Dieting and Train In Quarantine

by Dr. Mel Davis, PhD [@regressive_underload on Instagram] | Mar 22, 2020

Tips for navigating diet and training choices

First, there is no shame in putting diet and training goals on the back burner right now. If the current situation has shifted your priorities or absorbed your mental resources, that's completely understandable. While maintaining health-promoting habits as much as possible is always advised, this is no time to stress yourself out with rigor. Instead, keep healthy basics there if you can. A diet that prominently features whole foods, fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein sources, and healthy fats is always our friend, and so is our muscle mass, both of which we should attempt to maintain as feasible. An added motivation to do so is that a healthy diet plus exercise help combat stress, something most of us could use now more than ever. Another piece of encouraging news is that maintaining muscle doesn't take much training when you're simply trying to maintain (vs lose) weight: as few as 2-3 resistance training workouts per week should suffice. 

Before we go on to provide specific "how-to" tips for dieting and training during lock down, we just want to reiterate that deprioritizing careful diet and committed training in these circumstances shouldn't be accompanied by any guilt -- just getting by for a month or so is unlikely to have any long-term health consequences. That said, if you have resources - and feel like you've got nothing but time at home - we're here to assure you that, gym closures and semi-empty grocery stores notwithstanding, health and basic fitness maintenance is both a realistic and worthwhile goal during this time.

DIET:

First, we definitely advocate staying in while health officials advise this. If you can Instacart or Amazon Fresh your groceries and request doorstep drop off, this is best choice. We know many of these delivery services are backed up for weeks right now though, so plan ahead. If you do have to go to the grocery store, be a good citizen and wash your hands well before you go and avoid touching your face until you are back home (and have washed your hands again). Also, while in the store, don’t touch things you are not going to buy (this is not the time for squeezing fruit to test ripeness!). 

Now that the lecture portion of this post is complete, let’s talk about what to buy at the store and alternatives to your usual sold-out favorites. 


For those trying to stick to their diets or switch to maintenance but keep their usual RP eating style:


Protein:

A common diet and health food item sold out in stores at the moment is eggs and or egg whites. One alternative that might still be hiding in the baking section and is available (thus far) on Amazon is dried egg white. It reconstitutes with some water and whips up and behaves just like regular egg whites. 

Raw chicken breasts and other fresh lean meat might be sold out, but check out the precooked refrigerated isle and frozen sections for precooked or raw frozen options. Precooked, salad-prepped chicken strips and things like frozen seafood might still remain.

If you are vegan, vegetarian, or even an omnivore, tofu is a great source of high quality protein. While fresh tofu seems to be harder to come by right now, freeze dried tofu is still available on amazon and can be soaked to reconstitute. Another option is to get ahold of soy beans and make your own tofu at home. A little more time consuming, but most recipes have 2-3 ingredients, and just a few steps, so not overly intimidating.

Fruits and Vegetables:

If the produce section is looking bleak, frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option. The closer to picking they are frozen, the more micronutrients they will have –– sometimes more than fresh produce that sits on trucks and in stores for longer periods. You might need to rethink how you consume these and get creative. Thawing frozen spinach does not make for great salads for example, but you could mix it into your reconstituted egg white omelet to get your greens! Likewise thawed fruits are sometimes a little soggy and sad, but they make a wonderful smoothie or can be cooked into a protein pancake. Canned produce is another option. Though usually less micronutrient dense, they will do in a pinch, especially if you get in a daily multivitamin.

Other Carbs:

Bulk sweet potatoes, yams, and potatoes seem to still be fairly available. These can be prepped in a variety of ways and are a great healthy carb option if you usually use bread items that can no longer be easily found. 

Bulk dry rice, beans, lentils and so on are also a great choice.

Love bread and have extra time on your hands? Fresh baked bread is a pain to make, but man, is it delicious. All-purpose flour and yeast are still available on Amazon. Might be a fun family project to bake a few loaves as many of us have kids (and adults) at home in need of some extra activities.

Healthy Fats:

This is probably the easiest of the tenets of healthy diet to get ahold of right now. Olive oil is still on most shelves and online. If you want avocado toast you might have a little more struggle, but even those are not being hoarded too much due to their short shelf lives. Bulk nuts and seeds are also still pretty available. 

The effects of business closures on the economy means many of us will need to be more frugal. So these recommendations are for lower cost food items that will still allow you to make relatively healthy food choices.

For those just trying to be frugal during economic uncertainty: 

  • Canned fruits and veggies (especially veggies) are usually pretty budget friendly when fresh produce is not available and frozen options are outside your budget
  • Forget buying organic. After decades of research the only difference between organic and regular food is price. This is an easy place to save.
  • Get dried beans, rice, lentils etc in bulk
  • Grab a multivitamin for when you are less able to eat fresh whole foods
  • Look for bulk bags of frozen protein options (strangely overlooked compared to fresh meat in store buy outs)
  • Order (or dust off) an old George Forman grill and use it to cook more fat out of cheaper meat cuts
  • Try contacting local restaurants who may have ordered produce and such and have more than they need / be willing to sell
  • If you buy perishables, bulk prep and freeze meals. 
  • Don’t stress over perfection. Try to eat as healthy as you can and focus on other priorities first.


TRAINING:

Now is not the time for perfection, but whether you want to try to keep eeking out gains or just want to maintain a modicum of health and fitness while putting your sport or physique goals on hold, resistance training of some sort is critical. 


Training from home to maintain muscle mass, healthy metabolism, and basic fitness:

When you are not losing weight –– eating maintenance calories, a surprisingly small amount of training is needed to spare muscle mass. If you happen to have a home gym with barbells and such, you can get away with 2-3x a week training with relatively few sets and reps. If you are looking at waterjugs and household items or basic dumbbells as your total weight-adding equipment options, you might need to up the frequency a bit. Perhaps to 3-4x per week with higher reps and more sets. In any case just a few hours per week can keep your muscle mass, help you maintain a healthy metabolism, and decrease stress. Keeping your basic fitness will also make returning to fitness when things calm down much easier!

The basics for at home training with limited weights, when the goal is to maintain weight and just prevent muscle loss and stay healthy are outlined below. Hit each of the following muscle groups 2-5x per week (more for smaller muscles, less for larger muscle groups). These ranges may be taken down even lower if you are in your first few years of lifting weights as then you are more sensitive to any training stimulus.

  • Quads (2-4x)
  • Hamstrings (2-3x)
  • Glutes (1-4x) (less here because ham and quad workouts hit glutes too!)
  • Chest (2-4x)
  • Back (2-4x)
  • Shoulders (2-4x)
  • Triceps (2-5x)
  • Biceps (2-5x)
  • Abs (2-5x)

Basic exercise options with water jugs, grocery bags filled with something for weight, backpacks, cooperative pets, children (and partners if you are strong or significantly larger than your significant other), or dumbbells:

  • Quads: Squats, Paused Squats, Close Stance Squats, Sumo Squats, Lunges
  • Hamstrings: Stiff Legged deadlift (single or double leg) 
  • Glutes: Glute Bridges (try these one leg at a time for more stimulus!), Step Ups
  • Chest: Push ups (close grip, wide grip, medium grip), Dumbbell or water jug presses, Lying Flyes
  • Back: Dumbbell or water jug rows, Pull ups on door jams if you are strong enough, Pullovers
  • Shoulders: Dumbbell or water jug upright rows, Lateral raises, Overhead presses
  • Triceps: Dumbbell or water jug overhead extensions, Kickbacks,  JM presses
  • Biceps: Dumbbell or water hammer curls, Twist curls, Regular curls, Concentration curls
  • Abs: Crunches, V-Ups, Reaching Sit-Ups with weight, Lying leg raises, Modified candlesticks

Because weight is lighter it is also wise to make the stimulus harder by doing more reps, more sets, and shorter rest periods. The upside of that last item is that short rests mean quicker workouts and less time needed to keep fit when training at home for the moment. Another way to make your at home workouts more time efficient is to do supersets. A superset involves doing all of the reps for one exercise and then without any rest starting the reps for another exercise. To do this just make sure the two exercises you choose don’t involve too many overlapping muscle groups! So squats and curls are an example or even rows and presses (although both are upper body, the rows mainly involve your back and the presses mainly involve your chest). 


Basic exercise structure:

  • Do reps to failure or close to failure
  • Try to use weights (dumbbells or homemade) that result in failure or near failure at 5 – 30 reps
  • Utilize supersets (back to back exercises that target different muscles)
  • Use very short rest periods between sets and feel the burn

Below is an example three-day program to maintain muscle mass at home with limited equipment while you are eating for weight maintenance. If you are new to training (in your first couple years of weight training) you can reduce the frequency from what is listed below and still be just fine. If you are looking to cut or gain muscle training from home, you will likely need more volume and can check out our article for stringent at-home training recommendations. 

For training during weight maintenance, we will use the following frequencies which err on the conservative side (more training than might be needed). With three days a week and workouts that take under an hour though, even this training is not a super time consuming commitment: 

Quads 4x, Hams 3x, Glutes 2x, Chest 4x, Back 3x, Shoulders 3x, triceps 3x, biceps 4x, abs 4x.

Day 1: 

Do 5-30 of the first exercise, to failure or near failure and then immediately do 5-30 of the next exercise to failure or near failure

  1. Sumo deadlifts ­čí¬ Curls
  2. Stiff legged deadlifts ­čí¬ Upright rows
  3. Squats ­čí¬ Pushups 
  4. Lying dumbbell presses ­čí¬ Reaching sit-ups with or without weight
  5. One arm rows ­čí¬ Triceps extension

Day 2: 

Do 5-30 of the first exercise, to failure or near failure and then immediately do 5-30 of the next exercise to failure or near failure

  1. Narrow Grip Pushups ­čí¬ Crunches
  2. Glute Bridges ­čí¬ One arm rows 
  3. Sumo squats ­čí¬ Alternating curls
  4. Bent over rows ­čí¬Lying down flyes 
  5. Lateral raises ­čí¬ JM press

Day 3: 

Do 5-30 of the first exercise, to failure or near failure and then immediately do 5-30 of the next exercise to failure or near failure

  1. Close stance squats ­čí¬ Upright rows
  2. Glute Bridges ­čí¬ Triceps extension
  3. Sumo squats ­čí¬ Bent over curls
  4. Single leg stiff legged deadlifts ­čí¬ V-ups
  5. Crunches with top holds ­čí¬ Hammer curlsWe hope this has been helpful! Everyone will have to make their own personal choice in terms of what resources they can commit to fitness during this time and we support any of those choices. Whether you want to continue pursuing physique and performance goals under new and challenging conditions or want to take a step back to focus on other priorities while still supporting your health and longevity; RP is here for you! 

We're offering 3 free months of our online learning environment,  RP+, which features thousands of hours of videos, hundreds of blogs, forums, and a weekly webinar where experts Dr. Mike and Dr. James make themselves available to answer your diet and training questions. 

If designing your own at-home program is more than you want to deal with right now, we've discounted our Gym-Free at-home training program by 60% (now $39.60 down from $99.99!), and expanded it to support male, female, beginner and advanced lifters, so just about anyone can keep - or start - benefiting from weight training during this time.

We have also partnered with Trifecta to offer 40% OFF bulk food delivery for those wanting to keep lean protein, veggies, healthy fats and carbs in rotation without risking trips to stores or restaurants (use discount code "40off" when you place your order!)

For more health maintenance tips during this time, check out this article from RP’s Chief Physician Dr. Spencer Nadolsky.