Marissa Kneeling with a dumbbell.

April 2020: Not the Start to Spring We Expected.

So you’re stuck at home.

We’ve all seen the memes by now:
Me, day one of quarantine: “I’m going to learn how to play the guitar, speak mandarin, and catch up with my grandparents over Facetime daily!”

Me, day ten of quarantine: “I’m going to learn how many days it will take before I have to change out of my PJ’s.”
How the HECK are you supposed to work out, work, lounge, and do everything in-between in one house/apartment?!

I know. It’s overwhelming and understimulating all at the same time. We are all going through it.

I’ve already written out my best advice on compartmentalizing working from home and working out at home, so I won’t bore you reiterating those tips. Read those posts for some great insight.

Now, I know you’re worrying about losing progress, strength, or unwanted fat gain during this time when we are all cooped up inside, moving less, and closer to the snacks in our pantry 24-7.

How do I know? Because it’s in the back of all our minds as fitness-minded individuals, including myself.
Worried about losing your hard-earned muscle and strength gains? Worried about no longer looking tight and toned because you don’t have much/any at home workout equipment?

What’s going to happen without gym access for a month or more?
Here’s the great thing about muscle mass.

YES – it takes a lot of hard work to build.

& YES, if you become completely immobile, AKA lay on your bed 24-7 for weeks at a time, your muscle can break down and disintegrate (this is called “atrophy”) much quicker than the time it took to build (about 3-4 weeks of no activity).

However, maintaining your muscle mass and strength is FAR easier than you think. It took you weeks and months of slamming iron, blood, sweat and tears to build the muscle you have now…

…But muscle maintenance requires FAR less effort, intensity, volume and frequency.

You won’t turn to mush as long as you are doing SOMETHING, ideally something with resistance.

Bottom line, as long as you are practicing resistance training in SOME FORM/CAPACITY, and more importantly, as long as you are staying ACTIVE in general – your muscle and strength won’t be going anywhere.

Now… let’s say that you completely neglect exercise for however long COVID-19 lasts, and you probably do atrophy a good bit. What happens when you go back to the gym?

RE-gaining your strength and muscle mass will take less time than it did initially. It should take about six weeks of consistent training to get back to “where you were.” This is the beauty of muscle memory.

Here are some studies to support my statements about muscle memory and detraining:
Article 1
Article 2
Article 3


However, let’s be sure to separate what is actually happening from how you are going to FEEL:

Regardless of atrophy occurring or not, more than likely you don’t have a full home gym set-up with hundreds of pounds of weights to keep progressing as normal. If you do, all the better for you.

Assuming you are not training as you normally would, are using lighter loads or bands/bodyweight only, you ARE going to feel “smaller” or like your muscles are “wasting away” because you are not inducing the same amount or type of damage to your muscle tissue. You’re probably not going to feel that same “pumped” feeling, and you’re not going to build up the same level of edema and swelling as you would in a gym session with heavy squats and deadlifts.

You will probably FEEL like you’re losing your gains even if you are providing yourself an adequate training stimulus for maintenance. Remind yourself of the facts above so you don’t go insane and start self-sabotaging.
What about snacking and gaining fat?

How am I going to get around being next to my pantry 24-7?
1. What’s the point of stocking your pantry and freezer with non-perishables in case of emergency… if you’re going to eat half those snacks before the emergency?

Remember that while it is highly unlikely, we are still in uncertain territory world-wide. There is always a chance we may ACTUALLY go into a full quarantine. Use that as motivation to not eat everything in sight… because well, you might NEED it three weeks from now!

2. EAT AN ADEQUATE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH.

The main reason you are so “snacky” is because not fueling yourself properly at meal time.

Two hard boiled eggs and a handful of blueberries is not an adequate breakfast.
A slice of toast and 3 egg whites isn’t, either.
Neither is a protein shake or bar.

200-300 calories is a snack, NOT a breakfast. EVEN as a female.

Sedentary or not, the reason why you “feel the NEED” to snack, and the reason why you have so many “CRAVINGS” at night time is more than likely because of the overly restrictive nature of your earlier meals.

Take the time you’re not using on a commute to make a delicious, satiating, protein-packed breakfast. Tell me that you don’t feel different for the next 4-5 hours.

Eating a proper breakfast and lunch, and eating them AWAY from screens (focusing on your food will increase feelings of satisfaction) will help you focus MORE on your work throughout the day and focus LESS on what’s in your pantry up for grabs.

3. Should I be eating less because I’m working from home now?

Every good answer to a question like this starts with – “it depends.”

And it does.

What did your daily activity levels look like before, when you did commute to work?
Did you drive to work, sit all day, and move minimally already?
Did you walk to the subway station, stand on the train, and walk a mile to work?
Was the nature of your job sedentary or active? Somewhere in between?

To mitigate losses in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis, AKA calories burned not during exercise but by moving throughout the day), having a good idea of your daily activity level prior to this change is key.

You’ll want to equate your NEAT to whatever it was previously to keep your bodyweight/results consistent over this time frame.

Step count is a good place to start if you have an Apple Watch or FitBit that you wore. If you don’t, no worries. Just write out what your day looked like and estimate how much walking/activity your days took.

I would suggest equating for NEAT before doing anything to your food.

BUT, if your activity has SIGNIFICANTLY dropped off a cliff, and you can’t find the effort in you to just get up and MOVE more, then yes, dropping a small to moderate amount of carbohydrates out of your diet is warranted (20-40 grams per day would be a good place to start, depending on that activity).

If you are still exercising, I would just consider matching NEAT up and leaving dietary adjustments as a last resort.

I hope that answers some of your questions or clears the air on some worries you may have had about training and nutrition during this time.

Please stay safe, do your part and stay home. Thank you for being a part of this community and please know I am here to help in any way I can!

LOVE YOU ALL.

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Hey, I'm Marissa

I am an online health & fitness coach with a passion for helping others reach their fitness goals, no matter how many times they have tried in the past.

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