So it’s about two months into the first semester and, for 50,000 freshers around the country, that means there’s been over 8 weeks of a whole new way of life...€2 drinks in Diceys, noodles, cold pizza for breakfast, noodles, sleeping in the library, oh and noodles. For the rest of you students, it's back to the norm.
However, the onslaught of cheap drink and fast food are a recipe for disaster, as those summer beach bods begin to give way to bingo wings. So if six-packs now mean a trip to Aldi instead of the gym, and the local Dominos is on Speed-dial, then this article is for you.
Tip 1 – Breakfast is key
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and there’s a reason people keep saying it; it’s true! Breakfast sets you up for the day, giving you the energy you need to focus and face that 9am lecture. If you’ve been out the night before, a bite to eat in the morning will help you feel human again – and I don’t mean the slice of last night’s stale pizza you found in a box on the floor. A bowl of something substantial (and not too sugary) will get you moving again. A bowl of porridge, Weetabix or Oatabix (or the generic versions are just as good) is best, add some milk and a banana and you have a tasty, cheap, low calorie breakfast to power you through the day.
Tip 2 – Lunch
So you thought packed lunches were left behind in secondary school and that college was all Starbucks and artisan pulled-pork baps? Oh how naive you were. After a week or two of college when you find yourself searching under couch cushions for bus money, you might need to break out that lunch box again.
Lunch does not need to be Instagramable. A few (wholegrain) sandwiches, some lettuce, sliced chicken, cheese – everything tastes better between two slices of bread really, so it doesn’t matter what you throw in there! Much cheaper and way healthier too when you know what’s going into your food. Always make your lunch the night before. “I’ll do it in the morning” is up there with “I’m never drinking again” as the biggest lie we tell ourselves.
Tip 3 – Dinner
Mammy’s dinners are a now thing of the past (unless of course you can get her to freeze a few for you during the week). It’s time you learned how to cook and it’s definitely a skill worth having; a “home cooked dinner” works way better than “Netflix and chill.”
It's not rocket science either; throwing food into a pot of boiling water or into the oven will usually work out just fine – it might resemble a dish from an Iron Stomach competition, but it’ll be edible! Some practice will make perfect though.
Eating vegetarian some evenings of the week is also a great money-saver and usually lower in calories too. Half a tin of chickpeas, half a tin of chopped tomatoes, a chopped onion, 100g frozen veg and a chopped pepper in one pan and 75g of basmati rice in a pot of boiling water will take around 10 mins to cook, cost you €1.70 and only has 580 calories but leave you feeling stuffed!
Tip 4 – Alcohol
Alcohol contains calories. A lot of calories. Especially when you’re mixing up those shots of jäger with some sugar-filled energy drink. The average male requires 2,500 calories a day; five pints will provide 1,250 kcals. Add on that late night trip to Supermacs or McDonalds and a nights drinking can very easily put you way over your requirements – extra energy your body stores as fat.
Whilst it’s probably impractical to suggest you cut out alcohol completely (although fair play if you do), be aware that being constantly on the session will leave you looking and feeling worse for wear, your wallet a lot lighter and your grades suffering (not to mention the constant Fear!) As in all things, balance is key.
A few pints of water throughout the night will help keep the worst of the hangover at bay. Non-alcoholic beer is really starting to take off with most pubs stocking a variety; it has half the calories, often costs less, tastes good and usually lowers the chances of you doing something you’ll regret in the morning.
Finally cut out that take-away after the night out – when your body is busy breaking down all that alcohol, it doesn’t have time to deal with other food so it's more likely to just store it as fat instead. Save yourself the money and the calories and say no.
Tip 5 – Exercise
Get active. Exercise is just as important as diet when it comes to keeping in shape. Thirty minutes a day, 5 days a week is recommended for weight maintenance and up to an hour for weight loss. That might seem daunting, but you’re in college now so exercise is easier than ever. Walking (briskly) or cycling to and from college is definitely the easiest way to fit this in, however most colleges have discounted clubs and gyms to join so there's everything from boxercise, pole fitness, treadmills and the good old GAA to keep you moving. It’s also a great way to meet new people too!
Remember though, cardio is way more effective in burning calories than pumping weights. Hopefully following these five tips will keep you on point all year and tweet me any other top tips that work for you!
Fiachrá Duffy is a Registered Dietitian with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (@trust_indi). You can contact him @fiachra_duffy