Whether it’s your first, second or, hell, even your tenth child, there is no doubt that becoming a father makes it hard to chase your health and fitness goals like you did previously.
But what if we said that you don’t have to choose between your health and your new bundle of joy?
At Ultimate Performance, we have helped hundreds of new dads to achieve a cover-model physique.
“I don’t have time!”, is the first thought that probably comes to mind.
But, think about it this way… can you put a price on an extra day, week, month or even year with your children? Can you afford not to care about your health?
We’re here to show that it doesn’t need to be an ‘either-or’ decision. With some smart tweaks, you can put yourself on a path to Herculean health, even when the little one lets out their 50th cry of the night.
The dangers of the ‘dad bod’
You’re healthy, you’re fit, you’re pretty happy with your bench press (even if your partner really couldn’t care less). And then a baby comes along.
Massive inconvenience, right?
We’re joking, of course. But nothing can prepare you for the assault of sleepless nights, nappy-changing and constant demand for food…
We all know the story: a little extra podge on the love-handles, bags under the eyes – it’s all part and parcel of becoming a new dad.
Sadly, these changes can have catastrophic consequences for your health…
1. You can’t remember when you last had a good night’s sleep
A few hours less sleep here and there may seem like nothing. But as a new father, you’ll know just how untrue that statement is!
56% of new fathers report falling into negative health behaviours in the 12 months after the birth of their child. And the majority of those can be attributed to a lack of sleep [i].
And if your goal is fat loss, this can have disastrous results.
Research shows that sleep loss of as little as two hours per night decreases how much fat you lose and accelerates muscle loss. This becomes even more severe if you sleep less than six hours a night [ii].
2. Stress management… what stress management?
This new, helpless being has arrived that depends on you for absolutely everything. Safe to say that your needs have moved firmly to the bottom of the pecking order.
Up to one in 10 new fathers experience depression after the birth of their baby and 70% say their stress levels rise exponentially in the 12 months after becoming a father for the first time.
Yet stress can be apocalyptic for your health if left unmanaged.
When stress becomes chronic, you could be setting yourself up for everything from cardiac problems to diabetes, and accelerated ageing. Chronic stress is also significantly involved in the onset of almost all major depressive disorders [iii].
3. Less gym time, bigger waistline
Heading to the gym when the baby needs a change may not be the best way to keep mum happy. However, there’s no argument about the negative health effects associated with a reduction in physical exercise.
During a study of 638 young adults, new fathers lost an average of five hours of physical activity per week [iv].
And that’s not a trivial difference. This translates to higher risk of conditions like heart disease, as well as escalating the likelihood of a slide in mental health [v].
4. You could be setting up your children for poor health
How you care for yourself has a massive impact on your children.
Fathers often assume the role of physical activity leaders within the family and are generally responsible for engaging their children in leisure time. In a study of 3,285 families, children with an obese father were fourteen times more likely to become obese in their teens, even if the mother was of a healthy weight [vi].
Now that you’re a role model, your baby’s health literally depends on it!
Of course, when you’re juggling so many plates, this decline can feel so dismally inevitable that you ask how you’re possibly going to stop it.
But, some quick adjustments can make all the difference. Let us show you how.
Turning the tide on your health, for you and your family
It’s normal for your priorities change when a baby arrives. Likewise, you don’t need to give in entirely either.
If you’re stuck in a rut, here’s what you can do to take better care of your and your family’s health.
1. Join a gym or a fitness community
Loneliness can be a big issue for new dads. Long gone are the days of the pint down the pub, and you can’t help but feel a little left out when you tap on a mate’s Insta story and see him at the bar.
But don’t sit and wallow.
There are plenty of new fathers like you craving social time. Joining a gym or fitness community is a great way to socialise as well as beating the pounds.
Whether it’s a Monday night spin class or an hour of five-a-side after work, just one hour of exercise a week can help massively with your mindset [vii].
And if you can’t carve out time to get to the gym, bring the workout to you. You can do a highly effective, challenging workout with scant equipment at home without spending hours away from the family.
2. Keep your nutrition simple
Knackered? Can’t be bothered? A take-away sounds like a good idea, right?
We understand the urge. But seeking ultra-processed, highly calorific food as a means of saving time and energy puts you in a vicious cycle.
High consumption of processed foods is associated with a significant increase in the risk of obesity, high waist circumference, and metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions that increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes [viii].
Now that’s not to say you have to become a Michelin-starred chef. But neither you nor mum can perform at your best if you’re not effectively fuelled:
- Keep high-quality proteins like rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked salmon or high-protein yoghurts stocked up in the fridge so that you and mum can keep yourselves fuelled at short notice.
- Batch prepare veggies and freeze them to slash your meal prep time.
- For every meal you prepare, make additional portions and freeze for later.
- Weigh out nuts and berries into food bags to create grab-and-go snacks that will help energise you and mum. Squeezable yoghurt pouches are a great on-the-go option too.
- Invest in a healthy meal prep company and keep extra stocked up in the freezer for last-minute food emergencies.
3. Knock off the post-bedtime drink to ‘unwind’
Unfortunately, right now the only person hitting the bottle every night should be the baby.
Of the many negative health behaviours reported by men following the birth of their first child, alcohol consumption is one of the most common. For many men, the stress associated with the transition to parenthood can present barriers to positive behaviour change, with alcohol consumption serving as a means of relaxation [ix].
But cracking open a can or two to relieve stress – although it may seem a good idea at the time – will come back to bite you. Alcohol disrupts sleep quality, slashes testosterone levels, and impairs muscle growth [x]. All in all, not a great combination for looking and feeling at your best.
If you can replace this time with journaling, meditation or walking in nature, you’ll find yourself far better placed to cope with sleep deprivation, work, nappy changes, and supporting a very tired mum.
4. Keep active with the baby while mum naps
It’s crazy how such a small human can leave you feeling so utterly exhausted. But as tired as you are, mum is probably feeling it even more.
Getting out with baby gives her a well-needed chance to take a nap and provides an opportunity to get in some extra steps. Not only is walking outside a great mental health boost, research also shows it can help baby’s sleep cycle settle in more quickly, which means better rest for you both sooner rather than later [xi], [xii], [xiii].
5. Focus on sleep quality
Granted, it’s pretty unlikely that either of you are getting the recommended seven hours’ sleep at the moment.
There may not be much you can do about your sleep quantity but that’s not to say you can’t maximise its quality. Investing in blackout blinds or an eye mask is an easy hack that will improve your sleep quality, while white noise, like rain sounds or waves, can also help make sure that whatever shut-eye you get is as good as it can be.
And while it might feel tempting to exist mostly on coffee right now, it won’t help you feel more refreshed in the long run. Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, so if you want to avoid disturbed sleep, make sure to cut it out in the hours before bed.
A new baby means less time to sleep, eat and train… which soon becomes a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’re several kilos heavier, you haven’t worked out in months and your go-to meal is a take-away.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Staying healthy and performing as a new dad may seem like two incompatible goals but the choices you make now will have a major impact on you and your family’s health. And let’s face it, every second, hour and day you get to spend with those you love most is a precious commodity.
But hopefully we have demonstrated that effective doesn’t equal complicated. With some smart pre-planning, you can give mum and baby the best start without compromising on your health.
[i] Ipsos Mori (2019). Fatherhood and social connections. https://cdn.movember.com/uploads/images/News/UK/Movember%20Fathers%20%26%20Social%20Connections%20Report.pdf.
[ii] Nedeltcheva, A.V., et al. (2010). Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Annals of Internal Medicine.
[iii] Rasheed N. (2016). Prolonged Stress Leads to Serious Health Problems: Preventive Approaches. International journal of health sciences.
[iv] Young, M. D., & Morgan, P. J. (2017). Paternal Physical Activity: An Important Target to Improve the Health of Fathers and their Children. American journal of lifestyle medicine.
[v] Ipsos Mori (2019). Fatherhood and social connections. https://cdn.movember.com/uploads/images/News/UK/Movember%20Fathers%20%26%20Social%20Connections%20Report.pdf.
[vi] Young, M. D., & Morgan, P. J. (2017). Paternal Physical Activity: An Important Target to Improve the Health of Fathers and their Children. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
[vii] Harvey, S. et al. (2017). Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. American Journal of Psychiatry
[viii] Pagliai, G. et al. (2021). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The British journal of nutrition
[ix] Dimova, E. et al. (2021). Exploring Men’s Alcohol Consumption in the Context of Becoming a New Father. Institute of Alcohol Studies.
[x] Van Thiel, D. H., & Lester, R. (1979). The effect of chronic alcohol abuse on sexual function. Clinics in endocrinology and metabolism
[xi] Barion, A., Zee, P.C., (2007). A clinical approach to circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Sleep Medicine. 8 (6), pp. 566-77.
[xii] Gallaher, K.G.H., Slyepchenko, A., Frey, B.N., Urstad, K., Dørheim, S.K., (2018). The Role of Circadian Rhythms in Postpartum Sleep and Mood. Sleep Medicine Clinics. 13 (3), pp. 359-374.
[xiii] Yates, J., (2018). Perspective: The Long-Term Effects of Light Exposure on Establishment of Newborn Circadian Rhythm.