I remember heading to college my freshman year. A huge mix of excitement and nervousness for what was to come. Not so much for classes, honestly, but more so for my new intense practice schedule as a swimmer.
I knew I had so much potential coming from a swim team that worked hard, but didn’t have as much time in the pool each week and had almost no weight room experience. Still, as I wondered how my body would handle the training adjustment, even as a nutrition student, the role of snacks and my eating schedule in adapting to these new stresses never crossed my mind.
Learning the Hard Way
I made good choices at actual meals and allowed myself cookies and ice cream after dinner when I wanted them. I definitely wasn’t too low on calories my first two semesters. However, overall nutrients? Protein timing? Hydration? Not things I was knowledgeable enough to recognize I was doing wrong.
Looking back, heading to 2 hour AM workouts on an empty stomach and avoiding sports drinks because I thought they weren’t healthy were bad ideas. That’s probably what led to late night cravings for calzone delivery or mini-binges on Butterfinger and Reese’s. Snacking during the day, between breakfast and lunch, or at least before another intense afternoon workout? All I recall is an occasional PowerBar Harvest bar.
I not only had a quad injury by our first meet in October, but I also wasn’t recovering well and my energy levels were not that of someone with an extremely high fitness level. My times improved slightly by the end of the year, and I surely gained muscle mass, but my body was not performing the way it should. I just didn’t know any better!
Sharing What I Wish I Knew Then
Now I do. And that’s what I love about my career. My all time favorite thing to do is speak to high school and college athletes. It’s so exciting to provide them with this valuable information, so they can feel empowered to maximize their training and performance. I always tell them nutrition is part of their training, not a separate piece.
And, healthy eating for an athlete is not the same as healthy eating for a non-athlete. No two are alike in what they need for their own body as well. Still, there’s 10 items that can be helpful to any athlete. Here’s my picks for your dorm room.
10 Items for Every College Athlete’s Dorm Room
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1. Whole Food Snack Bars
Yes, snack. Not meal replacement. Some are better pre-workout or in the middle of the day, others are better post-workout when you can’t make it to the dining hall within an hour of exercise.
- Pre-workout ideass:
- During the day
2. Quick Prep Whole Grains
You can make these in minutes and pack them with plenty of other ingredients (see below!) for added nutrition. That way, if you happen to be running late in the morning, instead of skipping the dining hall and breakfast all together, you can get in a balanced meal with oatmeal as a base. Actually, oats, rice pouches, and quinoa cups are great anytime of day, so these are a great idea if you’re hungry after an early dinner. Or, they can act as a pre-workout snack if you go lower on the ads ins!
Stock up on these sources of not only protein, but essential vitamins and minerals, too. I’d limit almond, cashew, rice, etc. milk alternatives, unless they’re consumed along with a balanced meal since they are NOT a good protein source.
When it comes to calcium, this important nutrient is used in every muscle contraction! Plus, if you’re playing a high impact sport, there is more stress placed on your bones. For these reasons, athletes require more calcium than the average person. Be sure the type you purchase has 25% or more of your daily value.
With a tiny dorm room fridge, you can store a case of these under your bed or futon and have more delivered over parent’s weekend. I recommend cooking oats with the milk to boost protein or carrying around the single serve packs to have with snacks or after practice during the day. It’s also not a bad addition to a PB & banana sandwich a couple of hours after dinner, so your body has all the nutrients it needs to recover while you sleep.
4. Fresh Fruit
I don’t expect you to roll onto campus with tons of fresh fruit, as I know it will spoil. I also know most campus’ aren’t going to have easy grocery store access and athletes don’t have time to shop as new students adjusting to school, anyway!
Here’s the super easy hack, so you can snack on fruit whenever you need to replenish energy stores, amp up your antioxidant intake for repair, or grab a quick preworkout snack:
Take a piece of fruit with you at least after two meals each day from the dining hall! Often the bananas aren’t ripe enough anyway, so you can let them hit their peak for pre-workout perfection in your room. Those meal plans are expensive enough, anyway, for those of you heading to school without a full-ride, so maximize what you’re getting out of them. Just keep the fresh fruit where you’ll see it so it doesn’t spoil!
5. Nut and Seed Butter or Nuts and Seeds
Nut and seed butters are quick, nutritious, and go with practically everything. You should probably get a few of the cost club size and along with them, nut or seed butter single serve packs are great to keep in your backpack or locker, or to pack when traveling for your sport.
While a lot of people think of peanut butter and nuts as protein sources, they’re a much better way to fit in healthy fats. The mono-unsaturated fats in nut butter and seed butter are great for managing inflammation, which athletes have a lot of due to high stress on all of the body’s systems. Peanut, almond, and sunflower seed butter are also all great sources of Vitamin E! Most Americans do not meet needs for this important nutrient that acts as an antioxidant and also supports blood health, immune health, joint health and skin. While all nuts provide healthy fat, the one nut that contains omega-3 in note-worthy amounts is walnuts.
That’s not to say these options aren’t good for portable protein, too. Pair fruit with peanuts, almonds, or pistachios for the highest protein nuts. Pumpkin seeds are a helpful source if you have peanut and nut allergies.
Sunflower seeds are great, but my top seed recommendations extend to chia, flax and pumpkin, too. I recommend chia for oatmeal and smoothies, ground flax for the same and yogurt, and pumpkin seeds to add some crunch when you need texture. Chia and flax are the best omega-3 source for seeds. The chia also contains some calcium and lots of soluble fiber, which is great for your good gut bacteria. Flax also has this fiber and magnesium, which supports the functions of calcium. Pumpkin seeds also provide iron, a nutrient of concern for female athletes in particular.
Of note: hemp seeds are a great way to get a boost of protein, healthy fat and iron, but most military branches and sports organizations recommend avoiding hemp as a precautionary measure for drug testing.
Pro-tip: buy the travel packs and bring them to the dining hall to mix in with morning oatmeal.
6. Portable Whole Food Protein
With busy schedules and extreme energy expenditure, it’s important to eat enough carbs and protein throughout the day, not just at meals. Carbohydrates keep your muscles and brain energized and protein is essential not just for muscle repair, but many other body functions, including immunity, hormone creation and more. With the fruit and whole grain options above, you’ll have carbs on hand, but what about the protein?
Shelf-stable real-food portable protein is widely available. Stock your room with:
- Roasted edamame
- Wild caught salmon or tuna pouches
- Roasted beans (they taste better than they sound!)
- Bean based tortilla chips
- Peanuts and pistachios
7. Muscle Rollers
Where were these when I was a college athlete? Not in the UConn strength rooms and definitely not in my dorm. The half sizes can fit just about anywhere though so you can roll out your aches and knots when you’re finally relaxing in front of the tv. I’m sure my hip health would be so much better now if I was using foam rollers back in the day! Full body massages aren’t on most athletes schedules during a busy semester, so this is the next best option.
Now these we did have in the training room, but in hind-sight, I needed my own. The stick gets those places that are really bugging you with more intensity and attention than the foam roller. You may have to recruit your roommate to help you reach that awkward place under your scapula, but it’s also great if you’re prone to plantar-fasciitis pain. Just don’t roll it right over bones.
8. Arnica Gel
This homeopathic remedy for muscle soreness and bruising is a favorite of mine. It has research backing it for pain relief, and in my personal experience is effective, too. Better though, it doesn’t leave you sticky, burning and smelling strongly of mint.
Note: if you start bruising really easily, it may be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. Keep iron intake up!
I know for some of you it may feel like you’re going to school to be an athlete and not a student, but that attitude can catch up to you really quickly. You’re going to be not only sore, but fatigued from an intense training schedule, so slouching when you study will be even more likely. This pressure influences your posture, potentially activating sciatica pain at your young age, impairing training and performance. It can also cause imbalances in shoulder strength that throw off your strength, too. It’s also worth noting that sitting up straighter may keep you more alert!
10. Natural Sleep Aids
You’d think everyone would be so exhausted they’d sleep at the drop of a time. However, with all of the stresses of college and athletics on top of it, sometimes the mind can race and falling asleep can be a challenge. Lack of sleep can obviously cause you to feel lethargic during the day, but it also limits your recovery period.
Research supports the use of several natural substances for enhancing sleep ranging from foods, to herbs, to specific nutrients.
- Intake of 25 tart cherries per day was shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. The easier way to get this in though, is via dried tart cherries or tart cherry juice, which may also help with muscle recovery.
- Chamomile and lavender have calming effects, as do warm beverages. Keep chamomile lavender tea on hand to sip on as you wind down at the end of the day.
- In terms of nutrients, magnesium is known to aid in relaxation and also may help both sleep and muscle recovery. I recommend Thorne’s magnesium biglycinate since it is high quality and NSF certified for sport.
I only recommend supplements that are NSF certified for sport or Informed Choice certified for sport. Please review all supplements with your team’s sports dietitian.
Have other top products for dorm rooms? Share the ideas in the comments!