With the right mindset and preparation, the gym can be your wonderland (at least, that’s what my gym rat roommates keep telling me). But, unfortunately, a good workout can go completely wasted without a proper nutritious lifestyle—especially when considering the foods you use to fuel said workouts (come on, you can’t get by on mainly carbs for Leg Day).

Personally, I know one of my most pressing dilemmas when it comes to workout food—one my fellow, stressed college friends can relate to—is simply trying to figure out what exactly I should be eating to boost my energy for my entire escape to the gym. Most of the time, I find myself starving 15 minutes into my war with the elliptical, and in no time at all my grumbling belly is all I can think about. Next thing you know, I’m running out the front doors to get a Pub Sub faster than I could ever go on the treadmill.

tea, beer, wine, pizza, coffee
Shannon Herlihy

To solve my barbell blues, I sat down with Gustavo Ramos, NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and Student Director of the FSU Leach Recreation Center, to talk protein and procrastination.

The Power of Protein

chicken, salad, pork, rice
Shannon Herlihy

Right off the bat, Ramos’ favorite subject was protein. Protein, protein, protein. He declared it as the king of kings—the “most important component to a meal” eaten before a workout of any kind. When asked how he incorporates packing the power into his everyday life, he said, “I like to have rice and some kind of meat—usually ground beef or chicken—with some kind of veggie. I prefer salads, but you can do steamed veggies, too."

My main takeaway from his response was that simplicity is key. Some seasoned chicken breast and a side of steamed broccoli will consistently produce a more lasting feeling of “fullness” than a deli meat sandwich or frozen entrée could ever dream of fulfilling. And, in the long run, the healthier option doesn’t actually take longer to cook than its alternatives.

Set aside one night a week to meal prep by roasting some veggies (hell, you can even buy them frozen, practically ready-made for a quick microwave steam) and baking some chicken, and you’ll be able to pop a plate in the microwave during the next few days as easy as a cup of ramen.

Snack Sensibility

coffee, beer, chocolate
Shannon Herlihy

Outside of knowing what to eat, another common concern of mine has always been time constraints. Though I may have some prepped beef waiting for me in my own fridge, sometimes I just don’t have the time between classes to head home, eat, and make it back to campus before the gym closes (or before that godforsaken 7 pm rush hour).

I’ve often pondered over quicker ways to eat on-the-go, but I’ve never been 100 percent sure which protein bars or yogurt cups were effective enough to fuel an hour or so of running off some energy. Luckily, Ramos happily filled me in on the quickest snack substitutes. “A protein shake of your choosing with some Greek yogurt always helps to fill you up. I like Greek yogurt with peanut butter; that’s my go-to."

Bonus Ramos Tip: “If you’re shopping protein, opt for a whey isolate. It’s easier to digest, and it’s nearly lactose-free.”

Fast Food Frenzy

For folks searching for something a bit sturdier than a snack, but have forgotten to bring a lunch from home, there’s always fast food. Yup, you read that right. Luckily, not ALL fast food is bad. Well, not every menu option is terrible. When asked about reputable, healthy, quick service options for students on the way to the gym, Ramos responded, “Chick-fil-A has kickass salads.”

You’re welcome, Chick’ lovers; swap that original chicken sandwich for one of their cobb salads, and you’ll definitely start to feel less guilty. “Don’t use the excuse that you don’t have enough time, because most fast food restaurants have salad options now. Always opt for salad choices with some kind of protein source to keep you full,” Ramos continued.

Thanks to the assistance of FSU’s friendliest fitness fellow, I’ve learned the most important aspects of energy-boosting grub. With a little meal prep, some thoughtful choices, and gobs of motivation, you, too, can make the most of your next workout.