It is safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone into a whirlwind. Many of us were in the middle of maybe a fat-loss journey or contest prep, and WHAM! Quarantine! Everything canceled! It is without a doubt that our plans, routines, and overall day-to-day took a complete 180 overnight it seems. So, for some of you, it could have left some uncertainty with regard to your goals and how to proceed. Hopefully, if you have a coach, he or she was able to redirect your plan as needed, but I wanted to provide my take on fat-loss goals during this time. For the sake of this article, I am going to explain the smartest moves and what I have done personally with my clients with regard to fat-loss goals. We will go over two categories – general fat-loss and bodybuilding competitor.
General Fat-Loss Goals: To Diet, or Not to Diet?
Without question, each individual situation is going to be different. I will tell you that with most of the general fat-loss clients I have, we stayed the course with our fat-loss programming, but for some clients, we transitioned to a maintenance phase. I want to go over my reasoning for both, so if you can relate to either, you can have a more sound approach during this time.
The clients I have continuing their fat-loss phases are:
- Either unphased or not extremely burdened by the virus and its effects. Stress plays a huge fucking role in fat loss. If I have a client who is stressed beyond belief, then remaining in a caloric deficit is not wise. Some clients have not been financially or personally affected much by all of this. For example, I have some clients whose jobs were not affected, and they have home gyms. So, that is a huge piece to consider.
- Still within a healthy body fat range, and their calories are not super low. For example, if I have a male who is over 15% body fat, or a female who is over 24% body fat, and the client has immunity issues due to a lack of intake or a level of leanness, this is not going to put them in a compromised position. The client is still in a healthy place to continue to lose body fat, and his or her immunity will still be strong.
- Not doing a ton of cardio. Cardio is an extra stressor on the body. So, for some folks, I have pulled their cardio down. I may still keep someone in a fat-loss phase, but for the time being, I have dropped cardio frequency or intensity intentionally. I am not a huge cardio programmer anyway – it doesn’t elicit fat loss as much as people think it does. You will get more bang for your buck with general nonexercised activity thermogenesis. But if someone has a good amount of HIIT, I pull it down some.
Conversely, I have initiated either a diet break or a maintenance phase if the client:
- Is extremely stressed. So, this could be my night shift nurses or other medical professionals now working around the clock. Or, this could be a client who is experiencing job uncertainty. Extra food = less stress on the body.
- Is mentally burnt out. For some people, the virus has taken a huge mental toll. Maybe people have loved ones they are worried about. If tracking macros places more of a burden and adds frustration to their lives, we have switched to an intuitive eating protocol or more basic barriers around meals. For instance, “with each meal, I want to see 30g of protein, and however you split up fats/carbs is up to you.” That is mentally less taxing, yet we are still focusing on protein as a priority. You can still make progress if you aren’t tracking 100% but still monitoring your portions.
- Has lost a good amount of body fat already, so now would be a good time to maintain and keep metabolism/hormone levels in a good range. We have to implement diet breaks for most folks anyway over the course of their fat loss journeys so that we can actually use this situation wisely.
Overall, this pandemic is absolutely not a reason to throw in the towel. Now more than ever, people need to realize how important their health is and not to take it for granted. We can all still track our food, we can all still get home workouts in, and we can all choose not to make excuses. We can either put our heads in the sand and come out on the other side worse than where we are now, or we can step up and take action. At the end of the day, our health is on us.
Side note – there are no magic supplements that will prevent us from getting COVID-19. Put the essential oils down, Sharon. However, including extra Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, plenty of electrolytes/overall hydration, and Zinc in your diet is not a bad idea.
Bodybuilding Competitor: When to Keep Going, & When to Chalk it Up & Reverse Diet
So, this group gets a little tough for a few reasons. 1. Trying to tell an athlete who has been dieting for months that we need to reverse and look at summer/fall shows is not an easy conversation. And 2. If we do keep them in their prep, we need to keep a more detailed eye on stress and health. Either way, it throws us some curveballs.
The clients I have continuing their prep are:
- Those who were still 12+ weeks out, and we could easily just push their shows to June/July and their physiques will not suffer. At 12+ weeks, you aren’t shredded yet; you are getting lean but definitely are not immunocompromised. What I have done with these folks is just transitioned them to short diet breaks for the next few weeks to “hold them over,” if you will. Then, we will start a cut phase again, and by that time, this shit (hopefully) should be behind us.
- Those who are still mentally in a good place with everything going on and still have that competitive drive. Your mindset can make or break your competition experience. If your heart is not in it, you will hate it and not give it your all. So, being honest and aware about where you are mentally is huge.
The clients I decided to reverse and prep another season are:
- Those who just mentally did not have it in them. That is not to say that they were weak, or any nonsense like that. This whole situation is kind of a big fucking deal, and a lot of folks have more important things to worry about. There’s no point in half-assing a prep. If you are not there 100%, reverse, and compete later on. There’s no shame in that. In fact, that is much smarter than dragging yourself through something you aren’t all in for.
- Those who were too close and too lean to maintain. So, this is something I actually did not have to deal with because all of my clients were hitting May-July shows anyway. BUT I wanted to address it because I see SO MANY coaches still hard-core prepping their clients with NO show in sight. When you are close to stage lean, your immunity is fucked, and your hormones are shit, so you are literally asking to get sick. I don’t care how “healthy” your prep was. Stage-level leanness is not healthy for anyone. If your show got pulled this season and you were a few weeks out, REVERSE NOW. And if your coach continues to diet you and says “you’ll be fine,” hire a new coach who gives a shit about your health. End rant.
Here’s the thing guys; if you do a later show, you will only look better!!! There is no harm in waiting! Take care of your health first; the stage is not going anywhere. So, be patient, and do what is right for your health and current situation.
I hope that helps to shed some light on what YOU should be doing/focusing on right now. This pandemic does not mean that we should give up on our goals. Not at all. We just have to pivot and take a different path to get there. If this is done right, your path will still lead to the same destination!