Part 1 of our nutrition module discussed the basic principles of being mindful that you may be eating out of boredom as opposed to hunger, as well as guidelines for tracking your calorie intake. We’re aware this may just feel like empty information though, and in order for you to really feel how this applies to you, we’ve tried to create a list of common profiles. If you don’t fit into one of them, you should at least be able to see how it relates to you and your prior training history / current goals.
We’re going to start here because this person is the most common among our clientele. Most people who have a (good) PT have recently made progress and are terrified of losing it during this period. The subheader here is actually misleading, as progress could easily have been in the form of increased cardiovascular health, joint mobility, and reduced pain, as is the case for many of our clients. Regardless, steps backwards shouldn’t be the case. Unless you were living the incredibly dedicated life of a competitive athlete before, there was almost certainly a few things holding you back from making even more progress. Maybe you didn’t have enough time to get in those extra steps on some days because of work, or the food at the canteen in your office wasn’t great on days you hadn’t managed to meal prep, or weekend socialising meant you’d never get your full 8 hours sleep.
A lot of these obstacles should have been removed; now is the time to potentially make even more progress. If you had a good coach too, they were hopefully building as much muscle onto your frame as possible in the past using only a very light deficit in order to cut your fat stores. Whilst home gym training doesn’t offer the same opportunity for progressive stimulus in someone with a fair bit of training experience, it is definitely sufficient for maintenance. If your goal was mobility and pain related, there is plenty of scope for exercises addressing this.
Another point to keep in mind is that if your point of reference for progress was the weighing scale, you could also make even more “progress”. Where before your “progress” on the scales was being hampered by fat loss being balanced out by muscle gain, if you stop putting on muscle you’ll potentially see your total “weight loss” on the scales drop quicker than it was before.
If you made this fat loss or mobility gain progress with a PT in the first place, we recommend you don’t disregard the amount of consultation and advice that went into you achieving this. Don’t assume that since you can’t be in the gym with them that they have no place in your life at the moment. Book in for a video consult once or twice a week, have them still write your training program for you and check your form over video. Have them help you monitor your calorie intake, just like they did before, and there’s no reason you can’t keep smashing your targets.
Bro. Where do you think your gains are going? Yes, if you suddenly start eating half the calories and swapping chicken breasts for freezer pizzas you might see a drop-off. But you’re aware you can still eat chicken breasts, rice and broccoli on a plate at home and it doesn’t have to be out of a Tupperware on the gym sofa right? Muscle maintenance is actually not too hard. If you’ve never heard of the terms Minimum Effective Volume (MEV) & Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) have a read online.
Chances are when you were in the gym, you were training somewhere in between the two, which is why you were making progress. However, studies have shown that everyone has an MEV for maintenance and it’s just a matter of working out what that is. For most trained individuals that’s about 10 sets per week on a muscle, taking it to within 4 reps to total technical failure. If we take your chest as an example, that’s 4 sets of pushups, 3 times a week. Don’t try to pretend that’s not doable.
The second reason you were making progress? A caloric surplus and sufficient protein intake. Don’t throw that out of the window. If your movement levels are lower, you may need to drop your total calories slightly to ensure you don’t have a surplus being stored as fat, but don’t overdo it! With these two variables maintained, muscle mass maintenance is easy, don’t stress about that.
If you’re concerned about losing strength, this is more justified, but only in the short term. Day 1 back in the gym, the bar will feel twice as heavy as it used to, but this will solely be a result of your nervous system having spent time away from such motor unit recruitment. Provided you’ve maintained your muscle mass well with logic, diet and sufficient training, you will quickly regain its prior abilities and you’ll be back to your old self after a few sessions. Heck, take it as a fun opportunity to "start from scratch" in the lower rep ranges and make upward progress.
This is your time to shine. This moment was made for you. Your progress has always been halted by your lack of a caloric surplus with several other potential underlying reasons such as:
If it’s No. 5, sorry we can’t really help you. If it’s any of the other four, you’re in luck. Your job for the remainder of lockdown is to follow our training guide, build up to as many high-effort sets per week as it feels like your body can handle and to do as little else as possible except eat. At lunch, make enough food for two people. Eat the first meal yourself and then eat the second one three hours later. Do the same with an early dinner at 6 p.m. and another at 8:30-9 p.m. Suddenly, you’re eating five solid meals a day.
As long as they’re all of decent quality, you don’t need to worry about your protein numbers. The sheer number of calories consumed will mean that your protein is high enough. It may feel like you’re force-feeding yourself at times, and we;'re sorry but you may not have a completely chiselled six-pack by the end of this, but don’t worry – no one is seeing your abs any time soon so it doesn’t matter… unless the foundation of your Instagram is bathroom selfies, in which case, take a hundred now and save them for later. You’ll be able to cut back down later, but if you listen to anyone who’s ever put on serious muscle fast, you’ve got to be willing to “get a bit soft” at some point in the process.
There are no two ways about it, this is a dangerous time for you. Your previous habits have never lent themselves to getting fit at this time and you could quite easily put on even more weight if you slide deeper into the cracks of your sofa. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Sheer boredom could be the thing that gets you into exercising at home, but those occasional Instagram workouts you’re jumping around to aren’t going to be what really tips the scales in the direction of “healthier”.
The key is your food; you need to audit your diet. You probably have no idea how many calories you’re usually consuming on a daily basis, and the likelihood is you were eating a lot of calorie-dense food that sent the wrong signals to your hunger hormones. Follow Part 1 of our nutrition guide and you’ll start making progress regardless. Try to keep moving as much as possible with the tips coming up in our habits section and you’ll make even more.
Now, we are by no means here to tell you that you’re doing anything wrong. If you’re exercising regularly and you’re getting your calories from nutritious sources then you are almost certainly in good health and needn’t change a thing, other than maybe taper down your total food intake to compensate for slightly reduced NEAT at the moment. If your goal was always to do exercise you enjoy just to keep healthy and not get overweight AND YOU WERE HAPPY, then you’re ticking all the boxes.
However, if you are someone who has always been frustrated by not being leaner or stronger as a result of your efforts, then this may be a good opportunity to address that. Not being leaner is almost always just a matter of chronic mismanagement of movement and calories. Your day’s schedule usually involves a lot of being sat down, followed by an attempt at compensating for that with some aggressive, high heart rate, high impact training. Not only is this not what our bodies generally respond best to (unless you do it with very concerted planning like a competitive bodybuilder), but it will usually result in mindless snacking and over-eating out of habit during the sedentary part of the day, followed by overeating as a stressed, fatigued, reward in the evening.
Many clients in this category have often come from a background of “but everything I eat is healthy” and whilst most people can usually get away with healthy food choices without having to pay too much attention to them, they underestimate the calorie density in some of the “healthy” processed food. The goal of tracking for a couple of weeks is not to create obsession – you’re hardly in an unhealthy state in the first place – it’s merely to improve awareness. It may highlight a couple of the foods you were potentially over-consuming and open your eyes to how some small changes can create that balance in calories, protein or vital nutrients you may have been deficient in, or sometimes overconsuming (there is such thing as too much of a good thing!).
Not being stronger is usually a result of poor training technique and programming. Think of it like this: there are two people consuming the same number of calories and burning the same number of calories in their training. Person A is not isolating their movements enough to force fatiguing contractions from specific muscles and therefore the calories required for repair are minimal. Once the glycogen stores are topped up they’re sorted.
Person B, however, has impeccable technique and a structured training program that forces “repair” or adaptation in their muscles. They use the same number of calories exercising, and their muscles require just as much glycogen to be “topped back up”, however they also require extra calories for the restorative growth process. If Person A was in a slight calorie surplus, Person B will be in a balanced state, and if Person A was in perfect balance, Person B will be in a slight deficit. Person B will not just be building more muscle, they’ll be storing less fat.