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How men can avoid 'baby weight'

14:30 Tue Jul 10 2012
Tom Fontaine
How men can avoid the dreaded 'baby weight'
Kids will eventually make you active. (Thinkstock)

We hear a lot about women piling on kilograms after giving birth, but a study suggests that it is new dads who routinely gain weight — and lots of it.

We talk to the experts from the world of fitness and nutrition to see how you can avoid this particular parent trap.

The squealing and the screaming, the tears and the tantrums. The everyday sounds emanating from a newborn child? Perhaps, but they'll be drowned out by your hysterics (not to mention your wife's) when you see the state of your gut 12 months after becoming a father.

According to recent research, blokes put on an average of nine kilograms after having a child. Lack of time to exercise, increased consumption of takeaway meals and sleepless nights are top of the list of pressures that lead 'modern dad' to pile on the pounds.

The study suggests that 40 per cent of new fathers are unable to pull their weight in the family home because they are so wiped out. Paul Keenan, of Benenden Healthcare, which carried out the research, said: "The modern dad's health is suffering under the strain from diverging pressures such as work and family life. As a result, dads are taking shortcuts with their diets, leading to increased weight, more sedentary lifestyles and eventually running the risk of health scares."

Significantly, the study also found that while the natural time constraints of parenthood lead to this weight gain, few men shed the excess blubbage when things settle down again.

It's time to reverse this trend.

Preparation is key
When Junior comes along, the shock to your lifestyle is going to be cataclysmic, so you need to start preparing months before those waters break. Between getting things ready for the baby and looking after your partner, adapting to your new way of life before the trip to the hospital is vital.

Personal trainer Gavin Walsh speaks from experience. He says: "Time is a major issue leading up to the birth and even more so after the baby arrives. I know — I've been there. Your regular workouts will go out the window the closer you get to the birth date, but you don't want to just give up on your fitness. Instead, use your home and cram in as much as you can into a 20 to 30-minute workout.

"This might mean exercises at 9:30 in the evening or at other random times, but you must commit to this. The more intense your workout, the better, so think in terms of circuits and use exercises that work several muscle groups in one go. The bonus of keeping your workouts short and performing them at home is that your partner can't complain about you being away from home for too long either."

Trainer Jacob Nadav agrees, stressing the need to stick to the basics. "Get a pull-up bar on a door frame, and do pull-ups, push-ups and other simple exercises," he says. "You don't need a gym to stay in shape. If you don't have any weights, you can either use bottles of water or maybe a rucksack filled with books. Just not the baby when it comes along."

Coping with exhaustion
Once baby comes wailing into your lives, fatigue will begin to play a huge role and can spell disaster for your motivation to exercise. But there are steps you can take to boost energy levels and, ultimately, stay in shape.

The first step, says Walsh, is learning to embrace it. "Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for this. Until your baby sleeps through, which can take up to 12 months, you're going to be very tired. Accept it," he says.

Nutrition consultant Claire Harper says that lack of sleep is the primary cause of poor food choices, so it's essential that you pledge to eat well — and stick to it. "There are studies that directly link sleep depravation with obesity," she says. "The body needs at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep to perform its rest and regeneration duties, but new parents are very unlikely to get this.

"Tiredness causes us to look for quick energy fixes such as sugary drinks and snacks, refined carbohydrates, caffeine and nicotine. These unfortunately disrupt our blood sugar balance, leading to a speedy drop in energy shortly after the 'rush', which makes us feel hungry and irritable. So we reach for the next sugar hit, only making things worse. This triggers the release of the hormone insulin, whose job it is to remove sugar from the blood and deposit it into a handy storage facility: fat cells!"

How to eat appropriately
But with new dads so short on time (and usually back at work after just two weeks), eating has to be practical. Harper says: "The diet of new parents should include plenty of protein, essential fats, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and iron. It's not helpful for a nutritionist to suggest a lot of complicated nutritious dishes, as most new parents will be trying to cook with one hand, so I suggest dads think about what's easy. Stock up on foil steam pouches of fish, cook ahead a batch of casserole, while pre-prepared rye sandwiches with ham, egg, prawns, tuna, are a good snack. I also recommend oat muesli with berries, nuts and seeds and dried apricots.

"I'd advise men to keep a handle on sugar cravings, because when things get back to normal, they don't want to be stuck with a sugar and junk addiction. Replacing unhealthy snacks with healthy ones will help dads feel generally more energised, which will help them through this tricky time."

The perfect training partner
Don't forget, this isn't just about you. Your better half will bear the brunt of this journey, so it's important that you take steps that prevent both of you from sacrificing your health at the altar of dirty nappies and sleepless nights. Walsh says: "It may take a few weeks until your partner feels like doing any exercise, though she will no doubt be as keen as you to keep the baby weight at bay. Clean up both your diets and you'll be doing both of you a favour.

"During the first few weeks she will hardly be up for a 10k in the park, so your best bet is getting out for short walks with your baby. Once your partner starts to recover then swimming is a great exercise which you can do together. As soon as your baby is big enough, look for activities that have a creche, allowing you to enjoy some quality, active time with each other."

Adapting your lifestyle to cope with parenthood with help you form healthy habits that will last forever and, most importantly, make the little brat proud of their old man.

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