Wherever you are in the world, it’s likely you’ve felt the impact of COVID-19. Many governments are implementing strategies to encourage and enforce social distancing, through quarantine, isolation, or “shelter in place.” Chances are, you no longer have access to a gym, and your weekly shopping list has been re-prioritized.
In just several weeks of this new reality, I’ve noticed that many people are quick to sacrifice a healthy lifestyle. I can see this just by looking at the junk they’re piling into their shopping carts at the grocery store. A surge in online gaming and binge streaming suggests that many people are also taking the opportunity to be lazy.
I get it – you’re confined to your home, stressed, and worried, so it seems natural to seek comfort in these ways. The irony is, junk food and immobility will damage your health and make you even more susceptible to diseases like COVID-19. Exercise and healthy eating should not be cast aside as luxuries in the face of a pandemic; they are essentials, perhaps now more than ever.
In this post I’ll go over some common mistakes people make, as well as how to stay healthy and fit during these harsh times. You may be surprised to learn that you can maintain a healthy diet and get a great workout in your own bedroom – no equipment required.
This one has to go at the top of the list as I’ve seen firsthand what the majority of people are stacking in their shopping carts in times like these. During my weekly shopping, at least 80% of the shopping carts I’ve seen (and there were a lot of them) have been filled with big packs of soda, white flour, chips, and all kinds of cookies, crackers, and sweets.
There are some other items, such as meat, potatoes, and a pack of vegetables here and there – but the majority of food people are stocking up on is BAD. I can see why these foods have a lot of appeal at first glance: They have a long shelf life, they’re cheap, and they require little-to-no preparation. Seems simple.
I understand that proper nutrition is not at the top of everyone’s list (especially now), but there’s a number of problems with this trend.
See, junk food isn’t just packed with calories – which will be very difficult to burn off during quarantine – it also lacks nutritional value. It just doesn’t do a whole lot for your body and your immune system. I would argue that a proper diet is more relevant than ever, precisely because people are stressed and risk being exposed to a new disease. Here’s a video by Dr. Eric Berg explaining why nutrition plays an important role during a pandemic.
Another reason to avoid poor dietary habits right now is quite simply the fact that obesity remains one of the deadliest conditions people face. And obese people are actually among the most at-risk in the face of COVID-19. What contributes to obesity the most? Junk food of course. If you’re already severely overweight and you plan on putting your weight-loss goals on the backburner until this whole thing blows over, think again. You’re losing time faster than ever.
Maybe you’re not overweight, and you’re thinking a few weeks of junk food isn’t the end of the world. Well, you may feel differently a month from now when you start stacking on some pounds.
Ever since my first panic shopping spree things have changed: The curfew here is growing shorter and shorter, and we’re even looking at a complete 24-hour lockdown. The majority of local companies are requiring people to work from home, and our neighborhood parks and other public spaces are now off-limits. This doesn’t do a whole lot for your activity levels.
Couple that with the abundance of junk food in your pantry and you’re looking at some unwanted weight gain to say the least.
The obvious solution is to stock up on healthy foods. If your general activity has decreased, you might also want to reduce your calorie intake (I'll expand more on calorie reduction later on).
Let’s return to the idea that junk food will last longer in the cupboard, making it a “smart” investment when you’re stocking up for quarantine. Turns out junk food is not the only (or even the most) durable and dependable food to put in your pantry. It’s a myth that all good foods expire quickly; in fact, some of the healthiest ingredients can last in your pantry virtually forever. Here are a few affordable, yet healthy ingredients that can last years when stored properly:
*Tip: Store emergency foods in glass jars and keep them in a dry, cool place.
In addition to these, there are loads of foods which can last for a matter of months. A few examples include frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as hardy vegetables like carrots, onions, and potatoes which can sit in your cupboard as usual for a very long time. With a variety of dried herbs and spices on hand, you can mix up your recipes and keep things interesting. I’ll share a few simple recipes out of my own daily menu. These meals include ingredients that you can easily stock up on for weeks at a time, even if you don’t have a lot of space in your fridge (which I don’t).
It’s extremely simple and quick to prepare, you basically put all the ingredients in a bowl and pour some warm milk over it, mix it, and it’s done.
You might think that eating this for days on end gets boring, but I’ve been eating like this for years (excluding the times I went on keto) and I’m still not tired of it. In fact, having a reliable go-to makes things easier for me.
Besides being super simple to make, it’s also extremely nutritious. It’s a great mix of slow carbs, healthy fats, protein, and even some minerals. Even if you have to skip the protein powder or some of the seeds, this can be a substantial meal. You can also add your own twist with a light drizzle of honey, a spoonful of peanut butter, or by switching the raspberries for blueberries, strawberries, etc.
This breakfast will keep you satiated for a while (up to 4 hours for me at least) and all of the items listed are extremely easy to stock up on. The milk and raspberries are the only things taking up space in my fridge – everything else goes on the counter or in the cupboard.
Since I’m currently keeping my meat intake to a minimum, it’s a bit easier to keep my calories under control. You can easily replace tofu with some lean meat (chicken or turkey) and maybe reduce the amount of pasta to get more protein in.
Either way, this is a great lunch example in my opinion. Whole-grain pasta with some ricotta cheese and tofu on top, served along with a big salad. As far as the salad goes, you can add some veggies to your taste, such as onions or radishes. You can’t go wrong by adding more vegetables, because pretty much all of them are nutritious and very low in calories.
One rule I try to follow is reducing my carb intake as the day goes on. This way I’m sure to use the carbs I’m eating. I eat most of my carbs earlier in the day, and then phase them out the later it gets. For instance, I won’t eat any oats or pasta or fruit with my dinner.
You can have this any way you like, I usually dip carrots in hummus and have a salad on the side. As I said earlier, feel free to add any onions, arugula, or radishes to your salad, it’s only going to make it better. If you’re craving a hot meal, you can have your eggs scrambled or sunny-side-up.
Snacks can come in handy if you’re busy with work or need more time between your main meals. But as you can see based on the way I eat, your main meals don’t necessarily require much preparation.
Snack foods I like and recommend are:
Since it’s a bit difficult to keep my protein intake high on a vegetarian diet, I’ll usually opt for a nice protein shake, which will put my daily calorie intake at around 2k. I typically drink 2–3 coffees (with milk) throughout the day, so it all adds up to around 2.1–2.2k calories.
*Tip: Pay close attention to your beverage intake because this is where calories can sneak up on you. Remember how I said a lot of people are stocking up on soda these days? This will come back to haunt you!
The breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I posted above are around 1.7k calories. On top of that, I’ll have a protein shake and a couple of coffees, so by the end of the day it all adds up to around 2.2k calories.
This works for me as my BMR is around 2k calories and the rest I can burn off during my training, which keeps me in a slight calorie deficit.
From a practical standpoint, everything I’ve listed so far is pretty easy to stock up on for at least 2 weeks. Eggs, milk, hummus, frozen berries, and fresh vegetables will take up space in your fridge, whereas things like oats, pasta, rice, nuts, and seeds can go in your pantry.
Being inactive is definitely a close second in my opinion. Without access to gyms, parks, and tracks, the majority of people will fall off the wagon and stop training altogether, until things reopen.
Spending a lot of time sitting or laying on your couch, whether you’re working or just relaxing, can come back to bite you later on. If you decide to do absolutely nothing during quarantine, getting back on the wagon is going to be way harder than you think.
That’s only one reason why being inactive sucks; the next reason has more to do with your schedule and productivity. While you’re isolated and working from home, you don’t spend nearly as much energy as usual. You’re likely to have more energy later in the day than you’re used to, making it difficult to fall asleep (sometimes even for hours).
This will cause you to sleep-in the next day and it’ll slowly shift your entire sleep pattern. Before you know it, you’ll be waking up in the afternoon and staying up way past midnight. Even if you have flexible working hours or you're between jobs, this is problematic.
There are many reasons why a regular sleep schedule is beneficial. And I believe that in these circumstances, physical exercise is essential in order to end up on top of everything. Tire yourself out so you sleep well, get rested, and wake up the same time you normally would.
You might be skeptical and think there’s no way you can get good and tired just by jumping around in your room for 30–45 minutes. Well, you’d be surprised! There are many home workouts you can follow, which require little or no gym equipment.
And remember that being physically active has way more benefits than just regulating your sleeping pattern. Body weight exercises like squats, lunges, planks, and countless variations of them will improve your balance and coordination. With enough reps and sets, you’ll also break into a sweat and wake up sore the next morning. Think I’m exaggerating? Try out this routine and get back to me!
If you’re struggling to get motivated on your own, find an online tutorial to follow, schedule a video call with your gym buddy and workout simultaneously, or find a personal trainer who offers remote training. In this day and age, there’s really no excuse.
I understand that sheltering in place has made it really difficult to keep up with your goals, whether they were fitness-related or not. Being a personal trainer, this quarantine has really hit me hard – the gym is my “office,” and I have no idea when I’ll be back there again. Once our parks became off-limits, I really found myself in a bind.
It’s demoralizing, but it doesn’t have to get the better of you. Like I said, no excuses.
Use this time to see how adaptive to new situations you can be. Approach it as a challenge.
Even though I can no longer be physically present to support my clients, I’m still finding new ways to make myself available to them.
I strongly believe that my assistance to them right now is needed more than ever. So we organize live online training sessions, and plan out shopping lists in order to stay healthy and fit.
My point here is that you shouldn’t treat quarantine as “hibernation” and act as if time is standing still. Instead, try to find a way to achieve some of your goals, perhaps pick up a new skill or read that book that you’ve been leaving for later.
This is also a great start for some of you who are not physically active. Think about it: You can start training at home, literally whenever you want without anyone watching. Once the situation improves, you can hit the gym, go running, swimming – whatever you prefer, and you’ll be way better off than if you had waited. Consider this period your head start.
Also take this time to evaluate your habits. This is the time to practice discipline, so try following a healthier meal plan, eliminate junk food from your shopping list, commit to exercising several times a week in whatever way feels good to you...
There are many ways in which you can challenge yourself, but it’s up to you to make it happen. These circumstances emphasize that more than ever.
Hopefully this read has inspired you to keep pushing yourself, with a few pointers to get started. Reach out in the comments below or send us an email with your questions.