March 20, 2020.
That’s the date the governor of New Jersey ordered a shut down of the state to help flatten the curve of ever increasing COVID infections. This shut down forced all “non-essential” businesses, such as GRIT, to close it’s doors to the public for two weeks in an attempt to control the virus.
As we all know, two weeks morphed into three.
Which soon turned into four.
Before we knew it, the shutdown had reached an unthinkable length of close to 4 months.
Now it was during this time that many people either really honed in on their health and fitness… oooooor completely let it go to shit. In my experience of talking to clients since the state’s reopening, there typically was no middle ground. People either took control and starting driving the fitness bandwagon, or they fell off it completely, letting the wheels run over their limp, unmotivated bodies in the process.
But I’m here to tell you about my quarantine experience, the few months following it, and the insights I gained from it all.
So with GRIT shut down, my workload drastically decreased. Sure, I dabbled in some virtual stuff, but my new occupation during quarantine was quickly established: Daddy Daycare.
With daycares shutdown, Nolan had no where to go except to stay at home. My wife, who works from home regardless of global pandemics, wasn’t exactly in a position to watch him. This left yours truly as the only viable option to babysit.
At the start of the shutdown, Nolan was 15 months old. Old enough to be mobile, but still too young to play outside on playgrounds or anything like that. Because of this, a majority of our time was spent doing activities that were more or less sedentary: playing with toy cars, reading, walking short distances before falling down like he was drunk, etc…
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But before I dive into this post, a quick background on me. I’ve been doing this whole health and fitness thing since I was in 8th grade. As a result, my eating and exercise habits are on autopilot as I approach my 32nd year on this earth. I don’t think about needing to eat clean or working out because it’s just a part of my daily routine, much like brushing my teeth.
These habits are deeply ingrained into the fiber of my identity as a person.
Because of this, I still strength trained 4x week during quarantine and still ate pretty clean at every meal Monday through Friday. Sure, I let my hair down and indulged in a cheat meal or two every week, but largely my diet remained unchanged during quarantine. Nolan’s sleep had also finally improved to the point where he could sleep through the night, so I was also beginning to get my sleep back on track.
This went on for the entire quarantine. Strength train, eat clean, sleep, repeat. Everything is hunky dory, right?
Well, I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was, now would I?
Prior to the COVID shutdown, I was 14% body fat.
Come late July, I was a tad higher than 17%
That was more or less my reaction when I hopped off the InBody scale in July. I was doing everything right. I was practicing what I preached to clients all the time. How in the holy f*ckballs did I gain 3-4% body fat?!?
Hell bent on getting some answers, I went back and reviewed my quarantine to see what went wrong.
Insight #1: Proper sleep and diet
I’ve already stated this, but my diet and sleep were pretty much on point throughout this 4 month period. In fact, my sleep actually improved because I turned off my alarm during quarantine (I mean, not like I was working, so why not?). I probably got more sleep between April and July 2020 than I had in the last 14 months combined.
My diet was relatively unchanged as well. I still ate veggies, protein, and quality sources of carbs every day. I even kept my carb intake lower on days where I didn’t train…. everything I preach to clients.
So why is this the first insight? It’s because sleep and diet will always be the foundation for effective fat loss.
Even though this wasn’t an issue for me throughout quarantine, it still needs to be mentioned because everything else past this point is built off this foundation. Without these two things, you can workout all you want and buy all the supplements you desire, but it won’t matter much.
Actionable steps you can take for this insight:
- Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night. Without this, fat loss will be DRASTICALLY harder.
- Aim to consume about 0.8-1g of protein per pound of your ideal weight every day.
- Try to consume non starchy veggies (the colorful ones) at every single meal.
- Make sure water is your primary drink at 90% of your meals.
- Match your carb intake to your activity level (eat more carbs if you’re very active, less if you’re not)
- Focus on eating foods you can grow, pick, or hunt for a majority of your meals.
So if the two most important factors for fat loss were under control in my case, how did I still regress?
Insight #2: Stress, the silent saboteur
I’d be flat out lying to you if I said I handled quarantine like an unwavering pillar of mental strength and emotional fortitude. I’m human and far from perfect.
Going into quarantine, I had mapped out a plan in my head to double up on content creation for GRIT’s social media, be proactive about creating at home workouts for clients and non-clients alike, and using my time wisely to be as productive as possible.
But you know who doesn’t give a shit about your mentally mapped out productivity plans?
I VASTLY underestimated how difficult it would be to get work done with Nolan running around my house. Turns out 15 month olds need way more attention than I anticipated. #FirstTimeParent #Naive
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My daily to do list, which always had multiple items on it, rarely ever got completed. In fact, I’d be lucky to get one or two things done. And truth be told, this frustrated me beyond belief. I didn’t feel productive. I began to feel lazy. My business, which was still very much in its infancy stage, was bleeding money every month and I began to feel somewhat helpless to stop it.
This stress weighed on me big time. There were days where I felt depressed, angry, and dejected about the entire situation.
Add on top of that the stress from watching a 15 month old (mostly) by yourself for an entire day, and my stress was sky high on some days.
All of these combined factors, without a doubt, affected my mood, appetite, and decision making.
Some days this led to bigger portion sizes because of a lack of attention to detail and mental fatigue. Others it resulted in awful ‘just-go-through-the-motions’ workouts. Some days it left me feeling lazy and unmotivated to do anything beyond the point of making sure Nolan was adequately supervised.
Aside from these points, stress can affect your physiology as well, ramping up your nervous system to the point where it thinks it’s dealing with a constant threat. These physiological changes can result in decreased digestive abilities, high blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, and decreased sleep quality.
All of which, coincidentally, make you more susceptible to fat gain.
Looking back on things, my stress levels were erratic and managed poorly. I totally underestimated how much of an impact unchecked stress can wreak havoc on your body composition. My stress on a day to day basis is normally fairly low and manageable. I’m a very even keel, easy going guy, and it takes a lot to get me rattled.
But this even keel, easy going guy never dealt with the unknown and unpredictable circumstances that come with a global pandemic. And I, uh, sometimes didn’t manage it well if I’m being completely transparent.
Actionable steps you can take for this insight:
- Don’t just brush your stress under the rug like I did. Identify it and deal with it.
- Find stress reducing methods that work for you. Breathing drills, reading, working out, video games, scrapbooking, visiting a gun range, who cares. Even if it’s just 5 minutes per day, every stress reducing minute can make a big difference.
- Treat stress management just as you would meal prepping or workouts. Schedule it. Make time for it. Then get it done.
Insight #3: Apple Watches make everything better?
I love watches so it’s no surprise that I have an Apple watch. But during quarantine it wasn’t exactly necessary to know the precise time or even the date. I didn’t really have a strict schedule to follow, so I eventually stopped wearing it.
I’ve always been a fan of activity trackers for most people because the average nine to fiver has a sedentary job. So a little ping or beep from their device can be a great way to let them know they need to move around a little bit.
But I am Chris Sanchez, knowledgable fitness professional! I already know that I get my 10,000 steps and I already know that I’m decently active throughout my day! I honestly never needed to check my watch for activity because I knew I was gonna hit my marks regardless if I tried or not. My job requires me to be on my feet almost constantly, demonstrating countless exercises, and moving from client to client throughout the facility.
But when quarantine hit, I didn’t do that anymore. My new job was watching a toddler who could only walk 15 feet without falling over. And it didn’t exactly require a ton of physical activity on my part.
Sure, I still made it a point to go for a daily 30 minute walk. But beyond that walk, I was either sitting and playing with Nolan or laying down and playing with Nolan. The only other time I really got up to move around was to make meals or walk with Nolan outside (he didn’t cover much ground on our walks, and therefore, neither did I).
And yes, I was still working out like I did pre-quarantine. I have a stocked home gym with dumbbells up to 55lbs, a squat rack, TRX, multiple kettlebells, barbells, specialty barbells, a rower, an assault bike…. you get the picture. Sticking to my workouts was rarely an issue.
However, what I realize now (that I obviously didn’t back in April-July) is that my one singular workout was not enough to offset the calories I was still consuming over the course of the day.
I mentioned that my diet didn’t change during quarantine, but my overall non-exercise activity sure did. I wasn’t on my feet all day, walking from client to client anymore. This led to an unknown calorie surplus on a regular basis. It had never really occurred to me that I probably needed less calories during quarantine because 1) I was still training hard multiple times per week, and 2) a majority of my calories were coming from whole, nutrient dense foods.
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Quarantine day 5… 6? Who knows. The days have meshed together. _ Wife continues to work from home. Her availability is limited at best. _ Nolan does not get full. Ever. There is no more “my” food. It is all his. _ His nose also produces endless amount of mucus. 60% of which ends up smeared on my clothes and hands. _ Nolan poops like he’s getting paid for every turd. _ I’ve heard every version of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ YouTube offers. This song will haunt my nightmares. _ Nolan continues to play his favorite game, “Slap the sh*t out of dads laptop when he tries to work and cry uncontrollably when he closes it”. _ I cannot comprehend how people run in home day cares. Blows my mind. _ Still love him though. _ #quarantine #quarantinelife
But hot damn, did I underestimate how big of an impact general movement and low level activity have on your body composition. Once I started wearing my Apple watch again, I quickly realized that I was far less active than I originally thought.
Workouts and healthy foods aside, if you’re consuming too many calories on a daily basis, regardless of how “clean” those calories are, you’ll gain body fat.
Actionable steps you can take from this insight:
- If you have a way to monitor your activity throughout the day, do it. Even people immersed in the health and fitness industry can make mistakes about this.
- Make it a point to be as active as you can be throughout the day. Get a standing desk, park far away, take the stairs, set an alarm to get up every hour. Human bodies are designed for MOVEMENT, not to be stuck sitting all day.
- 10,000 steps per day is a solid and simple recommendation for most people. Try to accomplish that every day. If 10k is too many initially, start with 6-7k and work your way up.
- Get off your ass and move more. Take every opportunity to add little bits of activity into your daily life.
Insight #4: You probably have an idea of what you need, and it’s probably wrong
I’ve already stated this indirectly in the last few insights, but I’m gonna spell it out nice and simple for those of you who haven’t pieced this together by now.
You are probably eating more calories than you think you are. On the flip side, you are probably burning less calories than you think you are. You might even be doing both.
Tons of people are incorrectly assuming that they’re eating the correct number of calories for maintenance or fat loss. Going along with that, many folks are under the assumption they’re a calorie burning machine. The fact that devices that track ‘calories burned’ can be wildly inaccurate doesn’t help this either. If your body composition is not where you’d like it to be despite your best efforts, it might just boil down you overestimating your activity and underestimating your calorie intake.
Because you absolutely can gain fat while eating clean…. if you’re eating too much for what your body needs.
You can also get fatter while still strength training 4x per week…. if you’re not active outside of those dedicated workouts.
And to top it all off, you can gain fat more easily… if your stress levels are ignored or managed improperly.
Actionable steps you can take from this insight:
- Have a rough idea of how many calories you need for your body, height, and activity level (you can google this)
- Be aware of improper portion sizes as they can add hundreds of calories to your bottom line (check out this infographic)
- Realize that, above all else, total calories matters most when it comes to weight and body composition (meaning it’s totally OK to indulge once in a while… as long as you balance that indulgence by reigning it back in the following day)
Now I’m happy to report that since that eye opening InBody reading from late July, I’ve gone back to the fat loss drawing board. To give you an idea of what I do on a regular basis, here’s a breakdown of my regular routine and mindset since then.
- I still prioritize quality sleep every single night with the goal of hitting 7 hours minimum.
- I still strength train 4x per week focusing on compound, multi-joint lifts (deadlifts, squats, lunges, rows, presses, loaded carries)
- I’ve now made it a point to try and manage stress better when I feel it boiling over. Personally, I enjoy a simple 2 minute break where I focus on my breath work to recenter myself. On less busy days or weekends I’ll even play some video games, something I rarely do anymore.
- I’ve started wearing my Apple watch almost every day now with the strict intention of ‘closing my rings’… you know what that means if you have an Apple watch.
- I’ve started incorporating more foam rolling and low intensity mobility drills into my daily routine, especially on off days. If I’m watching TV, I’ll bust out the foam roller or do some simple stretches… anything to get me moving a little.
- I’ve been making attempts to infuse low level activity into sedentary actions. For example, if I take a phone call, I’ll pace back and forth. If I make a post for social media, I’ll do the same. If I write a post for the site (like this one), I’ll write at my standing desk (my kitchen island).
- I’m more aware of my calorie intake on days when I’m not super active. I’ll make sure my portion sizes match up for a 5’10, 175lb male, not a 6’2, 200lb male. I enjoy eating bigger meals, so sometimes this can be tough for me.
- Going for a daily 20 minute walk is still something I strive to do, weather permitting.
- I still eat epic cheat meals and enjoy life. If fat loss ever interferes with my happiness, it’s time to stop trying to shed fat.
Now will all of these points help you? Maybe. Maybe not. While fat loss guidelines are generally universal, applying them to your life is not. My tips might not fit your schedule or preferences, so that’s up to you to take this information and mold it to your life.
Ahhh yes, let’s now get to the reason why some of you probably clicked on this link to begin with. I fully understand and appreciate how actual, photographic proof can reinforce all the insights I just made, so I made it a point to include some.
I’d like to highlight that I hate taking these photos. I feel like such a douche nugget propping up my phone, setting the timer, and flexing for a selfie. But, hey, if it helps add some validity and credibility to my written words… so be it. So here I am, posing shirtless in my garage like some narcissistic ass bag, praying my wife doesn’t walk by and judge me for engaging in such cringeworthy activities.
After a few months of a new approach and consistency, I’m now hovering at a comfortable 12ish% body fat. I probably can’t compete with the half naked “influencers” you see on Instagram, but those people can’t eat quesadillas on the weekends like I do. #priorities
I also try not to take myself too seriously. So in an attempt to offset the vanity and self-adulation that is the above photo, I took one to knock myself down a peg.
For this pic, I tried to harness my inner ‘insta-fit’ girl. You know, the one who posts something like, “just got a new watch!” but then strikes a pose like this. Listen, if you want us to look at your butt, just say so. Don’t play coy with me.
So… yeah. Do what you want with that photo. Make it your phone background, put it on your next birthday cake, blackmail me, whatever tickles your fancy. But hopefully the insights prior to these photos can help you break a plateau and see continued progress with your fat loss efforts.
Have questions? Reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on social media @gritfitnessandperformance. We’d love to help you out!