Staying Healthy at University
University can be a daunting time for both students and parents, a new environment, new friends, new knowledge, and leaving home. The last thing you are going to be worried about during this transition time is going to be what you are throwing in your rucksack for between lectures when your tummy begins to grumble. However, what you choose to snack on can have a drastic effect on your attention span, mood, and alertness, which will affect your productiveness during this new period in your life.
1. Meal Prep!
Meal prep can be your new best friend. By planning your meals ahead, this can save you time and give you time to concentrate on preparing something healthy, yet filling, that won’t leave you with those mid-afternoon sugar cravings.
The first part is to plan. Don’t go to the supermarket without an idea of what you want to cook, because you will end up buying things that you don’t need. And don’t go hungry!
- Start off by choosing a staple: choose a staple that won’t spike your blood sugar levels during the day in order to avoid that mid-afternoon crash. Sticking to foods such as lentils, beans, and proteins will help to provide you the most energy throughout the day. As you are a student, and most likely going to live off of pasta, if your meal prep consists of a carb-based dish, try to stick to a whole grain variety.
- Next, try to incorporate a vegetable or two into your meal of choice. Vegetables are a great source of energy and nutrient powerhouse. Vegetables like spinach are super easy to incorporate into dishes by simply sautéing them or eating them raw. Though they can get quite expensive, maybe talk with your flatmates about doing a shop together in order to save money and reduce the amount of waste, as they tend to go off quite quickly! Or buy frozen, it will last longer than a week and can be much cheaper too.
- Include a healthy fat! Your brain is made up of 70% fat. So in order to function properly and work during your lecture, it needs healthy fats. These are in foods such as walnuts, avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, oily fish and peanut butter. By bringing nuts to snack on, or boiling a sweet potato, you can easily incorporate these into your diet!
Have a load of random foods in your fridge? You don’t have to grab a pot noodle from the corner shop! Websites such as this one and this work to create recipes out of the leftover food (or scraps) that you have in your fridge. This can be beneficial for those days that you’re thinking of living off the tinned beans you found in the back of your cupboard. And by preparing your meals on the weekend, it is also easy to quickly grab your lunch and go without having to worry about unhealthy eating or spending money.
2. Don’t let your body be depleted by alcohol!
Alcohol will now be a big part of your life. You’re a student, it’s almost inevitable. But that’s ok, as long as you replenish the nutrients your body loses from drinking!
- Too much alcohol consumption can inhibit the absorption of zinc and B vitamins, which provide you with energy and help with nerve function, so good luck staying awake during that afternoon lecture the next day! Though, taking a B complex supplement can help to replenish these vitamins in your body and can even help to stave off a hangover if taken the night before.1
Also, you will often find that you are dehydrated when you wake up after a night of binge drinking. Alcohol decreases the production of the anti-diuretic hormone, which is responsible for the body’s ability to retain water, hence the constant need to wee on a night out. So by carrying around a water bottle in your bag at all times, you will be prepared for those dehydrated mornings when you didn’t plan on going out the night before.
- The more water and electrolytes you consume, the quicker your hangover will be cured!2 Coconut water is a great source of natural electrolytes and a great method of hydration, as well as taking beetroot tablets before and after drinking - they're a great natural source of electrolytes, that will help to keep you hydrated.
3. Get outside!
Not only is exercise good for your body, but it is also a great way to be social and make friends! What better way to avoid the freshman 15 than by joining a new society and meeting people. Go to the Fresher's sports fair, sign up for things, try something new! That’s what uni is all about! It is much more fun to exercise with friends than on your own, and exercising will help to keep off all of those extra pounds from those 4am takeaways, as well as helping you to meet some friends.
Also, many freshers find themselves to get into a funk when they first begin uni. Their first time being away from home without family, and the overwhelming uni life taking over. This can greatly affect mood, but exercise is shown to release endorphins in the brain, reducing depression and increasing your mood. So even if it’s just a long walk or run, or walking to uni rather than getting the bus, everything makes a difference! Plus, being outside is a good way to escape that mystery smell in your flat.3
4. Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet!
It can be difficult to eat a well balanced diet while on a student budget, however, it is not impossible! Many unis offer a veg box delivered every week to your door with a range of fresh produce for a low price. This could be a good investment for you and your flat mates in order to get a range of healthy foods in your diet and avoid a bunch of fruit and veg going off. Also, by cooking together with your flat mates, this could be a good way to get to know each other and socialise.
In order to ensure that you are meeting all of your nutritional needs, it might be beneficial to take supplements. Vitamin D, Omega-3, and Iron supplements will benefit many students, as many will not be getting the adequate amount needed through their diet. Vitamin D will help to enhance mood and calcium absorption, with a B complex providing energy to help you get through those 3 hour lectures, and the iron to support your best efforts at consuming those green veg.4
Also, going to the shop right before closing can be a lifesaver when you find the reduced section. All of the fruit and veg will be marked down, and if you are efficient, you can chop it and freeze it that night in order to make it last longer.
5. Keep your mental health in check!
There is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed at times, and, quite possibly, have a few breakdowns, but there are a few precautions you can take in order to keep your mental health at its best!
- Sleep, sleep, sleep! Being overtired and cranky is not fun. And its not fun for others around you either! So in order to avoid the accidental snap at a housemate or falling asleep in a lecture, try your best to get some sleep every night. Even if that requires staying in one night, it will definitely be worth it the next day.
- Plan! In order to avoid everything pilling up at the end of the week and pulling an all-nighter to write an essay, invest in a calendar. Plan out your week in advance ensuring you have enough time to complete everything and get enough sleep!
- Talk to your friends! If things are ever getting too much, it might be helpful to talk to someone, as, chances are, they might be going through the same thing. This can help you to release built up stress and get through your issues.
- Many vitamins and supplements can have an effect on your mental health and mood. Maca, a Peruvian root and superfood, is known to help naturally balance hormones. Adding it to a smoothie can be an effective way of adding it to your diet and balancing your hormones. Vitamin D and the B vitamins also play a crucial role in hormone balance. By making sure that you are getting an adequate amount of these vitamins, you can help to keep you mental health in check!
Don’t be consumed with freshers flu and the freshman 15, enjoy uni and make the most of it by staying healthy and being organised (or trying your best, adulting is hard after all!). It will help to make for a better experience and keep you at your best self! And remember, investing in your health is investing in your future, you need to be healthy to be in the best form to learn (and have fun). And remember: Beetroot, B complex and plenty of water can help to prevent that hangover!
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