Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
Ah yes, another Fall semester is upon us with promises of busy days, long nights and a few parties. You may have preconceived plans of keeping your head straight and building some muscle while staying lean and strong this time around. After all, it takes great will power to stay ahead of the pack and harness the discipline to stay strict with your schedule, your diet and the avoidance of temptations and distractions.
But this is college. Why can’t you stay lean and have a little fun along the way? Can you really have the best of both worlds? All it may take is a little planning and self-discipline to guide you through the treacherous landscape as you ebb and flow through the new school year.
22 Ways to Help You Stay Lean
Below are 22 ways to stay lean and on course with this impending academic year. You may need only a few to get you through – others may need the whole course load just to survive. Whatever your situation may be, sit up straight, pay attention and let’s begin.
Lean Tip #1 - Drink at least one gallon of water
Okay, yes, I know. This one appears to be a no-brainer. But answer this honestly: Do you drink enough water? With a busy class schedule, social life, study sessions and let’s not forget training it is easy, correction, effortless to look this crucial practice over.
Drink water! This doesn’t include coffee, smoothies and definitely not alcohol. Pure, unadulterated water is a must if your goal is to stick to your eating plan and stay (or get) lean. For an average 180-200 pound male this equates to at least one gallon total per day. Bring a bottle with you wherever you go and be sure to keep it flowing.
Lean Tip #2 - Improve gains and your brain with breakfast
Much debate has been raised over the necessity of eating breakfast. As a student with seemingly ten billion things on your plate, erratic schedules and potentially poor eating habits it is imperative that you eat a healthy breakfast. Not only is this good for your muscles, metabolism and mood, it is also a key factor regarding brain function specifically improved cognitive performance.
Your first meal of the day doesn’t have to be an elaborate production – oatmeal with a protein shake is fast and easily digested for speed and convenience. If I haven’t said it already, eat breakfast.
Don't starve yourself. Muscle is actually what burns fat – along with other processes of the body. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn.
Lean Tip #3 - Balance your protein, carbs and fat
Cramming in a snack for lunch and then gorging your pie hole with a feast for dinner isn’t what anyone would call a balanced meal plan. Be sure you are getting in the proper number of meals and the right amount of protein, carbs and fats with each meal.
Don’t fret, this doesn’t have to be an exact science, just something you have scheduled on a daily basis that has formed into a habit and is easily executable. Sporadically spacing your meals and ignoring calories will spell certain disaster when your desire is to see your abs all year.
Lean Tip #4 - Get consistent with your training
Another “role your eyes” reaction – I can sense it. But bear with me here, you are still in the trust tree. Be honest with yourself once again and ask if you are hitting the gym on a regular basis – not just the beginning of each week but all scheduled training days.
Consistency is absolutely key when it comes to succeeding at your physique goals. Day in and day out make those training days. Each set, each rep is one step closer to those goals and one step closer to your ultimate self. Staying consistent with your training is a major piece of the stay lean puzzle.
Lean Tip #5 - Don't just train, train right
Not only is the simple act of making it to the gym on a regular basis an important factor, training the right way is just as important. Don’t be a let’s-work-chest-on-Monday-and-lift-more-weight-we-have-no-business-lifting-to-impress-everyone kind of trainer. Do what you need to do not what you want to do to turn heads.
Sure, train the beach muscles but don’t forget to kill your legs, back, shoulders and abs as well. Frequency, volume, intensity and a holistic approach to your training are all considerations when building the most effective program.
Lean Tip #6 - Improve your recovery habits
With an intense training plan in place now is not the time to skimp on your recovery. Staying lean, as you already are privy to, takes consistency with training and diet. Not eating the proper number of meals, ignoring meal timing and eating poor quality foods won’t get you very far in the physique game.
Pay close attention to your recovery habits. Eat your scheduled meals, avoid overtraining and get the required rest.
Lean Tip #7 - Eat before you go out
Going out and socializing is definitely a part of the education environment. Whether getting a bite with buddies or partaking in a large get together food will most likely be an integral part of your outing.
It’s easy to shove bad food down your gullet but you can circumvent this pitfall by simply eating a healthy, lean-physique meal prior to your participation. By eating a small meal before a big night out you will curb cravings and quell your desire to binge. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
By eating a small meal before a big night out you will curb cravings and quell your desire to binge. Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
Lean Tip #8 - Prepare and pack your food
If you find yourself running from class to class, maintaining a hectic schedule and/or away from your comfy kitchen for a significant amount of time planning your meals ahead of time becomes invaluable. Take an insulated lunch box packed with your favorite muscle-building, fat fighting foods so you will never be without. Greek yogurt, canned chicken and tuna, beef jerky, nuts, lunch meat and protein powder are easily transportable and convenient.
Lean Tip #9 - Don't forget your healthy fats
With a habit of reaching for carbs during times of hunger, this simple act can have a huge potential of sabotaging your fat-loss efforts. Instead, try snacking on some healthy fat and protein sources such as an assorted variety of nuts, cheese, hard boiled eggs and nut butters. The fat and protein combo will keep your muscle building amino acids flowing while giving you energy without the blood sugar roller coaster.
Lean Tip #10 - When in doubt eat protein
Not only do you need protein for immediate recovery after an intense training session you will also need steady feedings throughout the day. Keeping your body properly fed with muscle-building food will, of course, aid in growth but it will also aid your recovery regarding times of stress during your day.
When in doubt chose protein over any other source when your choices are limited. Getting in a dose of protein will always trump any sugar-laden simple carb snack which will wreak havoc on your fat-burning furnace.
Lean Tip #11 - De-stress for better progress
As mentioned earlier, your hectic schedule doesn’t make for the easiest environment for your stay-lean and muscle-building goals. Stress becomes a well-hidden and formidable factor that can derail your best efforts.
Sometimes referred to as the silent killer, many ailments can be attributed to stress including heart disease, stroke, cancer and other common setbacks like colds, flu, aches and pains. Stress also has a pivotal role regarding muscle gain and fat loss so be sure to find ways to manage your stress levels and unplug every once in a while.
Lean Tip #12 - Improve motivation by partnering up
With a rich social environment such as school finding a training partner shouldn’t be a difficult task. With a trend toward getting lean, many individuals seek external motivation for that extra push in the gym; when social pressures mount and motivation tends to wane. Just be sure that your new training partner has similar goals as yours. This isn’t to say they need the exact same vision, but that they possess the same work ethic, schedule and desire to improve.
Frequency, volume, intensity and a holistic approach to your training are all considerations when building the most effective program.
Lean Tip #13 - Get some sleep, regulate your hormones
Going hand-in-hand with controlling and managing stress levels, getting proper rest is also just as important. Be sure to get at least seven to eight hours per night. If you find you can’t maintain such a sleep schedule for good reasons, make taking a daily nap a priority.
Nothing short of good nutrition will do more for your lean goals as sleep. Inducing vital hormone reactions, rejuvenation needs and resetting your cognitive functions sleep can make or break your efforts in the gym.
Lean Tip #14 - Don’t overdo it in the gym
Staying on the course of the importance of recovery overdoing it in the gym can slow and even stall muscle gain and fat-loss. Overtraining is a real thing especially if you aren’t adhering to proper nutrition and rest protocols.
Sleeplessness, lethargy, loss of appetite, headaches, joint pain and an overall lack of motivation are just some of the few signs and symptoms that you are overdoing it and need to either cut back on training or are due for an extended rest period.
Lean Tip #15 - Remember fruits, veggies and fiber
Although traditionally not a big part of a student’s diet, getting in your fruits and vegetables is an integral part of any fat-loss diet. Not only will they supply you with ample and important fiber, they will also support myriad cell functions as well as provide satiety in times of calorie deficits. Mineral, vitamins and other phytochemicals (the good stuff) are just a few key ingredients to help keep you on the fat-fighting track.
Lean Tip #16 - Use supplements WITH a balanced meal plan
First, I must say that supplements are often misused but can be great additions to any eating plan. However, the perceptions of supplements are quite misconstrued. By mere definition they are to supplement (read: in addition to) an already established diet. They were never meant to replace good ole fashioned balanced nutrition.
Use them in times of inconvenience and on those days when you need a little extra recovery such as post-workout. Use them wisely as they will never produce the gains of real food.
Lean Tip #17 - Alcohol in moderation, only
Imbibing in the occasional spirit won’t be the end of the world, but when taken to extremes, much like most things, can become a serious hindrance regarding any goals you may have much less trying to lose fat. Too much alcohol will dehydrate muscle cells, slow down key reactions for recovery and inhibit any new muscle growth or fat-loss efforts. Either abstain or carefully control your consumption.
Lean Tip #18 - Have fun but don't fall for peer pressure
Going out for late nights, overdoing the drinking and eating crappy food are easy to get caught up in when your crew pressures you to go with the flow. Being the buzz kill in the group isn’t exactly your idea of having a well-rounded education either. Don’t become a Negative Nancy and shun away from everyone and live under a bridge. Go out, have fun, but just follow the rest of these rules regarding eating, sleeping and training and you should be fine.
Lean Tip #19 - Starvation is not a proper fat loss strategy
Since you are on a fat-loss journey doesn’t mean it’s a green light to starve yourself. Muscle is actually what burns fat – along with other processes of the body. The more muscle you have, the more fat you will burn.
With that said muscle needs food, muscle needs recovery and muscle needs not to starve or it will eat itself for survival. Be sure to eat enough of the right foods to keep your fat furnace burning.
Lean Tip #20 - Cheat but don't binge eat
Piggybacking off of the last point, binging isn’t helpful either. Getting in a cheat meal every now and then can actually be a good thing, but stuffing yourself silly will only make you feel miserable and guilty of falling off the wagon.
When it is time for a cheat meal eat slowly and enjoy your reward. It takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that your stomach is full so taking your time eating will enable you to better control your intake.
Lean Tip #21 - Wage war on fat by planning ahead
Planning is your most lethal weapon with your war on fat. Planning meals, workouts, schedules, social events and sleep will get you very far in your physique goals. As the old saying goes, there no such thing as a rainy day, just the fact that you forgot your umbrella. Plan ahead and be aware of your actions when change happens and you are knocked off your plan. Stay aware and adjust when necessary.
Lean Tip #22 - Avoid extremes, keep your balance
Most of all stay balanced with all of your efforts. Going extreme in one direction or another will quickly burn you out and stifle any progress. It isn’t a race, it’s a lifestyle - a lifestyle that you can live with and thrive on. Don’t live and breathe the gym, your meals and constantly thinking about your physique.
When it’s time to eat, eat. When it’s time to train, train. But that’s it. Don’t obsess and let your goals rule your life – live with balance.