a very reasonable price, and often you can even find sales on these products as well."
While I don't advocate completely disregarding whole meals, a meal replacement can be a great option for the chaotically busy student. Whenever possible, buy in bigger quantities or special sales, as you'll get more for your money.
Understand The Real Cost Of Fast Food
Dollar-priced items on any fast-food menu may be dangerously tempting for the money-impaired student. They're convenient, fast, cheap, and are (subjectively) tasty for those late-night studying snacks. While they don't cost much as far as money is concerned, consider the real cost on your health.
"Consuming fast-food meals regularly will take a real toll on your health and eventually bite you in the butt medically down the road," advises Sarantos. Those meals typically won't meet your macro needs, either.
In life, time is a hot commodity. You feel like there's never enough of it, so you might end up trying to cram in as much studying and sleep as possible before your horrendously early morning lecture. Before that, however, you race around the kitchen trying to cobble together a meager-looking breakfast and zip out. As a result of poor time management, meal preparation may not be on your agenda.
By not having all your meals packed and ready to go, you run the risk of draining your limited monetary resources on outside food and hindering your progress. Take 15 minutes every night to pack your next day's meals, and have them ready to go so you can bolt out the door.
This simple step could save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the school year. Few people realize just how much those meals could add up until they're left wondering where their monthly funds disappeared to.
"In the end, you have two choices," says Sarantos. "You can either take shortcuts, eat fast foods, and complain about how you can't make progress due to your financial situation, or you can take a deep breath, figure out your true budget, and take control of what you can actually do with every dollar you have. It's all going to come down to planning and budgeting—and then sticking to it."