The fall season marks the start of the school season. Those days of sleeping till noon and lounging around in your PJs are sadly behind you—at least for a while.
Being a full-time student also means funds could be tight, and a limited food budget can impact your fitness progress. Fortunately, it is possible to meet your nutritional needs without breaking the bank if you take the time to plan ahead.
Here's how to start the school of gains off on the right foot and feed your muscles what they need to grow.
1. CREATE A BUDGET
Budgeting is a highly underrated step that many students skip, but this critical skill will help you fuel your muscles for growth, not to mention prove very useful in the years ahead.
First, subtract the cost of necessary, non-negotiable expenses like tuition, books, rent, and transportation from your income. It might be easier to do this on a quarterly basis since these expenses change with every school term.
Once you know how much money you have left over, you'll know how much you have to spend for your food budget. Even though it might not seem like much, most healthy, muscle-building staples are relatively inexpensive, so your food budget will go further than you think.
2. GET CLEAR ON PRIORITIES
When money is tight, it's imperative that you focus your spending on the things that are most important to you. One night out for dinner and drinks with friends can easily blow your entire week's food budget.
If a fancy mixed drink means only eating ramen for the next couple of days, you need to be aware of and OK with that trade off.
Be smart and get your priorities straight. If going out and having fun is a priority, you must account for that in your budget. If you can't, find more free or very low-cost ways to have fun. Many establishments offer discounts to student and daily specials, so if it's important, put in the effort to find affordable deals. It's all about give and take.
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3. EAT ONLY NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS
Plan on making the majority of your meals with nutrient-dense foods, meaning foods that are full of the necessary macro– and micronutrients to help your body function at its best. These include lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and eggs; complex carbs like oats, beans, and brown rice; fresh fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats like nuts and oils.
Once you stock up on these nutritional staples, you can splurge more expensive items like avocados or prime cuts of meat if your budget allows.
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4. SHOP SMART
Once you know how much you can spend, create a grocery list and stick to it. Do your shopping when you're not hungry to ensure you won't make impulsive buys.
If you can stick to a few healthy staples, then it's best to buy in bulk. Sign up for promo emails at your favorite grocery story to get coupons and deals, or try to buy when things go on sale. The more you pay attention, the more deals and promotions you'll find, so stay alert to savings.
5. SUPPLEMENT WITH SUPPLEMENTS
Many types of protein powders and meal replacement shakes can be had on the cheap as a reliable and convenient protein source. Mass gainers can be an especially affordable option since they are often sold in bulk quantities and offer a full complement of macronutrients per serving.
While you should still get the majority of your calories from whole foods, a meal replacement can be a great option for the chaotically busy student. Whenever possible, buy in bigger quantities or special sales to get more protein for your money.
Mass-gaining protein powders are a cost-effective way to raise your daily protein, carb, and calorie intake to fuel your body and build lean muscle.*
6. UNDERSTAND THE REAL COST OF FAST FOOD
Dollar-priced fast-food menus are tempting for the cash-strapped student. They're convenient, fast, cheap, and a (subjectively) tasty treat for those late-night study sessions. While they don't cost much as far as money is concerned, consider the real cost on your health.
Fast food is loaded with sugar, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and a whole lot of other ingredients that spell trouble for your long-term health. These meals typically won't meet your macro needs, either. If you must indulge in fast food, try to stick to muscle-building options. Otherwise, drive past that drive through and opt for something healthier.
7. PACK AHEAD
Time is a hot commodity, especially for a college student. When you're trying to cram in as much studying and sleep as possible before your early morning quiz, the last thing you're thinking about is what to have for breakfast before you head to class.
Set yourself up for success by having all your meals packed and ready to go. This maximizes your money resources, since you won't have to splurge on expensive convenience foods, and it supports the progress you're trying to make with your physique. No matter what else is happening, take a few minutes every night to pack your next day's meals and have them ready.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.