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The New Freshman 15: How to Gain 15 Pounds of Muscle

If you're heading in to your first year of college, learn how to pack on the right kind of weight.
The New Freshman 15: How to Gain 15 Pounds of Muscle

College can be the worst place to put on muscle. Freed from the restraints of what mom puts on the table, students can eat whatever they want at all hours of the day. They don’t sleep much, depriving themselves of the hormones needed for muscle growth. And, oh yeah, some students have been known to consume alcohol.

No wonder freshmen college students put on the “freshman 15” and come home for Thanksgiving looking like they’ve been eating stuffing and pumpkin pie since August. Studies back up the fact that college freshmen gain more weight than the general population. Although the students in this study didn't pack on the legendary 15 pounds, what's interesting is the men gained more weight than the women. So if you thought the "freshman 15" was a girl thing, you thought wrong. 

But, now here's the good news: College, contrary to popular belief, actually offers the best atmosphere to put on muscle, if a guy is willing to minimize distractions. Here’s why you can return home for the holidays with 15 pounds of muscle, rather than fat—and how you can put on the “New Freshman 15.”

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College freshmen are pleasantly surprised at their amount of free time. A 15-hour course load translates into just three hours of daily classes, which typically are a short walk away. So there’s no commute to school, no 9-hour daily grinds, and no 6 a.m. alarms. Unlike high school, there’s plenty of time to hit the gym. And also unlike high school, your college will have vast workout facilities spread all over campus open to all students—not just the jocks. If you’re a guy who never lifted in high school because you could not get near the gym, now’s your chance. If you played sports in high school, chances are you weren’t good enough to play in college. That’s okay, too, since you now have more time to focus on building muscle.

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Working adults must train either at the crack of dawn before work or after a long day at the job. Having a consistent daily workout routine is a good thing regardless of when it occurs, but studies suggest mid-to-late afternoon is the best time to train. That’s when your body is most awake and energized, which is why high school and college sports teams practice during this time. Fortunately for college students, it’s also when they’re done with class for the day. Hit the gym before tackling homework and you’ll be re-energized physically and mentally for an early evening study session.

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College dining halls have come a long way in the last 25 years. No longer must students endure batter-fried fish, breaded chicken patties, and processed mystery meats. Because of skyrocketing tuition and fees, students expect and receive lean cuts of meat, eggs, fresh veggies, and salad bars. Of course, you'll also have access to unlimited desserts, pasta, pizza and sodas. But if you’re looking to pack on muscle, there’s plenty of muscle chow readily available—and already made to order.

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High school is over, which means class no longer starts at 7:10 a.m. Smart students schedule classes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So there’s no excuse not to get adequate sleep—seven hours a night, preferably eight. It’s difficult to build muscle without adequate rest. Sleep is when most of your hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, are released. Fatigue, on the other hand, undermines your ability to eat right and train hard, thus raising your level of body fat. When you’re exhausted, your brain doesn’t know whether it’s sleep-deprived or starving for glucose, so it naturally craves sugar, which is what causes late-night cravings when you’re tired. Without adequate sleep, you’re sabotaging your efforts to build muscle. So sleep all you want. You’ve got the time.

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Remember those high school rules about not eating anywhere but the cafeteria and only during lunch? They no longer matter. The key to building muscle is eating every three hours. That means consuming healthy, protein-rich meals throughout the course of the day. 

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This isn’t about romance, though it could be. You’ll never be immersed in such a deep pool of people your age as you are in college. That means it should be easy to find regular training partners of either sex to keep you committed to working out and enjoying the process. It’s easy in college to fall into habits of late-night television viewing, poor eating, and heavy drinking. But even in college you can find folks dedicated to improving their muscle tone and overall performance. The gym is a good place to locate them. 


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Drinking is part of college life. But it need not be a major part of yours. There’s nothing wrong with an occasional drink (if you’re of age). But if you want to build muscle, keep it to a minimum. Alcohol disrupts REM sleeps, packs on empty calories, increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and decreases protein synthesis for muscle fiber repair. Alcohol also diminishes water soluble vitamins required for hormones to do their work and decreases the body’s ability to recover. College freshmen that pack on 15 pounds do it as much with beer as they do with pizza and chips. You know those like-minded training partners you discovered? Chances are some of them, including that studious cutie in your Econ 101 class, don’t drink at all.

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College age (18 to 22) is the best time to pack on muscle. You’ve likely reached your maximum height and now have a frame ready for mass. Testosterone and energy levels are high, your time commitments are few, and you have access to high-end training facilities and nutrition. Four years from now you might have a cubicle, a boss, rent, and a packed schedule. If you want to put on the Freshman 15 Pounds of Muscle, now is the time.

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