You may recognize this guy. He stumbles out of bed feeling as though he hasn’t slept. That’s because he really hasn’t. He doesn’t have time for a real breakfast, so he hits the drive-through for a breakfast McFatty. By 3 p.m. he’s ready to face-plant on his desk. He resorts to a designer coffee or a cola from the vending machine, hoping for some energy.
He plans to hit the gym after work, but by the time he leaves the office, he’s exhausted and starving. His wife is just as exhausted, so he picks up some Chinese take-out and heads home.
In the past two months he hasn’t had a shower that lasted more than five minutes or slept for more than four hours straight. He used to curl 80 pounds, but he’s down to curling 10—however many reps it takes to change a wet diaper.
Yep, he’s a new father. You may even be him. I had no intention of being him—and I narrowly escaped, but only because I planned ahead, took positive steps and had a great deal of help with some of the biggest health and fitness challenges that new fathers face. I learned a lot in the process and want to share it with others who are expecting a child, whether it’s your first or your fourth.
Becoming a dad is an absolutely incredible experience; however, nothing can prepare you for it. My BMW (beautiful marvelous wife) gave birth to our precious baby girl on a hot summer day last August. Our daughter is almost five months old, and every moment with her is more magical than the last.
Becoming the father of a newborn has been a huge game changer. Life is no longer about Vince’s workouts, Vince’s food, Vince’s business, Vince’s movies and Vince’s trips. Basically, it’s no longer about me, me, me.
So it’s an incredibly wonderful, incredibly challenging experience, and if you’re also trying to gain or maintain lean muscle and eat healthfully, it’s even more so. That said, being a new dad doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health and physique. In fact, after incorporating these tips into your life, you may find that being a new dad is one of the best things that could have happened to your fitness goals.
Here are some thoughts about the five biggest challenges facing new fathers: Sleep and stress, diet, focus, accountability and time.
Challenge 1: Sleep and Stress
Shortly after my daughter was born, I had the Koenigsberg test done to check my adrenal function because I was eating in a caloric deficit but couldn’t lose any fat. I was exhausted and stressed and wasn’t very surprised to find that it was at an all-time low.
Bottom line: Stress, lack of sleep and the stress caused by lack of sleep will wreak havoc on your hormone levels and throw them completely out of whack. When that happens, you’ll be fatigued, you’ll start to gain fat (or store fat, as I was) because of high cortisol, and your testosterone will be too low to continue adding muscle.
Unfortunately, in the first weeks or even months after the baby is born, sleep is going to be a prize, not a guarantee. You may be one of the lucky fathers whose baby starts sleeping through the night almost immediately, but the odds are that you’ll be getting up at least once a night either to change or help feed the baby.
We all understand the importance of getting enough rest as it relates to muscle recovery and fat loss, but lack of sleep will do a lot more damage if you don’t take steps to get more rest. At the same time you can’t let your wife deal with the late nights on her own, or she’ll have a mental breakdown. Accept that you’re going to have interrupted sleep and irregular sleep patterns for a while, and try to counter them by getting to bed earlier or even getting up later if your job allows it.
Because I have a business to run and because I like getting a jump on the day, I started going to bed earlier. In fact, I go to bed earlier now than I did when I was young enough to be told to go to bed—I’m in bed by 9:30 and wide awake at 6 a.m. It’s quite an empowering feeling. That extra time means I can still get eight hours of sleep, even if it isn’t all at once. Because my body and my health are a priority, I’m fine with missing nights in front of the TV or working late on projects. In the meantime, my adrenal glands are now functioning as they should, and I have a lot more energy, burning fat and gaining muscle.
Challenge 2: Diet
Eating a healthful diet and hitting all your macros is challenging at any time, but even more so when you have a new baby. If your wife usually does most of the food shopping and cooking, she’s probably not able to do as much as she used to. She shouldn’t be expected to either. Even if you usually share the kitchen duties, time is at a premium, and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of ordering out or nuking your meals. That is a dangerous step down the road to fat gain and poor health.
One of the best things I’ve ever done for my body and my family was to spend $2,400 on cooking lessons with one of Toronto’s top gourmet chefs. I learned how to cook meals in bulk so that I could always have healthful meals on hand that tasted good and covered all my macros. I have to say, I’ve cooked some seriously good food—meals that were easy on the wallet and 10 times more delicious than my old “bodybuilding meals.” In fact, learning to cook in bulk had such a huge impact on my energy, health and body that I’m making it the focus of a new season of my Web show, “Live Large TV,” where we’ll introduce some mind-blowing recipes and teach you how to prepare up to a week’s worth of meals in less than an hour.
This has saved my health and energy levels as well as a lot of time and money. Every day after I have my first meal and work out, I have set aside an hour to cook all of our meals for the day and sometimes the next. Believe me, when life is really busy, you can cook up to a week’s worth of food in about the same time it takes to cook a day’s worth of food. Giving my diet a makeover and having nutrient-dense foods ready to eat has saved me from the fat gain and slow muscle gains that typically plague new fathers.
Challenge 3: Focus
Staying focused is a constant battle for some people. For others it’s fairly easy because they’re driven. Either way, if you’re a new father, you’re going to have a lot of obstacles to staying focused on your personal body building goals. Things are chaotic at home, there’s a lot more to do to keep your family functioning, and you will be wrapped up in your incredible new baby. Even so, there are things you can do to help yourself stay on track and still get everything done.
What worked for me was to script my day. I have a set schedule in which I perform the most important tasks first, before something else has a chance to get in the way.
I can’t stress enough how essential it is to focus on the most important things first. I need to work out, I need to eat well (and make sure my wife does too), and I need to run my business, so those tasks are scheduled first. By 10 a.m. I’ve worked out and prepared healthful meals for the entire day. From 10 to four I work, and then from four to eight is for spending time with my wife and daughter and having a good dinner. Our daughter goes to bed at 8 p.m., which gives me an hour and a half to relax with my wife and do something fun.
I can’t recommend it enough—even if you normally hate having a schedule. We have a very limited amount of willpower, especially when we’re tired and busier than usual. Decide what you must get done each day to stay on track and take care of your family. Write a schedule that enables you to get the most important things done first. Then commit to that schedule. A lot of guys balk at following a schedule because they don’t like being told what to do at any given time, but don’t forget that you’re the one creating the schedule and it’s your goals that the schedule was created to meet.
I’ll cover the last two challenges—accountability and time—next week. Til then, sleep well, eat healthfully, and train hard.
Copyright ©2015 Iron Man Magazine (virtually reprinted with permission)