Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Yes, this is something I have dealt with and it IS doable.  There are tons of variables for this particular situation and I will try to give options for a variety of circumstances.  I write college in the title because I think this is the most common type of person searching for this information, but I hope I can help anyone operating on a budget.

1. Use what is given to you — campus dining

You probably have access to on campus dining in some capacity.  This may be complete shit or it might be pretty good.  Either way, take advantage of this as much as possible.  My experience is that while sometimes there are tasty choices available, finding a meal with a decent protein content is rather difficult.  I do not necessarily blame the schools, protein-containing foods (aka meats) are just more expensive.  Many schools are now providing nutrition information for campus dining establishments and if yours doesn’t you should push and prod them for information.  Either way, you should be able to come up with decent estimates for what you’re taking in from there.  If you’re counting calories, my suggestion is to just keep your estimate consistent.

Eat whatever wholesome foods are afforded to you in this context.  My school had a nice selection of fruits and vegetables.   We even had a “to go” program that allowed me to do some stocking up.  You should have red lights flashing in your head when you see a meat-based meal…eat it.  Whether you’re going to use it or not, most colleges are going to make you buy a meal plan.  You may as well maximize your value and keep money in your pocket.  This isn’t free license to load up on the pizza every day, though.

2. Real food is cheap

Fruits and vegetables, yes.  Think about how little some of these basic foods cost.  A weeks worth of bananas would be less than a couple bucks, more than  a week of apples for a five-spot, 2.5 pounds of oatmeal for three dollars, etc.  These are low cost foods and you have to make the most of them, especially since you know deep down that they are good for you.  More importantly for a student, anyone can prepare these foods.  Maybe grab some cinnamon or something of the like to make your oatmeal taste better, I usually do that and add sucralose (a big bag of generic is fairly cheap and lasts forever).  Based on your personal tastes and selection, you can kind of take it from here.  The gist of this is to stock up on these whole foods that need little preserving and little preparation.

If you have any access to conventional kitchenware, like a common room oven, you’ve hit the jackpot.  If you’re like me, you have probably bought some pre-cooked chicken or other meat (frozen or refrigerated) and paid an arm and a leg for it.  However, this allowed you to microwave it as an easy prep that kept you from leaving your room.  And if you can’t access an oven, you may have to consider this as an option.  Most campuses I’ve been to, however, have at least limited common access to a kitchen.  Buy regular, refrigerated, uncooked chicken breast (or another meat if you’re feeling cheeky) as this is the cheapest “preparation” due to its unpreparedness.  Acquire a pan that many ovens actually have inside them already and broil that chicken.  Broil more than you can eat at once, you can refrigerate it and reheat for future meals!  This is cheaper than buying pre-cooked and you’re not dealing with preservatives or whatever else may be dumbing down the quality of those pre-cooked options.

3. “Shortcut” options

Some people actually have a hard time getting enough calories.  Others, even with considerable effort, struggle to meet the protein demands of a proper resistance training diet.  Of course there are some that just have a hard time feeling satiated or at least satisfying the sweet tooth.  I have options for everyone.

Calorie dense foods that won’t make you feel too guilty

-Don’t buy “weight gainers” in this situation unless you really just despise eating food

-Peanut butter


-Whole milk/chocolate milk (in moderation)


These are just some that come to mind that aren’t devoid of nutritional value but can pack a calorie punch without making you feel overfull.  Many will find that these are good to eat just because they’re yummy.

Protein options

Whole foods are preferred, there’s no way around it.  Don’t use the following option as a primary protein source, only use it to help you AFTER you’ve maximized your protein intake via food.  Do not make the new dieter/trainee’s mistake of consuming protein powder as your main dietary source of protein.  Yes, protein powder is my suggestion here.  My experience is that buying online will allow you the best selection and by far the best selection of flavors that you might even look forward to drinking, but that can be up to you.  There will be another post one day describing some of the better tasting protein products.   The source of protein in this case doesn’t matter much, can be whey, egg, casein, soy, a blend of all of them.  Just don’t get something with a ton of added sugar or fats, you don’t need that unless perhaps you fall into the above category and hate eating peanut butter.

Low-cal, no-cal options for satiation

The old school way is to slam a good deal of water upon the first twinge of hunger.  This is in fact rather effective due to the weight in your stomach and the waiting game before eating can often make you reconsider your initial impulse to stuff your face.  There are other options though.

For something solid(ish), you can go after some sugar-free yogurt.  A cup of this stuff is 5-15 calories, so you’d have to eat a lot for it to be an issue.  Don’t spoil it by putting whip cream on there, though.  This is very cheap also.

Diet soda.  If you’re an alarmist about artificial sweeteners, you can ignore this and wait for some posts on this very subject coming through my pipeline.   If you’re sensible, you should think about having some diet soda.  I strongly advise against the needless abuse of stimulants when you could be saving your tolerance for selective ergogenic use, so my weapon of choice is diet root beer.  There are some other options though.  Flavoring systems have drastically improved and even if you don’t care for it at first, you get used to it rather quickly.  I now find “regular” soda to be kind of yucky.  These drinks are zero cal, taste good, and you can drink quite a bit of it and never know the difference.  A big liter of something like this is very inexpensive and if you buy a store’s generic, it can be very cheap in cans as well.

4.  No variety? No problem!  Seasonings save the day

One of the easiest things you can do to save some cash is not bend over backwards trying to have different foods everyday.  To this day it is rare that I do not eat some chicken, oatmeal, an apple, and a banana every single day.   I typically will have at least 1 serving of protein powder in skim milk as well.  The rest of your nutritional needs can be varied as well with some of those other low-cost options or your campus dining (if applicable).

To keep your meats less boring, you should start experimenting with seasonings, marinades, rubs, etc.  My favorite preparation of any meat is with lemon juice and pepper, sometimes even lemon pepper.  If you’re watching sodium (which is unnecessary unless you have high blood pressure), Mrs. Dash has a decent lemon pepper available.  Lemon juice also has zero calories.  I also love Lawry’s seasoning salt as well as Steak n Shake’s house seasoning.

Other options include a variety of marinades, just be mindful of the fact that most of these have some caloric value.  BBQ naked chicken can be awesome.  You can also check out Walden Farms products, they have an entire line of things that are zero calorie like BBQ sauce, pancake syrup, etc.  I haven’t tried all of their stuff though, so don’t hold me accountable if you don’t like something.   There is also a “fat burning” hot sauce out there called Thermogenesauce, might be worth a look if you want a no-cal option that has some good fat burning ingredients as well.

You can do it

You may find my suggestions not entirely useful or you may end up with a completely different routine in the same situation.  That’s great.  The end goal here is to let you know that just because you have budget restrictions, you need not end or hurt your quest to change your physique.  Eating out and buying a variety of expensive foods is great, but you can do it on a budget as well.  Don’t let your circumstances stand in the way of your gains!


Interested in keto? Read this and try this style of eating first.  If you plateau, you may think about Ketogenic Dieting.  Don’t use keto to gain mass, use this style only.

I’ve made the promise that dieting (whether to gain or lose weight) is simple – and it is.  However, you’re going to want some logic and maybe a few references for future research/confirmation as well.  For one, I won’t be citing studies for our purposes.  I want this to be accessible to the layman, as I’m hardly much better than a layman myself.  If you think I’m full of garbage though, I’ll leave you with the tools to verify what I say.  With all that said, let’s get down and dirty.


Put simply, the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis determines whether you will gain or lose weight.  Eat more than you burn, you gain.  Eat less, you lose.  For this reason, it is almost imperative that you count calories, at least to begin your journey.  It will be hard to interpret what you see in the mirror and on the scale if you can’t look back at how much you’ve been eating.

The main question when it comes to calories then is, how much am I burning?  This isn’t exactly a simple question, and chances are you’ll go through some trial and error figuring this out.  However, there are decent ways to estimate.  I’ll quote a forum post that helped me to begin with before I give you a more comprehensive method as well:

Estimating Requirements
The simplest method of estimating needs is to base your intake on a standard ‘calories per unit of weight (usually kilograms)’. Typically:
– 26 to 30 kcals/kg/day for normal, healthy individuals with sedentary lifestyles doing little physical activity [12.0-14 kcal/pound]
– 31 to 37 kcal/kg/day for those involved in light to moderate activity 3-5 x a week with moderately active lifestyles [14-16 kcal/ pound]
– 38 to 40 kcals/kg/day for those involved in vigorous activity and highly active jobs [16-18 kcal/ pound].

For those involved in HEAVY training (eg: athletes) – the demand is even greater:
– 41 to 50 kcals/kg/day for those involved in moderate to heavy training (for example: 15-20 hrs/ week training) [18.5-22 kcal/ pound]
– 50 or above kcals/kg/day for those involved in heavy to extreme training [> 22 kcal/ pound]

There are then a number of other formula which calculate BMR.
1/ Harris-Benedict formula: Very inaccurate. It was derived from studies on LEAN, YOUNG, ACTIVE males MANY YEARS AGO (1919). Notorious for OVERESTIMATING requirements, especially in the overweight. IF YOU CAN AVOID IT, DON’T USE IT!
MEN: BMR = 66 + [13.7 x weight (kg)] + [5 x height (cm)] – [6.76 x age (years)]
WOMEN: BMR = 655 + [9.6 x weight (kg)] + [1.8 x height (cm)] – [4.7 x age (years)]

2/Mifflin-St Jeor: Developed in the 1990s and more realistic in todays settings. It still doesn’t take into consideration the differences as a consequence of high BF%. Thus, once again, it OVERESTIMATES NEEDS, ESPECIALLY IN THE OVERWEIGHT.
MEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] + 5
WOMEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] -161

3/Katch-McArdle:Considered the most accurate formula for those who are relatively lean. Use ONLY if you have a good estimate of your bodyfat %.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM)Where LBM = [total weight (kg) x (100 – bodyfat %)]/100

You then multiply these by an ‘activity variable’ to give TEE. This Activity Factor[/u] is the cost of living and it is BASED ON MORE THAN JUST YOUR TRAINING. It also includes work/lifestyle, sport & a TEF of ~15% (an average mixed diet). Average activity variables are:
1.2 = Sedentary (Little or no exercise + desk job)
1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (Little daily activity & light exercise 1-3 days a week)
1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (Moderately active daily life & Moderate exercise 3-5 days a week)
1.7-1.8 = Very Active (Physically demanding lifestyle & Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week)
1.9-2.0 = Extremely Active (Hard daily exercise or sports and physical job)

So to convert BMR to a TOTAL requirement: multiply the result of your BMR by the variable you fall into!
How Accurate are they?: Well, although they give rough ball-park figures, they are still ‘guesstimations’ and most people still OVERESTIMATE activity, UNDERESTIMATE bodyfat & end up eating TOO MUCH. So the aim is to use these as ‘rough figures’, monitor your weight/ measurements for 2-4 weeks, & IF your weight is stable/ measurements are stable, you have likely found maintenance.

I can’t argue with anything written there, especially that you may find that you have to adjust because your body works a little differently.  Young people especially tend to find that their bodies burn more than what the calculations tell them – subsequently, they get rude awakenings when their metabolism goes back to normal and they haven’t adjusted their diet.

Here’s a final option that you may be interested in – I have found that this tends to give higher estimates for me than other methods, but I do find it to be very accurate.  The Total Metabolism Forecaster is a spreadsheet that asks you a ton of lifestyle questions and then produces the number of calories you burn per day.  The link provided is for MS Excel 2007 and newer – other download options and updated versions can be found in this thread/post.


Well you’ve calculated your metabolic rate, aka “maintenance.”   If you ate your exact maintenance every day, your weight should not go up or down excepting shifts in water weight.  Eating at maintenance isn’t a good strategy for just about any purpose.   Let’s keep it simple at first:

Want to gain? Eat 500 calories over your maintenance (1 lb gain/week)

Want to cut? Eat 500 calories less than your maintenance (1 lb loss/week)

Why just 500 over/under?  For most, this is the threshold when you would start gaining fat or losing muscle, depending on whether you are eating in deficit or excess.  Very few are going to be able to gain more than 1 pound per week without gaining a good deal of fat along with.  Likewise, it is difficult to lose more than 1 lb per week without shedding muscle.   If you are 20%+ body fat, you may be able to cut more than 1lb per week without any issues. As mentioned before, if after ~3 weeks the scale and mirror aren’t showing results, you may need to adjust your caloric intake.

Another thing I must emphasize is this: IT IS NOT A REALISTIC GOAL TO GAIN MUSCLE AND LOSE FAT AT THE SAME TIME.  It’s the most commonly asked question by people new to fitness – “how can I gain some muscle and lose some fat?”  In untrained and/or pubescent individuals, this may happen a bit but it’s not something worth shooting for.  Trying to “recomp,” what many call eating at maintenance in hope of gaining muscle while losing fat, just won’t work.  Most who try to do this manage to accomplish neither of those tasks.  You may find a leaning out when you’re bulking properly and likewise you may find some muscle growth when you cut – but these are not things to count on and will happen less and less and you continue improving your physique.   Therefore, decide whether you will cut or bulk.   There should be some back and forth with this too.  Cuts should not exceed 8 weeks, whereas you can bulk for longer periods of time (provided you are okay with whatever fat gain you have).  Depending on the quality of your diet and your genetics, you’ll want to go 2-4 months bulking followed by 1-2 months cutting.   I don’t really suggest going 2 and 2, though.  You may find that you don’t look as “fat” if your muscles are bigger or more well proportioned so go ahead and bulk!


Before you head to Dairy Queen for your daily allotment of calories, I have to drop some bad news on you: it’s not that simple.  You may be aware that there are three key macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  You need sufficient amounts of each of them!  Forget the Atkins Diet or whatever the guy at the gym told you about carbs – you will be consuming more carbs than any other nutrient in a well-constructed diet.  Likewise, forget all the talk about fats that pervades the media and gyms: you need fats. You’re going to need to hit certain amounts of each macronutrient on a daily basis to reach your health and fitness goals.  Let’s go ahead and break it down by each macronutrient:

Protein: This is the most underconsumed nutrient by the general public, due in part to the fact that government recommendations are far too low for the active individual.  The exact amount, however, is still a bit debated – one thing to keep in mind is that there is no real evidence that there is such a thing as too much protein.  For this purpose, I suggest aiming for the high end of recommendations when possible.  Be advised that protein is 4 calories per gram.  Here are some of those recommendations:

Strength Training Individual, popular sports nutrition: .6g – 8g protein per lb bodyweight

Strength Training Individual, bodybuilding circles: 1g – 1.2g protein per lb bodyweight

You can add .2g to the guidelines for someone doing endurance training, and .4g for an adolescent.

A simpler guideline is this one from Alan Aragon: Eat, in grams of protein, your target bodyweight.  So if you’re 180 lbs want to bulk to 200, eat 200 grams protein.  If you’re 200 lbs and want to cut to 180, eat 180 grams of protein.  Keep these goals in the shorter term – don’t eat 300 grams protein when you 150 lbs because you want to be Mr. Olympia someday.

Fat: The thought that fat you eat turns into fat on your body is really not at all accurate.  You need a diet rich in fats, and most fitness folks find that they are deficient in fat.  Fatty acids are important for all kinds of body processes, including burning fat (go figure).  The guidelines are a little looser here: .5g  – 1g fat per pound bodyweight.  If you know your lean bodyweight (total mass-fat mass), use the same guideline with lean bodyweight.  If you are cutting and really can’t fit in enough fats, get at least .35g /lb.  There are certain kinds of fats that are better than others, but don’t fret too much about avoiding this or that.  Nuts and fish are the holders of the healthiest fats, but you need some of all kinds.  Make sure you’re eating a good deal of whole foods and you shouldn’t have to worry about the occasional hamburger or whatever else. Fats are 9 calories per gram.

Carbohydrates: This is the easiest part.  Take what calories are left over after fats and protein, and those can be carbs.  Try to eat some complex carbs like oats and whole grains, but some snacks are okay! There aren’t necessarily requirements here, but for athletes especially get somewhere around 2-4g /lb bodyweight, depending on activity level.  Carbs are 4 calories per gram. Carbs are not the enemy!

Here come the part that you will want to resist when you hear it, it just sounds so wrong.  As long as you are eating the correct amount of calories, protein, and fat, your diet is good!  By no means is this an endorsement of a diet that consists solely of protein powder and ice cream because “it fits my macros” but as long as an honest effort to eat a good deal of real, “clean” foods, the rest really doesn’t matter.  For instance, there is no evidence that there is a demonstrable difference in results when using complex carbs (like whole grains, etc) and a mixture of sugars, simple carbs, and complex carbs.   If you’re diabetic, that’s different and you should already know what to do about your blood sugar.  For normal indivduals, though, it’s really that simple.  Eat as many whole foods as possible, hit your macronutrient needs, and if there is space left, EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT!

Fiber: Fibrous carbs are a somewhat different category.  On the conventional American nutrition label, fiber carbs are counted amongst carbohydrates and calories.  However, it doesn’t quite work that way – you may subtract fiber carbs from your totals.  You do want to consume fiber, however.  Fiber is critical and helpful for digestive health.  It helps with nutrient absorption as well as loosening the bowels, so to speak.  Your GI can do a very good job of adjusting to fiber over time, but shoot for about 25g at the minimum.  If you don’t normally consume fiber, this may increase the amount that you flatulate and your stool may be loosened.  Like I said, though, you should adjust rather quickly – just don’t make a huge jump from no fiber to 50+g.


The mantra in bodybuilding for ages and more recently in popular dieting literature is that you must eat many small meals every day, say every two hours.   Others may tell you that if you eat more than the traditional three square meals, you’ll get fat or eat too much.  Some people wait all day and pig out in one meal.  Maybe you wonder why people have had great results using any of these methods.  I’ll tell you why…meal timing doesn’t matter.  Eat when you want to, eat what you want to, just meet those macronutrient requirements.  Alan Aragon says it best and I took this one from one of his research reviews:

Of primary importance is total amount of the macronutrients by the end of the day. Timing of nutrients is secondary, since there’s typically a constant absorptive overlap between meals in a well-constructed diet.” – Alan Aragon, “Nutrient Timing Part 1: Fat”

What about pre-workout? Post-workout? Supplement companies like you to think that you have to slam some protein and/or carbs right after a workout.  This is just complete bunk – the only people this even somewhat applies to is endurance trainees, like marathon runners.  For the typical athlete or weight lifter, the only thing that really matters is that throughout the day you get nourished.  If you like to eat after a workout, go ahead.  If you don’t, you aren’t losing anything.  The same goes with pre-workout.  If you want to work out with some food in you, by all means do so.  If you like to workout fasted, like in the morning, that’s okay too – though you may want to grab an apple or something.


That’s all you really need to know.  Become a label reader so you can track your calories – I also suggest signing up to a website like Livestrong MyPlate to help you track your calories (they also have an app!).  Just remember, their calorie and macro suggestions are likely to be inaccurate, so you need to do that yourself.  If you need more guidance, feel free to ask questions on here.  Also, you may read the links below for some info.  Finally, I suggest joining the Forums – read the post I linked to in this article as well as others and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  There is a wealth of knowledge beyond even the nutrition forum there too.