There are a lot of reasons why new dads get out of shape. Lack of sleep, less time to cook nutritious meals, and, oh yeah, the added stress of taking care of a very needy newborn can combine in a trifecta of bad fitness and diet choices that could mean you’re the one huffing and puffing when your kid blows out their first birthday candles. But taking care of a new baby doesn’t have to mean you stop taking care of yourself. Here’s what the pros recommend to stave off “dad bod.”
Focus on why you’re staying fit.
Before you can make serious changes, you have to change your mindset. “When men start to have kids, we realize that why we do fitness totally changes,” says Dr. Anthony Balduzzi, founder of The Fit Father Project. “You’re not doing it for the six-pack you wanted in your twenties — fitness becomes your ticket to longevity.” When you start looking at your workouts as investments in your health instead of an opportunity to burn off a few beers, it becomes easier to prioritize healthy choices.
Give up the gym rat life… for now.
We’re not saying you’ll never renew that membership again, but right now isn’t the time to fuss about where you work out. “The gym is not the only place where fitness takes place,” says Kellen Milad, M.S. and health coach. “Create some space at home to be able to move.” Whether that means turning your backyard into a make-shift track or hitting a nearby park, a natural landscape can offer a variety of ways to shake up your routine and improve balance, core strength, and mobility. Milad recommends using a playground or even a sturdy tree branch as a pull-up bar and performing half your maximum hang time with a series of knee tucks and pull-ups for added strength training. Can’t get out of the house? Dust off that old doorframe pull-up bar from college.
Practice spurts of fitness when and where you can.
Something is always going to be better than nothing. “We think fitness needs to be a formal trip to the gym — we’ve got to do a routine of cardio, weights, stretching, and it takes an hour,” Milad says. “But if you can start to see that you have an opportunity to take movement ‘snacks’ throughout the day, you can go through a set of squats, lunges, bear crawls, hanging from a pull-up bar — those reps consistently throughout the day have huge benefits.” In fact, practicing throughout the day versus in one hour-long block has been shown to have added fitness benefits, including avoiding over-fatigue and training the nervous system to have a great degree of efficiency behind movements. The greater the efficiency, the less prone to injuries you are.
If you can only do one thing, watch your diet.
Odds are, you’re not spending your paternity leave at the gym. So if the only thing you lift in those first few weeks is your newborn, don’t stress — just make a few simple tweaks to your diet. “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet,” Balduzzi says. He recommends his clients focus on learning portion control, filling half their plate with vegetables or greens, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with a complex carbohydrate. “You can build millions of different plates within this framework. When you make it interactive [as children get older], you teach your kids core basics of nutrition,” Balduzzi says. “Even if you only worked out once a week but your diet is on point, you will maintain a really healthy weight and you won’t be digging yourself out of a rut.”