School Days - Part 2

A practical training and nutrition guide for college students


Those of you who read this site regularly recognize the name of writer John Berardi. Well, whoda' thunk it, but the science guy has a science brother named Steve and danged if he don't write, too! I half expect other Berardis to come busting through cyberspace at any moment; maybe Madonna Berardi, or Luciano Pavarotti Berardi. But hell, if they can write half as well as their brothers, we'll welcome them all!

This particular article is aimed at you college types out there who, in the hopes of getting a high-level education, have left the friendly confines of your neighborhood gym to go to college. You might have expected to pick up where you left off, but you didn't count on all the distractions, the poorly equipped gyms, and the stuff that passes for food in the cafeteria.

Luckily, Steve Berardi knows your pain. He's a college student himself and he has overcome. So light up the bong, put on the Blink-182 CD, and read what the man has to say:

Last week we discussed different strategies for continuing your training regimen in spite of minor distractions, like college. This time I'm gonna complete the muscle-building discussion by talking about nutrition and lifestyle traps that are common in college and how to avoid them.

As we all know, proper training accounts for less than half of the equation when it comes to building a great physique. Even when your training program is air tight, you're gonna end up looking like a stick man who swallowed a Swiss ball if your diet isn't on track or if your stress levels are always as high as they are during finals week.

The main problem with college students is that they typically want to look good but don't plan to look good. Typically every average physique in the gym tells me that he or she has "done everything they can" but "just don't have the genetics." If I were to follow them around for a day, I'd no doubt be outraged by what they feed their faces, how pathetically they train, and how little they sleep. "Everything" they can? I think not.

But again, without a plan, the worst decisions end up being made. So how does one make the right decisions? Don't worry, Dr. Mass is back to help with that.

All you can what? Are you kidding me?

So once you move in, what's the first priority? Right. Scope out the Bettys. And once you've gotten an eyeful, it's time to get your grub on. Head over to the typical college-dining hall and you'll be in heaven. One swipe of that little magic card and it's ALL YOU CAN EAT. And just like Hoss, it's time to show off just how much you can eat.

But hold on there, big boy. Take a look at the food first. The burgers aren't 98% lean? That fish was cooked in WHAT?!? What the f@#$? How's a guy supposed to get some protein around here?

Yup, time to face facts. The foods provided don't fit right in to the Atkins Diet, the Zone, Fat Fast, or the T-Dawg plan. And the people there don't give a damn about your physique. In all honesty, they don't even give a damn about their own physiques! You're Rambo. One ripped man against a whole town trying to bring you "to justice." Just look over at those three fat chicks standing in line for MORE ice cream, obstructing your view of those two hot chicks in front of them. Keep your eye on 'em, though, because chances are, by the end of the semester, you'll see five fat chicks in that ice cream line.

With the typical cafeteria diet, it looks like you'll be trying to figure out just how to keep your abs visible instead of etching new cuts into them. Not to worry, though. With a little creativity and most importantly, a plan, we can extract a high protein meal from that sea of carbs and saturated fat. Of course you may have to readjust your nutrient ratios a bit, but hey, life wouldn't be interesting without its little challenges. Before we discuss what you can eat, let's talk about what your eating goals should be.


In my book, protein is the single most important nutrient on the face of the earth. Bust your ass in the gym and eat little or no protein throughout the day and see what happens. Protein is essential for muscle anabolism. In addition, it's long been known that high-protein meals increase levels of neurotransmitters. So not only will lots of protein make you bigger, but it'll also make you mentally sharper and maybe even smarter. Important nutrient? You bet. For a more in-depth look at proteins, though, check out The Protein Roundtable.

If you're weight training, which I assume you are or you wouldn't be reading T-mag, you should be shooting for a protein intake of anywhere between 200-300 grams a day. Sound impossible? At 300 grams spread out over 6 meals, it's only 50 grams a meal. Just march right into lunch-lady land and demand more protein, please.


Ahh carbs, you seductive mistresses. So sweet and tasty, you lure me in and then leave me in shambles. You are like the mythical sirens, singing sweet songs of lust and bliss only to dash me against the rocks of water retention and fatness. I can't live with you, but can't live without you....

If you've ever found yourself thinking such thoughts you've got problems man.

Seriously though, carbs are quite enticing, but they're not the bastard that they've recently been made out to be. In fact, carbs are great, just ask anyone who's been on any type of ketogenic diet. When you're not eating carbs, your trips to the can will become very infrequent "white knuckle" affairs. In addition to that, not eating enough carbs will make you sluggish, moody, and pretty much a mean son-of-a-bitch in general.

It's true that too many carbs in your diet will stimulate adipose tissue growth faster than Tom Green will hump a dead moose, but let's look at the good side of carbs. They're responsible for those great pumps you get in the gym, sustained energy levels throughout the day, and a general sense of well being. And that special carb, fiber, is responsible for keeping all that great cafeteria food moving through the GI.

So how much do you need to eat and what carbs do you need to look out for? About 30-40% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbs. That should be anywhere in the neighborhood of 200-400 grams. Any less than 100 grams and you're asking for trouble. Most of your carbs should have a low glycemic index and be largely unrefined. (In other words, Twinkies, crackers, and Pop Tarts contain highly processed, refined carbs, while oatmeal, brown rice, and "Bavarian" bread with hunks of wood floating around in it are largely unrefined or unprocessed.) High glycemic index carbs have a tendency to elicit too large an insulin response and leave you feeling sluggish (and eventually fat).


All too often when people are trying to lose weight, fat is the first thing they try to eliminate from their diets. Too bad they're just spinning their wheels when it comes to body fat loss. A certain threshold level of dietary fat is needed for fat loss. Anything less and fat loss — and your metabolic rate — will come to a screeching halt. Not to mention that dietary fat is needed for the synthesis of most fat-soluble hormones, especially our favorite hormone, Testosterone. For more on fats, check out The Fat Roundtable.

Bottom line, how much fat should you eat? Fats should make up between 20-30% of your daily caloric intake. Depending on your total caloric intake, that's 50-150 grams a day. Of course, you don't have too much of a choice in the matter while in college, but try to see that your daily fat intake isn't all saturated fat. Remember the old rule, "if your fat's solid on the table, leave it there!" Well in this case, if it's solid on the table, eat half of it cause you're not gonna be getting flax and salmon up in the lunch line to make up for your needs.

Oh yeah, and lets talk meal frequency. Three squares a day won't cut it anymore, especially if you're training. As we all know, if you don't want to look "normal," you gotta eat a little different. Five to six meals a day is the prescription.

In addition, you should never go more than 3 hours without a meal. Since the dining hall is only open limited hours, here's my suggestion. Find time to eat 3 meals per day in the dining hall. Once there, smuggle in your Tupperware and fill it up with several food items that you can eat later. This way you can actually come away with 6 meals per day. Adding protein shakes in when necessary will complete your eating plan. Oh yeah, there's that "p" word again. As far as what food to smuggle out of the dining hall, here are a few good choices:

Protein: skim milk, hardboiled eggs (eat only half the yolks); scrambled eggs (careful, the fat adds up fast); hamburgers (but please, blot off the grease); "baked" fish (again, watch the grease, it wasn't really baked); chicken breasts (rare in this pre-processed/cheese coated world); sliced turkey breast; tuna fish (ask for them to go light on the mayo); and American cheese.

Carbs: rye bread, rice (not the crap covered with cheese), baked potatoes, yams, beans, and pasta

Fat: peanuts, sunflower seeds, olive oil, natural peanut butter, and the fat from the hamburgers go easy on the extra fats because most of your food will have an inordinant amount of fat already in it.

Snack Time

I've got a mini fridge and microwave in my room. Although each can only fit the equivalent of a bowl of oatmeal, they're a huge asset to my bodybuilding lifestyle. After a late night study session, there's no good food to be found around campus. Sure you could go check out the vending machines, but you ain't gonna find much in there except Monster Cakes and Ho Ho's. Not exactly premium fuel.

Again, you're going to have to plan for these events. Time to hit the store to stock up on some grub. But after a while those Lean Cuisine pizzas will leave you looking anything but. So what are some good high protein snacks to keep on hand? Stock up on things like salted peanuts, beef jerkey, string cheese, and cans of salmon and tuna fish. Keep them in the dorm room and you're golden in times of need.

Another suggestion is to use your friends to facilitate your bodybuilding goals. If you've got friends off campus, stop by once a week and cook up some chicken breasts or burgers to store in your own fridge for the week. Preferably the friend is female and you're cookin' up more than burgers while you're visiting. If you feel the need for more "cooking", several weekly visits might be in order.

What's in that big jug?

Time to talk supplements. You're probably not going to have a huge budget for supplements while you're in school, so you've got to prioritize. Here's a list of supplements that you shouldn't leave for school without:

• Protein Powder
• Meal Replacements (shakes and bars)
• Multi-Vitamins
• Vitamin C

Besides being part of your daily intake, protein powders and meal replacements can be lifesavers if you've got 3 straight hours of class. Just stash a shaker cup in your bag for those occasions. Popping open a can of salmon while in class is not usually a big hit with my profs. And remember, if that cheerleader sitting next to you has a problem with your meal selections, just ask her what she had in her mouth on Friday night.

You in the back, what's that? Can't live without creatine? Like I said, you've got to prioritize. When you're on a budget, the non-essentials have to go. You wouldn't fill your car's tank up with gas if you had no engine in it, would you? Then don't lay your hard earned cash down for creatine until you're well stocked up on protein and vitamins.

I've heard so many students complain about how they can't afford to buy and eat so much protein, yet they can somehow afford creatine. Whuz up with dat? Listen, there were impressive physiques long before everybody and their 10-year-old brother were on creatine. However, if you're running an NCAA gambling ring and have got some extra cash around, you may want to try some of these supplements:

• Creatine
• Ribose
• 4-Androstenediol (don't buy any capsules, you might as well open up the window and throw a $50 bill out.)
• A thermogenic product
• Methoxy-7
• Tribex-500

The supplements in this last list are non-essentials. If you're getting close to your genetic potential (no, you're not there at 18) and your gains have stalled, these could give you that extra boost to push past training plateaus.

Party Time

Ok, let's be honest. You're in college and occasionally you're gonna party. Hell, who am I kidding, you're gonna party a lot! Of course your definition of a "lot" might be different than your dorm mate's. You're not gonna start your weekend on Wednesday like he does, but sometimes the lure of hotties asking to see your biceps is too strong on a Saturday night. What good is the physique if there are no one night stands? Since you gotta do it occasionally, you must exercise some damage control.

Drinking in college is like going to classes. I think there's a drinking fee built into your tuition. Since you've gotta get your money's worth, you'd better make some smart decisions to keep your physique. If you're gonna be drinking more than a few, and you've got the choice, go for the light beers. You could be saving yourself up to 300 calories per beer. That's right my alcoholic friends, do the math. If you're throwin back lagers all night long, it's possible that you could double your caloric intake for the day (yikes).

Hopefully, since you've made some intelligent drinking decisions while at the bar, you'll close the deal once you get home. After the long night of partying, you're probably gonna be a little hungry by the time you stumble all the way back to your dorm. Do yourself a favor and don't order that large pizza just cuz its only $5. Grub down on some of those high protein snacks that you've got stocked up in the cabinet. Sure they might not taste as good as that pizza, but your physique will thank you for it. Especially after you just drank the equivalent of a pizza crust anyway.

Finally, since drinking can lower your T levels by up to 50%, you might think of investing in an androgen damage control kit. This kit consists of a big bottle of Androsol. Spray a few spritzes of Androsol on the chest and thighs on drinking nights as well as on hangover mornings and this may help preserve the precious T. I know I said Androsol was a non-essential, but if you party far too much for your own good, this might be a necessity.

Time to Catch some Z's

Everyone says college is the easy life. Nothin' to do but eat, sleep, and go to class. But how many of you actually get 8 hours of sleep every night? When's the last time you can remember getting 8 hours of sleep? Too many people deprive themselves of sleep and brag about it like the black bags under their bloodshot eyes are some kind of badge of honor. Of course your schedule may not allow you to get a full 8 hours every night, but the bare minimum you should get every night is 6 hours. If you find that you can only consistently get 6 hours a night, build a short nap into your schedule mid-day.

Going for long periods of time without enough rest can do more harm than you know. Since the body does the bulk of its growth and repair while you sleep, you could be robbing yourself of that last 5 or 10 pounds of muscle that you've been dying to put on. Sleep deprivation also takes its toll on your mental function as well. After pulling one all-nighter, your motor skills and memory are just as impaired as if you had a few drinks.

Not even taking into consideration your performance in the classroom, how well do you think your next workout is gonna be? You wouldn't go to the gym after drinking a few beers, so why would you deprive yourself of sleep and go to the gym in the same condition? Sure you're supposed to head down to Kelly's room for an anatomy "study session" before lab tomorrow, but hold on there, loverboy. It's midnight and you haven't even made it past the pectorals. Do yourself a favor and throw in the towel. You've gotta be fresh for deadlifts tomorrow. First thing's first.

Be a T-Man

Sure college isn't the best place in the world to continue your bodybuilding goals. Distractions are everywhere you look and excuses are all to easy to come up with (excuses are like what? That's right, everyone's got one). Giving in to each excuse will multiply and before you know it, you will be watching your goals grow into a big bloated beer belly.

Remember, you first need a plan. Then go all out in sticking to it. Like a real T-Man you've got to be the master of your environment and give everything a little creative twist (yes, Kelly included). No one else is gonna do it for you. Besides, you only go around once, so you might as well turn some heads along the way.

John Berardi, PhD, is the founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition coaching and education company. Berardi advises organizations like Apple, Equinox, and Nike. He's coached the San Antonio Spurs, the Carolina Panthers, US Open Champ Sloane Stephens, and 2-division UFC Champ Georges St-Pierre.