The Undergraduate Bodybuilder

The Undergraduate Bodybuilder - Jared Feather


“How did you get lean eating Dinning Hall food?”

This is a question any dieting bodybuilder, wrestler, or most college athletes probably receive throughout the course of their time at a university. I will discuss in detail, for bodybuilding, how I have done this in the past.

“How lean could you have possibly gotten from eating dining hall food Jared? It’s just no good for you.”

“No good for you,” is something people say whenever a food doesn’t meet the widely accepted criteria of a typical “bodybuilding meal.” Chicken, rice, and broccoli, brother. Where the food composition of these foods are definitely wonderful, it’s just not as big of a deal as the guru’s on the web make it out to be. What do I mean by this? I mean that food composition is not the biggest dieting strategy to make the most dramatic changes for your body composition. It’s actually just about the last thing you have to worry about, respectively, when dieting. Including dieting for bodybuilding.



Jared (picture above from his latest show) knows a thing or two about getting lean!


You’re reading this from RP’s blog, so I am guessing you have a pretty good understanding of the nutritional priorities, but let’s review these in relation to the dining hall.


1.) The absolute most effective dieting intervention for maintaining your muscle, and losing fat, is to eat less food. You MUST be in a caloric deficit. Recommendations in any sports nutrition book I have read throughout my academic career is a 1-2lbs loss per week. Any more of a loss per week, and you may possibly put your pride and joy at risk of being lost. Yes, I am talking about your lean tissue!

This first priority is good news for us dieting competitors, because we have no lack of food in the dining hall. It’s there all the time!

“How do I figure out how much food I’m eating in a meal if the dining hall is buffet style?”

That is a very simple question to answer. If anyone has ever told you to not pay attention to the scale, then they were wrong! How else will you know if you’re losing the recommended weight per week? If by mid-week you lost a half of a pound or a whole pound (depending on the rate of loss) then you’re probably on the right track. Write down what you ate in a diet log, and approximate about how much you had.


An example would look like this:

Post workout: I had a bowl and a half of cereal after my chest workout today, along with 0% milk and a scoop of whey protein in my shaker cup.

Those measurements are probably fine! An even bigger help to me has been downloading my fitness pal, or my plate onto my phone. I would suggest these apps to anyone who is eating at a dining hall. If you do not have a smart phone, you can use these apps online! Approximations of the portion sizes are pretty easy to make, and if they aren’t to you then you can look up pictures online. Type in “4 oz. of chicken,” in a google search and I promise you will find out what 4 oz. of chicken looks like in comparison to a person’s hand.

The more precise way to find out your total kcal per day could come from a variety of equations you can find online. One quick way is to take your bodyweight x10 (male) or x9 (female) and then add a low activity level (500 kcal), because we are in college after all. That would be the total kcal you need to maintain body weight. Now just take out some kcal, and add in some cardio for a total deficit of 500-1000 kcal per day depending on weight loss goals (1-2lbs per week). If you find you’re losing too much, then just eat a little more. If you find you’re not losing enough, then eat a little less.

2.) Once the total calories for your goal, in this case dieting for a show or competition, are determined the next thing we worry about is the macronutrients. You’re reading this because you are a dieting bodybuilder in college, so I am assuming you know that means proteins, carbs, and fats. The biggest question here is:

“How do I find out how many grams of each nutrient I need?”

There are general guidelines in many sports nutrition books, as well as online, that you can find.

I will list what I have learned in the past in many of my courses. The most protein a person should take in is about a gram per lb. of their body weight (.6 to 1 gram per lb. in bodyweight is the recommendation). A huge factor here is how lean the individual is already, so if you happened to have massed (bulked) a little bit too long and realize you need to cut down, then your best bet is to short change the protein a little bit. I’d say .8 is a good start being it is more in the middle range of that recommendation.

Let’s say you got to 230lbs during your mass, but your body fat is around 25%, then consuming 230 grams of protein is only going to take up calories you could be consuming in carbs and fats to help preserve lean tissue. This will also allow you to keep fats a little higher for a little longer so you don’t have to cut into carbs as fast.

Carbohydrate recommendations are generally 1-3 grams per lb. in bodyweight depending on volume, weight, sport etc. I aim to be around 1.8-2.2 grams per lb. during high volume phases, as an example. This provides energy for training, promotes anabolism, and keeps the lean tissue on during cuts. Low carb for too long is probably a bad idea for the retention of lean tissue. This is good news for us, because the dining hall has A HUGE VARIETY of carbohydrates everywhere.

There are pasta lines, rice, breads, potatoes, and many other grain products. The 1.8-2.2g per lb. range of carbohydrates leaves me enough room to have fats decently high for a reduction in fats about twice in the time frame of a 3 month cut, or so, instead of having to cut from carbs and reduce the likelihood of lean tissue retention.

Since fats are generally accepted as a calorie buffer I will use the following calculation to determine where the fats will be at to start my diet. Carbs are 4 kcal per gram. Proteins are also 4 kcal per gram. Take the total protein you need (in grams) and multiply by 4kcal. Take the total carbs you need (in grams) and multiply by 4kcal. Add those two numbers together (Total kcal of protein and carbs). Now you take the number of kcal you just found and subtract that number from the total number of kcal you need per day. Take the answer you get divided by 9kcal. This equals your total grams of fat you will be eating to start your cut.

Let’s do an example:

Ex: To start my diet I was 200lbs. I needed around 2900 kcal per day (with cardio interventions as well) to meet my deficit of a lb of body fat loss per week. I was pretty lean, so I ate 200g protein (the full amount 1xb/w). 200gx4kcal=800kcal. I multiplied my bodyweight by 2 for my carbohydrates to start my diet off. Many factors played into this. A big factor is that I train twice a day and need that many. 200lbsx2g=400g. 400gx4 kcal= 1600 kcal. I then took the total number of Kcal I needed subtracted from the sum of my carbs and proteins. 1600 kcal (carbs)+800 kcal (proteins)= 2400 kcal. I said I need 2900 kcal to start my diet, so 2900 kcal-2400 kcal=500 kcal left to eat in fats. If you remember, as stated above, fats are 9 kcal per gram. This means I take 9 kcal/500 kcal, which is roughly 55g of fat to start my diet. This left me enough room to make a fat drop, or two, keeping carbs high all the way through my prep basically.

After reading everything above you can see this is obviously a little harder to track than just the total amount of food you are eating. I already talked about a scale, so getting a scale is a pretty great idea. If you tell people you do everything it takes to reach your goals with bodybuilding, which I hear more often than not, then this is one hell of a tool for you to use. A scale paired with a measuring cup will be your best friend until you really get the hang of things. My fitness pal has measurements for every food item you will eat. You just weigh or measure the food, and put in the total number of servings you had. Most dining hall foods are on this app. You can even put decimal numbers if you had to eat 1.25 servings of 4oz of chicken (which means you ate 5oz) then you can type that in, and my fitness pal does the rest! I know Sodexo is the company our university does meals through, and My Fitness Pal has Sodexo options in their food item search. This just shows that there really isn’t any excuse as to why you shouldn’t know ABOUT how much of each nutrient you are eating, because the details are right there on the app.

3.) This leads us into the third most important priority, nutrient timing. The two biggest variables in nutrient timing are meal frequency and timing to activity. I’m not going to go in depth on the FSR curve (rate of muscle gain), supplying it with the right amount of protein, trying to mute the FBR curve (rate of muscle loss), GI tract blood flow during exercise, or any of that boring science stuff! Rather, I am going to discuss eating around classes (meal frequency) and training times (timing to activity).

We are all here to get the best education possible, so skipping a class for a meal might not be the best idea. Good thing meal frequency isn’t the end all be all! I’m not saying only eat 2 times a day, but if you happen to have a super busy schedule then squeezing in 4 meals a day is a great start. Having a meal with sufficient amounts of protein every 3-5 hours will prevent the pulling of amino acids from other muscle tissue. For a good example I will say that, on average, I eat about 4 dining hall meals, an intra-workout shake, and a casein shake at night time. This is 6 total meals a day, if you are counting the intra workout shakes and casein shakes as meals. Which you should, because those are nutrients in.

This would bring up the next question of when it’s best to train if meal timing is a big deal to you. Let’s look at some benefits of training in the morning:

 Most importantly the dining hall is open throughout the day, and you can time your nutrients to your activity. Training at 10pm probably isn’t going to be the best idea unless your dining hall stays open until 3 am, and you stay up just as late studying. You could squeeze the nutrients into your post workout window nutrition if that was the case.

 The workout is out of the way, and this leaves more time to study at night. You literally feel better, are awake and alert, and may actually participate in class discussions more often.

You’ll have tons of carbs that you need to eat throughout the rest of that day, which will help you stay energized as well! Of course this is all just from experience.

One negative aspect I could see, having to train super early, is that university rec centers do not open until 6am, or so, usually. If you have an 8am class then you feel rushed, and it’s hard to put a meal before your workout. This isn’t a huge deal because you should have nutrients during you training session anyways. I typically start sipping on my 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein before I head to the gym, around 5:30. This way I at least feel like I have some energy beforehand. Pre workouts with caffeine obviously help that early too.

4.) There really isn’t much to say about the food composition in the dining hall, being it is pretty self-explanatory. If you go to a bigger university, then I know there are great options such as chicken breast, lean meats, all the low GI sources of carbs you could ask for, etc. At some smaller universities, lunch meat is about as good as it is going to get. Luckily food composition isn’t the most important thing in the world, like I said earlier. It’s just about 5%, or so, of dieting success. Another thing is that certain food items that may have a bad reputation, because their food compositions are seemingly “bad”, can actually be better for the anabolic environment we want. A higher glycemic carbohydrate post workout promotes anabolism a little better than brown rice does, and cereal is not only delicious but (paired with the right amount of protein) it will help set in motion the anabolic processes we need to start building muscle sooner rather than later.

Now, the next time another college student comes to you and ask how you are producing such an outcome in regards to your body composition goals (even though your food choices are more than short-handed), you can tell them that you understand the basic priorities for doing so. This might intrigue them, and you can teach them a thing or two about “No good for you.” Whether it is a fellow dieting bodybuilder who lives across the hall or it’s a right out of high school freshman scared of the freshman 15, the priorities listed above will help when it comes dieting in the dining hall (or any cafeteria type setting). A great place to start, if you wish to go more in depth on each of this priorities, is Renaissance Periodization’s nutritional video series on YouTube. After you finish that, then you could get their book The Renaissance Diet! Almost everything you need to know about producing the results you want can be found here, and those two place. Now that I have written a guide to practical application of these priorities in regards to a dining hall setting, you should place first in every show you will ever do in college… Okay maybe training has a lot to do with bodybuilding also, and I should write something on that too? I hope this helps someone somewhere, because it would have been nice to know my first show, instead of buying EVEN MORE food on top of that already expensive meal plan we all pay for.



Jared was an Undergraduate student at the University of Central Missouri where he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Mike Israetel and Dr. Jen Case. Jared also runs Paradox Transformations, a business he started to help college students get into better shape and to compete in physique competitions. Jared is currently in California doing an internship with Juggernaut Training Systems.

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