10 Ways to Optimize School and Training
Let's face it: being a student is really hard and complicated. While we do get blocks of our day "off," we still have homework, a part-time job for some, and training. Not to mention all of the time spent travelling to get to class, particularly if you live far enough away from campus. So, here are some tips to help you navigate your limited time with school (work for some) and training.
1) Create a (somewhat) Detailed Schedule
As students, our schedules can get really hectic really fast. While some college students have classes a couple of days a week and the rest of time "off," that time quickly becomes time for schoolwork (homework, projects, studying), jobs and internships, training, clubs and social life. And as athletes, we need to eat and sleep, which are critical for mental and physical recovery. Plan when you should go to bed and wake up (minimum of 7 hours of sleep for maintaining good immune systems and recovery; see #6 for more), and map out general times when you should eat. A lot of times what happens is that we eat breakfast at 6am, go to practice and class, and all of the sudden, it's noon and we haven't eaten anything since the early morning.
2) Follow your Schedule
It's one thing to plan and create a schedule, but following a schedule is totally different beast. Take each day one step at time, breaking it down into smaller pieces. You don't an entire piece of cake; you cut a slice (however big), put it on your plate, and take one bite at a time. Same thing here with your schedule.
3) Create a Training Plan that fits your daily schedule
And not the other way around. This tip works for most people (not just students), but I realize full time student-athletes in varsity programs may not have this luxury. Even club athletes have to adhere to practice schedules. It's still possible to discuss this with your coach(es) and create a sustainable plan that will work throughout the semester. Remember, your overall health should be your number one priority. Speaking of priorities...
4) Prioritize (and attempt to avoid Procrastination)
There's never enough hours in a day, regardless if we're students or career professionals. There are certain things that require our immediate attention and should be the top priority. These high priority items become daunting or unpleasant to deal with. But face your priorities as soon as possible. Not only you'll feel better doing it right away, you won't be stressing about it in a few days' or weeks' time.
If you really, really, really don't want to do something, create an incentive for yourself to complete the task. That way, you have something to look forward to once you're done.
5) Knowing when to say No
Once the semester gets loaded with work, our heads may seem like they're about to explode from juggling everything in our lives. When life becomes a tangled mess of need to start eliminating the items at the bottom of the priority list. This is going to be different for everyone: for some, this may be social media, easy training days, social life/events, Netflix/YouTube binges, or ineffective studying hours. However, the few things that shouldn't be sacrificed in this elimination round are classes, key training days (ask your coach/trainer which days are key workouts and key recovery days), sleep and food.
6) Get at least 7 hours of Sleep at night (as recommended by the CDC) (3)
It's the hallmark of every college student to get as little sleep as possible, live on caffeine, and cram as much work in as possible. While I've never pulled an all-nighter myself, I've been on sleep deprivation periods, and it wasn't a good period of time for me. I suffered mentally, emotionally and physically. It's not worth sacrificing your own personal health, so get at least 7 hours of sleep (and add in nap time in the day if you have to).
There are some circumstances that force you to stay up late at night, such as certain projects and procrastination. However, with a bit of last minute planning, you can still figure out a way to get some sleep in such events. If you're active or an athlete, take a couple of days off so your body is forced to undergo more stress than it needs, too. I will discuss about the importance of sleep as a recovery tool in a later blog post, but just understand that sleep helps with your performance, both in the classroom and in your training.
7) Eat well
I'm not going into a deep dive about nutrition in this post, but I wanted to mention a couple of things.
-Eat often: 4-5 meals a day with snacks is more optimal as it allows you to maintain your blood glucose level up. In other words, your energy levels remain constant, rather than rising and crashing throughout the day if you had 1-3 meals.
-Eat balanced: if you're completely lost in terms of nutrition, start with a balanced diet of
-40% carbohydrates: source of quick and sustained energy
-30% of fat: source of sustained energy, building blocks of some cell structures, function and regulation. (1)
-30% protein: building blocks of other cell structures, function, and regulation. (2)
- Counting calories is only a very tiny part of the nutrition picture, and has very little to do overall healthy eating. That being said, don't eat a McDonnald's cheeseburger every single day for lunch or a smoothie for every meal of the day.
8) Have some downtime
If you let it, life can become one, giant bulldozer. It isn't going to stop, and by scrambling around trying to keep up with every single nitty-gritty detail, it's going to run you over, and leave you flat as a crêpe.* Taking a half an hour, or an hour a day to decompress will help you slow down, breathe, relax and reflect on your day. You can incorporate this into your daily bedtime routine to help you get ready for bed (or if you do it in your morning, it helps you gear up for the day). This could be anything from reading your favorite book, writing in your journal or meditation. I wouldn't recommend screen time, as it can add more stress (plus the blue light from the screen will make it harder for you to fall asleep), but if it helps you relax and decompress, go for it.
*Yes, I know the expression is flat as a pancake, but pancakes are too fluffy in comparison.
9) Study strategically, not hard
One of the classic images of a college is a student with a nose in a book for hours on end. Realistically, humans can only focus on one thing for a short period of time, no more than 30 minutes. Think of studying as interval training. You're preparing yourself for race day, where you're going all out efforts. But in training, you're not going all out with every single session. You do different types of interval training with different efforts to prepare to go all out on race day. Apply the same strategy with your studying: study for certain periods of time (a half hour up to 2 hours) and give yourself a break in between. UC San Diego has super cool article about spaced practice (4) and how you effectively learn over time, rather than during a cramming session.
Khan Academy has an article (6) about effective studying which applies to any type of studying as well.
10) Shut off your phone (and other distractions)
Phones are remarkable pieces of technology that have become the bane of human existence. Okay, maybe a bit too pessimistic of a view, but phones are incredibly distracting. Whether we are studying or even training, that notification just grabs our attention away from the tasks we need to focus on. Sure, there are times where a phone comes in handy, such as answering emails while on the bus to class, but majority of the time we spend on the phone is wasted with mindless scrolling through social media and Candy Crush (if that's a thing still...). While you're studying, training, or working, shut off of your phone (or at least your notifications) in that time frame. You can turn it back on later, but during your work, you're able to focus on your task.
You don't have to do all 10 tips. Start with one or two, and follow through on them. You don't have to be "type-A" in order to be able to balance your health, studies/work and training. And some of these tips might not work well for you, and that's okay. Find what works best for you and your well-being.
(1) Calder, P. C. (2015), Functional Roles of Fatty Acids and Their Effects on Human Health. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 39: 18S-32S. doi:10.1177/0148607115595980
(2) NIH's "What are proteins and what do they do?"
(3) CDC's "How Much Sleep do I Need?"
(5) UCSD's "How to Study Effectively"
(6) Khan Academy's "Tips for effective, efficient studying"