How to Get Lean Eating Food from a College Dining Hall

Okay bros, it’s time to tackle one of the most controversial topics in all of fitness: nutrition. Now, I know there are countless ways to approach your diet, and everyone gets completely up in arms about why their way is the best way – Paleo, clean eating, IIFYM, carb-backloading, intermittent fasting, the dirty bulk, and on and on. I have my own personal preferences, but ultimately the best diet approach is the one you can stick to.

That being said, today’s article will not attempt to persuade you one way or the other. I’m just going to share some of my best tips on how I managed to eat decent food without getting super fat while I was eating on campus, mainly from dining halls, any store that would accept my meal plan points, and food courts.

While I’m aware that eating out for all your meals isn’t the optimal way to reach your fitness goals, I know that plenty of youngsters may be knew to this fitness game due to adopting it as a new college habit, and not really sure what they should be doing besides slugging protein shakes. Many college students also have very limited resources (food, money, supplements, a kitchen), so I’m just going to tell you how to make the best of what may be a less-than-perfect situation. Since beach season is almost upon us, this is going to be focusing on how one can lose weight while eating college foods. Trust me, it’s a challenge, but it can be done.

First and foremost, load up your plate with protein, every single time. I don’t if it’s dollar pizza night, before you even consider that, throw down some chicken, turkey, fish, cottage cheese, or any other protein source you can get your hands on. While the processed food served at most fast food places isn’t the best source by any stretch of the imagination, you can still try your best and get some kind of meat and veggies instead of carbs on carbs. This will keep you full, and help support whatever hard-earned muscle you may be packing.

If you can use your meal plan to buy things at your college store or a local grocery store, you’re in a great situation. You can stock up on canned tuna, mixed nuts, rice, and probably some other great stuff for very, very cheap. While eating this in your dorm or between classes isn’t fun, it’s a lot better for your physique than frozen coffee drinks, chips, and pizza slices.

Next up on our list, you had better not be drinking any calories. If you plan on drinking your calories, at least save them for the bar. If you’re one of the chosen, blessed with a fast metabolism, you may be able to eat and drink just about anything and still be pretty shredded. For those like me, who bloat up and gain weight just from smelling french fries, you need to more careful. No soda (or at least only diet soda) is a no-brainer for most, but look at other things. Plenty of sports beverages, flavored waters, and bottled teas, while they seem healthier than soda, can often be loaded with sugar. You’ve been warned.

Last little tip I’m going to throw at you – try to workout before you eat. When you put your body through intense resistance training, you partially deplete your glycogen stores, and due to some hormonal changes, your body will be more receptive to nutrients, and there’s a better chance of them getting stored in your muscle and liver, instead of fat. I’m well aware that research now says that post workout nutrition isn’t as necessary as most of us bros once thought, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s beneficial.

See where this is going? You’ve probably read that you should take in protein and fast-digesting carbs immediately after a workout, which is why everyone mixes up protein and carb shakes after lifting, right? Well, if you can’t afford the supplements, or you want to really crush some good food, skip the shake, and get to the food courts. Grab some chicken and pasta, a tuna sandwich, or really anything that will get you protein and carbs, and you’re good.

Sure, this might not digest as quickly as your $70 post-workout cocktail, and it’s probably not as “clean” – whatever clean means, but it’s still a damn good alternative if you’re in a pinch. When I was in school I had a tight budget, and protein supplements weren’t my number one priority, as much as I wanted them to be. Lift, then eat.

Of course, if you don’t care about getting lean, or you’re a skinny bro trying to bulk up, just throw all this out the window and eat up. Good luck everyone, let’s go get shredded.

Matt Dustin is a personal trainer and strength coach.  You can check out his website at, and follow him on Twitter