There’s no doubt about it. These are tough times for everyone. But one thing we know for sure is that this period of isolation won’t last forever.
With that in mind, what can we be doing to make sure we come out the other side in better shape, both mentally and physically, than when we went in?
Before we tuck into the details, it’s important to understand why keeping in shape is more important now than it ever has been.
This past week two important bits of research have been published showing that around 75% of those hospitalised with serious complications from COVID-19 have been classified as overweight or obese. Furthermore, being overweight has now been categorised as the second highest risk factor for death from COVID-19 second only to age.
We also know that this virus is going nowhere, fast. Even when the isolation restrictions are eased, it’s likely that most of us will get COVID-19 at some point over the next year. With no clear data on numbers of people possessing ‘antibodies’ and no certainty that we can’t get re-infected even once we’ve had it, what can we be doing to help best position ourselves should the worst happen?
The simple answer is; Lose some weight.
Whilst these restrictions may have changed the way we behave day to day, the principles of fat loss remain the same. Burn more calories than you consume each day and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to not lose fat over time. I sound like a broken record here but there is no one (in the history of the world, ever) that does not lose fat when they create a consistent calorie deficit. No exceptions.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s MUCH harder for some people to achieve said deficit (age, gender, genetics all play a part), but it is both possible and achievable for everyone, even in isolation. But how?
Start tracking your calories
Tracking your calories is by far the most effective tool for establishing a calorie deficit. We know, for certain, that if you lower your calorie intake below the number that you burn each day, you lose fat.
Without tracking your calorie intake, you could be eating a perfectly balanced, nutrient dense diet but still put on fat- because you are eating too much. We are notoriously bad at guessing calorie intake, pretty much everyone underestimates how much food they eat.
In everyday life tracking can be a bit of an inconvenience. We are busy people, most of us are time poor, so having to scan every barcode, and weigh every ingredient is something we can’t (or don’t want to) prioritise.
One thing this isolation has given us more of, is time. We are also now in complete control of the ingredients and potion sizes of our meals. We literally don’t have the option to eat at restaurants or on the go, giving us all the power to accurately control exactly what we consume. If you are really serious about losing fat, this is, in my opinion, the best way of doing so.
Download an app like MyFitnessPal and start tracking your Kcal intake. Start by doing just one day, then one week and see how easy it is.
Not only will this help you get a grip on just how much you are eating, it will give you a real insight into which calorie dense foods/drinks you could easily eliminate from your diet to help achieve a calorie deficit.
Calorie targets differ based on age, weight, gender and how quickly you want to lose fat. To figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating, type in ‘calorie target calculator’ on Google to work out your target. Spend a couple of days figuring out an achievable level for you before settling on a specific daily number.
Eat more nutrient dense foods
Assuming you are now tracking your calories so that you are in a deficit, the next most important factor for fat loss – and overall health – is to improve the nutrient density of the foods you eat.
Whilst we know for sure that if you ate 1200 kcal of anything each day you would lose fat, eating foods that are calorie dense (chocolate, fast food, alcohol) will leave you feeling hungry, low on energy, irritable and generally sub-optimal.
By increasing the nutrient density of your calorie intake, you are not only much more likely to be able to stick within your calorie goal, you will also feel fuller, have more energy and be providing your body with the vital vitamins and nutrients to function optimally.
Start by increasing the volume and variety of vegetables and fruits you consume each day, add in plenty of protein through grass fed lean meats, wild fish, soy and beans along with some complex carbohydrates like whole grains, brown rice and pasta or sweet potatoes and you will be good to go.
With more time on our hands now, try experimenting with new recipes that you can batch cook for the whole family and freeze any leftovers.
NOTE- These are stressful times for all of us. If you want a glass of wine, or a piece of cake, then have one. Just be mindful that they still need to fall within your daily calorie target for you to lose fat.
Isolation or not, if you are not hitting 10,000 steps per day you are simply not moving enough. Quite often the difference between those who stay annoyingly lean all year round and those that can’t seem to lose weight is the amount the move around throughout the day.
You will have heard us talking about this concept before. It’s called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), basically a fancy name for fidgeting and moving around.
This can be anything from a walk in the park to washing your car or doing some gardening. Any calories you burn each day from anything other than sleeping, eating, or planned exercise count towards your NEAT total.
The easiest way to measure this is with a smart watch or pedometer (think Fitbit or Garmin watch).
With most of us now working from home or furloughed, we should have freed up a bit more time during the day (usually reserved for travel to and from work). Use this to increase your daily step count.
If you really want to create a significant calorie deficit each day aim for 15,000+ steps. It’s really not as hard as it sounds.
My recommendation is to aim to get to 10,000 steps before lunchtime. Go for a really long walk or run in the morning and you will be able to hit this no problem. The remaining 5,000 steps will be hit just by moving around the house going about your daily jobs.
If you haven’t got a smart watch, all smart phones are now built in with a step counter so just keep it in your pocket throughout the day.
Do not underestimate how important this is for both your physical and mental wellbeing. EVERYONE can and should be doing this every day, children included.
Add some resistance training
No gym, no problem. Unless you are lucky enough to have a home gym set up, it’s likely that your access to any kind of weights is restricted. Do not let that stop you.
Without doing any kind of weight training, you will quickly start losing muscle mass (typically after about 3 weeks of no resistance training). Whilst this would contribute to weight loss on the scales, it’s not the type of weight we want to be losing. We want to lose fat and retain (or gain) muscle.
Retaining muscle mass during isolation is super important and not as hard as it sounds. The more muscle the better. If you lose lean tissue like this, the number of calories you burn at rest will go down, meaning you would have to hit a much lower calorie target to lose any fat.
What’s more, being strong will keep you more active, mobile and able to recover from repeated bouts of exercise, thus increasing number of calories burned through NEAT and planned exercise.
Adding 20-30 mins of resistance exercise per day to your daily routine should be achievable for most. You don’t even necessarily need any equipment. There are literally thousands of body weight exercises you can perform even in the tiniest of spaces. To make things tougher grab some large water bottles, cans, bags of clothes, to add some resistance.
If ever there was a time to catch up on your sleep, it’s now. If you are tired, you are hungry. A lack of sleep effects the levels of the hormones Ghrelin and Leptin which are responsible for making us feel hungry and regulating our appetite.
Put simply, if you don’t sleep enough, you eat more calories on average per day.
Sleep is also responsible for our recovery from exercise and stress, laying the foundations of memories and improving mood. If you’re not hitting at least 7 hours a day, you are likely to not be feeling optimal and performing at your best.
Aim to hit between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep per day. It’s worth noting here that a very small percentage of the population (around 8%) seem to be able to function normally on far less sleep than average. Even if that’s the case be sure that the quality of your sleep is optimal by doing the following;
• Remove all screens from the bedroom (especially phones)
• Make the room as dark as possible
• Make the room as cool as possible
• Avoid stimulants (alcohol, caffeine) before bed
• Try to stick to a regular sleep cycle. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
There’s likely to be loads of businesses promoting special supplements, diet plans and quick fixes over the coming months. Do not fall into the trap of thinking these will work. They never have and never will. Losing fat is a simple as following the points above. Simple however does not necessarily mean easy. This won’t happen overnight, but sticking to the basics and repeating them consistently during your time in isolation will guarantee that you come out of this in better shape than when you went in.
If you have any questions or concerns about any health topic during your time in lock-down, and after, or if you’re not sure where to start, email us for a free trial online skype/zoom session with one of our trainers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01732 451979. You can start joining in our free daily live Instagram workouts @betterbodygroupuk. Further details are below.