College Nutrition FAQ

I hope this College Nutrition FAQ stays as a work in progress. Please feel free to contribute and provide your own tips to make nutrition in college successful. Because regardless of the fitness level or program you are working on, nutrition is 50% of the solution.

College life is hard enough without trying to be a nutrition Nazi and finding time to work out on a daily basis. So much credit goes to those that are willing to do it. It is however a life choice that you will not regret. There is a reason why most put on weight starting in college, and then it just snowballs with the addition of careers and family. So Congrats for getting in the right mind set.

The biggest problem that most encounter are the cafeteria style meal plans or relying on the food courts line with fast food joints. So that leads into the first step.

Step 1.Figure out what’s in the food. (Calories, fat, protein, carbs)

Most colleges have nutrition information from the dining halls online. Take the time to look it up. Bottom line is choice. We have a choice what we eat. Most just don’t know what to eat because they don’t know what’s in the food.

Fresh fruit.Cafeterias are full of processed foods, and a piece of fresh fruit is a close to nature as you’re going to find. Try to eat a piece of fruit every day. It’s also a good idea to incorporate fresh fruit into other dining hall options– like by cutting a banana into a bowl of oatmeal or by eating fresh strawberries with yogurt.

The salad bar.Load up on healthy, fresh veggies as often as you can. Proceed with caution, however. Eat fatty salad toppings like cheese and croutons in moderation, and avoid full-fat salad dressing. Always get the dressing on the side. If you must put it on the salad, lightly drizzle it.

Whole grains.Whenever possible, eat whole grain bread, cereal, pasta, and tortillas. These are immensely more nutritious than products made with processed white flour. However, you may have to ask to find out if products are actually whole grain. Lots of brown breads and such are made with processed wheat flour, which is not nearly as nutritious.

Healthy hot or cold cereal. No, don’t eat Corn Pops every day, but eat your fill of Cheerios, shredded wheat, oatmeal, and anything else that’s relatively healthy. Even if there’s some sugar in your selection, this is a much healthier breakfast habit than bacon, pancakes, and other fatty choices.

Ketchup, mustard, and other low-fat condiments. No, ketchup isn’t the best food available–it’s full of high fructose corn syrup– but a tablespoon of ketchup is a much healthier alternative than a tablespoon of fatty mayonnaise. Other good condiment choices include salsa and vinegar. The best condiment you can choose is spicy mustard. It has the lowest sugar of all options.

Juice.Juice is not nearly as healthy as fruit– especially “juice cocktails,” which are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. But even 100% juice lacks the fiber of a piece of fruit and has lots more calories. Go ahead and drink juice in moderation, like a glass with breakfast, but don’t substitute juice for more healthy fruit choices. Orange and grapefruit juices are better choices than apple because they are a good source of Vitamin C.
Soda. Having a soda machine in the cafeteria is a little like eating at McDonald’s every day, and it can be tempting to load up on soda at lunch and dinner. Obviously, this is a quick way to add empty calories. Don’t make the mistake of loading up on diet soda either, as this is filled with chemicals and can actually make your body crave sugar.
Full-fat salad dressing. Most salad dressings are almost 100% fat, and can up the fat content of a healthy salad many times over. Always choice low-fat salad dressings, and use sparingly. If oil and vinegar are available, these are better choices– light on the oil, heavier on the vinegar.
Fatty breakfasts. For many students, the eggs and pancakes and bacon and other traditional breakfast favorites are quite a temptation. However, these should be enjoyed in moderation, or perhaps eaten as a treat after a grueling early morning exam. If the cafeteria offers dishes made with egg substitutes or egg whites, choose these, as they are much lower in fat.
French fries and other fried foods. These are a quick way to load up on calories. If you’re going to eat fries, try eating a very small serving.
Mayonnaise, butter, and other fatty condiments. On a sandwich, try using ketchup and mustard instead of mayo. If low-fat mayo is available, go for that, in moderation. Butter, of course, is something to keep to a minimum.

Step 2. Get enough sleep. When it comes to balancing busy schedules, students tend to put sleep low on their list of priorities. Don’t do this. Some people can function on three or four hours of sleep per night, but most people cannot. Without sleep, you’re not going to be able to concentrate well enough to get the most out of your classes. Sleep on a regular schedule. This can be hard for a college student. You may find yourself getting up early three days a week for your morning class and sleeping in until noon on the weekends. As much as possible, though, try to stick to a regular sleeping pattern. This leads into the next step.

Step 3. Find the time to work out. As a customer recently told me, P90x = Great sleep! Granted, you may find that mornings work out better. But roommates might not appreciate jumping jacks and Tony when they try to sleep. So find the schedule that not only works for you,but your roommates as well. Try to involve the roommates to keep everyone motivated. 3 people splitting the cost of one work out program is a great way to afford the cost as a student.

Step 4. Understand proper nutrition and what must be done to properly fuel the body for work outs. Eat sensibly. College students often gain weight due to late night eating and overindulgence of junk food. Don’t skip breakfast. You don’t have to eat a big breakfast; a bowl of cereal, oatmeal with fruit, or a cup of yogurt will make you a happier and healthier human being. DO eat enough. Find the recommended calorie consummation for your body weight, type, age and fitness program.

Snacks: keeping snacks in a college dorm is a lead cause of bad nutrition. A lot of students keep chips / pop-tarts / etc. at hand. Try sneaking out some fresh fruit to have in the room, or cheap healthy alternatives like tuna in water, non buttered microwave popcorn, baby-carrots, nuts and protein bars.

Step 5. Drink water. Most people do not get nearly enough water. Resist the lure of soda machines and the unlimited soda at the dining hall and get into the habit of drinking water. Get a water bottle and carry it around with you. Don’t binge drink. Excessive drinking can lead to addiction or alcohol poisoning. But there’s one undesirable effect of binge drinking that doesn’t get talked about as much: it makes you gain weight! Some students deprive themselves of food during the week so that they can binge drink on the weekends without gaining weight, which is a bad idea. 

A lot of rooms don’t have access to running water and students have to go to the bathroom to get it. That really curbs how much water students will drink in a day. Keep that water bottle in your room (or fridge to keep it nice and cold).
UPDATE from Chris Moon (9/12/2010)

1. Never take shortcuts. Universities are usually spread out, hilly and filled with stair ridden buildings. Do yourself a favor and walk. Walk to class (or bike) which will save you money on parking. Maybe buy a cheaper parking pass which forces you to walk a little more (and save some serious money). Don’t use elevators, buses, trams, etc. Walk. (Obviously use your judgment when it comes to safety at night, weather, etc.)  Carry your books around. Those suckers are heavy, and walking with books is definitely an added bonus, plus you are always pre-pared. I am able to work out a couple of problems or read a bit of a chapter in those 20 – 40 min pockets between classes which seem to be good for nothing.
2. You’re in college, you are going to drink. BeachBody recently came out about what is “healthy” for drinking, they addressed wine being the best and European / Craft beers to be second. If you really want to eat clean, get a plastic cup at a party and just fill it with water. People generally won’t bother you. If you want to drink something (beer) and actually care about beer (i.e. you hate Miller Light) drink Guinness. Beach Body came out and admitted that Guinness is actually not that unhealthy. It’s surprisingly low in calories compared to other beers (about 160 calories per bottle) and it’s made with higher quality ingredients than the macro-breweries. In fact most European beers (especially German and Belgian) are made under a very high standard for ingredients, and some are even USDA certified organic (they also contain more alcohol and are designed for slow drinking, but that’s another topic entirely). Try to avoid hard booze mixed with sweeteners. Those pre-mixed cocktail sweeteners are worse than soda. Creamy based booze like Bailey’s and Frangelico are sugar rich. In terms of beer, wheat beer is the most calorie dense. Consider drinking one to eating 2 slices of bread.

What people tend to forget is that alcohol is fermented sugar. So while you should find a life / fit balance (all good things in moderation) you can equate drinking to tipping back some sugary breads.
3. P90x micro edition. I live in a 4 x 4 cube. Plyometrics and Kenpo are very awkward for me in my new living space. If you still want to workout in your room try doing Burpees / Prison push push-ups / Pike Press / Slow Motion Pushups / Chataranga Push-Ups when you have to do some large extension. If you do them quickly it is pretty intense, and it’s only for a few exercises each video.

Contributions from Joey Petri , Tom Hirt and Christopher Moon. Information taken from Suite101: College Student Health Tips

Leave a comment


  1. Moriya

     /  July 13, 2010

    Thank you so much! This is really helpful. This helps me feel a bit more prepared for school.

  2. Monserrat Canseco

     /  September 15, 2010

    thankz for the shakeology mr. Hirt i love it because isntead of eating a meal i drink this and it gets me really full plus is tastes really good specially with bananas=)

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