Training, nutrition, and habit tips!
Gyms have been closed for a couple of months now, this means that the return to training should be a planned approach. We want to see our members full of excitement and keen to train, BUT we do not want to see anyone get injured or negatively affected from training too hard too quickly. Nutrition may have taken a turn for the snack cupboard or baking a lot more goodies whilst at home. Previously built habits may have fallen apart due to the change of environment, with kids being home or work changing its schedule.
The following information will hopefully guide you in returning to training for the long run and building up a stronger more resilient body, assist in developing good nutritional habits and give you some insight into some proven methods to form good habits and break poorer ones.
Michael C. Zourdos’s review Returning to Training After a Layoff1 provides some very important considerations to return to training successfully.
Following months of detraining or a reduced training load it is highly likely that muscle size and strength will decrease, probably not to the level of when you first began training, but it will be significantly less1. Thankfully, it can be regained over a couple of months. The reasons for these changes are based on the nervous system losing its efficiency, the motor skill being lost and some cellular changes in the muscle1.
The reversibility of the aerobic cardiopulmonary system can have a significant change following as little as 1-2 weeks of detraining, consequently following a few months of less training, many of the adaptations are lost2. This even occurs in elite athletes who may have trained for years. Some detraining effects are the amount of oxygen that can be used (VO2 max), energy and enzyme availability all reduce, and the heart will pump blood less efficiently2.
What this means when returning to training is that muscles will become much sorer from damage because it’s a new stimulus again, fatigue will occur more quickly, force generation is slower and absolutely lower, between set recovery will be longer and muscular endurance will be less.
Strategies to return to resistance and aerobic training:
-Ensure you allow recovery of 24-48 hours between sessions and warm up and cool down adequately.
-Start with very little, even 1-2 sets of each exercise
-If you have not done much training, then doing anything will have an effect now, do not rush it.
-Use rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to work out what weight to lift, not old percentages of your maximum. For example, beginning at with a weight that feels like an RPE of 6/10, may be a good starting point. The muscles feel a burning sensation, but it is not taking you to absolute complete failure.
-Prior to gyms closing, if you were doing 4-6 days of training, begin with 2-3 days. If you were doing 3-4 days begin with 1-2 days.
-Do not try and destroy yourself due to guilt or excitement, but come in and get the routine, movements, and enjoyment back.
-Use a gradual progression, for example following 2 weeks, you may try increase 1 or 2 sessions more per week, then try and lift a little heavier (2-5kg for upper body movements or 5-10kg for lower body) and work a little harder each session (RPE 7-8/10). Again, after 1-2 weeks, you may increase your intensity in the sessions and try and lift heavier weights as part of a planned program approach to you.
-You may base the load lifted on a lower amount of what you were previously lifting (e.g. 75% of your previous 1RM estimate, can be your new 1RM). If you could bench press 80kg for 1 rep, then begin as if 60kg is your new 1RM max.
-Begin with 1-2 group classes per week or if you want to build up your running capacity, trial 1-2 slow “conversational” paced jogs for 20-30 minutes.
-Aerobic fitness can be significantly improved in a few weeks of training. Especially if you are starting from a position of lower fitness, there is plenty of room to improve and improvements will come quicker!
-A good range to work at when returning is 55-70% of your heart rate max. Working at 70% can give most of the positive cardiopulmonary (heart, blood vessels and lungs) adaptations.
(To work out this range, a good calculation is HRmax = 206.9 – 0.67 x (age in years).2
|Age||Max heart rate (beats per min)||70% MaxHR|
Key points to finish on1
-Doing anything will lead to progress, after time away.
-Progress will be quick, you may want to do more, do not rush!
-Do not expect to progress at the same rate, after the initial “muscle memory “phase of returning has occurred.
-Stay calm and focused, things will return to normal in the appropriate time
2) How to get back on track with nutrition
Being home a lot more may expose you to more snack food. It may affect your routine meal preparation for work or your regular lunch you eat each day whilst at work. I know Dan and myself have both faced challenges with our diets these past few months, but it does not have to be complicated to make changes in a good direction.
A great approach for success when making healthy eating habit changes is to make small changes, and as you become habituated to each change then try another. The four-step method in Understanding Healthy Eating3 is an approach that may help restructuring nutritional habits to achieve a better body composition.
Step 1 – Healthy choices
Start to pay attention to what you are eating, try to ensure main meals and snack are mostly healthier options. Eat lean protein (lower fat cuts of meat and fish), fruit, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fat (olive oils, nuts, seeds). When you want an unhealthier snack, have it, just do not make it a regular occurrence and try to ensure there is no massive calorie splurges. This will automatically reduce calories and give you a more nutritionally balanced diet. No need to be perfect, just improve in areas you know you need to improve in.
Key point – Eat plenty of healthier foods so that you feel healthy and satisfied but focus on minimising any junk food that is low in nutrition and high in calories. Do not go hungry, just make improved choices. The Healthy Eating Pyramid4 is a simple tool that helps with this. If all you ate was foods from this guide, you would make awesome progress to health and fitness.
Step 2 – Meeting macronutrients in each meal
This step might gradually come after weeks or months. It requires trying to eat each meal or snack with some protein. The aim is to form the meal around a protein source, adding vegetables, grains, fruit, and/or healthy fats around it. It still does not need to be perfect. Just try your best to fit a protein source in with each meal. Do not worry about portion control yet, just ensure the correct foods are chosen.
(average protein servings5)
Key point – Protein is the staple to each meal, with other food sources being based around it.
Step 3 – meal size and number
Begin to try portion control. Work around how much food you know will leave you not feeling hungry and lower on energy. Also, think about what time around your schedule you begin to feel peckish. Try to keep a regular routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with snacks in between. Reaching this stage would be fine for longevity and improved health. Occasional junk food, with a mostly stable routine of more nutritious and regular food is great.
Key point – find a routine that works for your schedule that does not leave you very hungry and low on energy, but also allows you to have balance in your social life.
Some considerations – Does skipping an early breakfast and eating between 11pm-7pm feel better? Does not eating breakfast make you feel tired and sluggish? Do you get very hungry at 3-4pm before dinner, due to lunch being very early? How could you change improve cravings? Do you eat dinner too early and get very hungry late at night? Are you restricting food too much and is it making you subsequently binge?
(If you are having any mental health or physical issues with food, we can refer you on to the appropriate health professional to help you manage those issues)
Step 4 – Intentional Reductions
Now if you have a goal to lose fat and change your body composition, there may be a need to reduce calories whilst sticking to the above 3 steps. All that changes during weight loss is minimizing junk as much as possible, to ensure excess calories are not consumed and consume slightly smaller portions to ensure calories are reduced. Protein is important to maintain muscle and carbohydrates are great for mental and physical energy, so cutting out some fat is a good start and then changes can be made to suit your situation.
Key point – For periods of time when you want to lose weight, then you should minimise junk food as much as possible and manage portions so that calories are not over-consumed. Do not excessively cut protein, carbs, or fat, but go for a balanced reduction in calories.
With the above steps as a guide, base your approach to where you currently feel you are at and what may work for your situation. What will work for one person may not work for another, so just try, and improve something you feel needs improvement, one small step at a time.
3) Establishing a routine for a change of environment
The current situation may mean that you are finding it difficult to set a regular structure to your week. The changing work environment may lead to extra stress of instability and disruption to previous routines that worked. This may be compounded with financial and/or family situations making it very hard to think about anything to do with training or nutrition. Therefore, to help improve developing good habits in the current climate, the follow methods are proven to assist.
Our brains like routine and automaticity, therefore if a task requires less effort it is probably the most likely method chosen. There are certain things you can do to achieve this for promoting good habits or breaking bad habits. Initially, some effort is needed to make a change, but little by little, it will become easier and more automatic, thus easier. The following tips are from ideas gathered in James Clear’s Atomic Habits6.
Make it obvious and attractive!
-One starting point is become aware of what happens in your day that leads to avoiding healthier activities. Do you get home from work, eat a big meal, or begin to watch Netflix and feel too sluggish to exercise? Or do you procrastinate and put it off for another day? Do you go for the easily prepared snacks in the cupboard? Try and think about your habits you know are bad and become aware of them.
-Aim to set an implementation intention. You say to yourself, at [time] and [location] I will do [x]. For example, tomorrow morning I will get up at 6:30, have a coffee and then ride by bike for one hour. Make a specific plan to stick to a habit and you are more likely to follow through. Say it out loud to yourself or your family or friends. Message Fighting Fit and tell us your plan of what you plan to do for the week. If you put the message out there, then you are more likely to do it.
-Try habit stacking, where you attach a new habit to a current habit. For example, after I get take the kids to school, I will put go straight to the gym or, when I get home from work, I will get my exercise clothes on and go lift weights. Basically, attaching a desired behaviour to something you must do each day to give your habits momentum. Be realistic in when you can do this, do not try, and implement a new habit, in a situation where it will be impossible.
-Your environment is more powerful that motivation! Why do soft drinks or chocolate sell a lot more effectively when placed at the end of aisles or checkouts? Because they are obvious and right in front of the customer. Vision is our most powerful sensory stimulus. Use this to your advantage. If you want to eat healthier, leave a big bowl of fruit on the table and buy packets of healthier snacks for the front of the cupboards. Put the chocolate at the back of the fridge and only have one type there. If you want to exercise place your runners and gym wear in the loungeroom, hanging over the chair or over your bedsheets as soon as you wake up. Bring them with you to work, with a snack like fruit or a smoothie, so you can get changed right away and go straight to the gym. Change your visual stimuli in your environment to suit your goal!
-Temptation bundling is a method that can make a habit more attractive. Our brains are wired to want something more than liking something, meaning that when we anticipate the thought of doing something, it will get us to act. A key hormone in this is dopamine, which spikes right before you do something you really want to do. To use this system to our benefit, if you try doing a habit you feel you have to do, like exercise or preparing a nutritious meal, before you do a habit you really enjoy, like watching Netflix or having a sweet snack, it can make you more likely to act. It is a way to reward your own behaviour building. For example, once I finish work, I will go to the gym for my semi-private session, then I will watch an episode of Rick and Morty on Netflix!
-Any new habit requires consistent practice to become automatic. Do not worry about how many days forming a new habit takes, just work on being as consistent as you can. If you stick to a routine like, every second day I will train at 5pm and the first week you successfully do it 2 times, then the next week 3 times and the following week once, it does not matter. Just keep trying to move forward and progressively make that habit automatic. Try to combine the tips above so that the least effort is required and most reward is gained.
Training, nutrition, and habits summary
We will do our best to ensure we help our members have a safe and effective return to training and minimise the risk of injury or being excessively sore. The nutrition advice is a great starting point based on what level of nutritional knowledge you have and are ready to commit to. Making and breaking habits can be very challenging, since our environment plays a huge factor and many events have occurred out of our control. Begin with becoming aware of what habits you want to change and then attempt to try implementation intentions, temptation bundling, reorganising your environment and staying as consistent as possible. For any guidance of your individual circumstances, please consult one of the coaches at Fighting Fit.
To help our members get back to their Fighting Fit selves and improve strength and aerobic fitness in a safe environment, we are increasing the semi-private sessions we will be running. This will help facilitate the most hygienic environment possible, with less participants in the gym at the one time and the ability to keep the equipment regularly cleaned. It also allows us to provide a more individualised approach to training, so that we can help each member improve their specific abilities.
June 2020 Fighting Fit training timetable
1) Zourdos, MC. Returning to Training After a Layoff: How to Gradually Comeback the Right way. MASS. 2019 Nov; 3(11)
2) McArdle, WD, Katch, FI and Katch, VL. Exercise physiology: nutrition, energy, and human performance. 8th ed. Philadelphia. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2015. Chapter 21. Training for Anaerobic and Aerobic Power; p. 461-498.
3) Israetel, M, Case, J and Pfaendtner, T. Understanding Healthy Eating [Internet]. United States: Renaissance Periodization; 2016 [cited 06 June 2020]. 88-92 p. Available from: https://renaissanceperiodization.com/understanding-healthy-eating
4) Nutrition Australia. Healthy Eating Pyramid [Internet]. Canberra ACT: The Australian Nutrition Foundation; 2015[cited 06 June 2020]. Available from: https://nutritionaustralia.org/fact-sheets/healthy-eating-pyramid/#:~:text=The%20Healthy%20Eating%20Pyramid%20is,Australian%20Dietary%20Guidelines%20(2013).
5) ) Nutrition Australia. Australian Dietary Guidelines: Standard Serves [Internet]. Canberra ACT: The Australian Nutrition Foundation; 2015[cited 06 June 2020]. Available from
6) Clear, J. Atomic Habits. London: Penguin Random House; 2018. 59-111 p.