Building Muscle and Losing Fat as a Busy Parent

Does getting kids while working a full-time job have to spell the end of your training and fitness journey?

Heck no.

But you might have to take a scrutinizing look on your training routine, and you might face a new set of challenges when it comes to your diet and sleep.

One trainer that has helped many people solve this puzzle is Rob from Nothing Barred Fitness. I connected with Rob on Twitter to pick his brain regarding getting in shape as a busy parent.

Q: I’ve got kids and work full-time. Should I forget about fitness?

Rob: Absolutely not! Fitness doesn’t have to take up hours and hours of your time or consume your whole life. You can make serious progress with just an hour of training per week – a lot more progress than you would make doing nothing! If all you can do is 20 minutes, then do 20 minutes but try to do it as often as possible. The bar for the minimum effective dose is set pretty low for beginners and non-advanced trainees.

Here’s Rob. He knows a thing or two about getting in shape, even when your circumstances are less than ideal.

Q: How should I train? What should I focus on?

Rob: If time is short, the focus really has to be on compound exercises. These will give you far more back for your time investment than isolation exercises. If time is really short, you could just do one or two compound exercises per session, nothing else, and still see good improvements week to week.

You should try to train every major muscle group in your body at least once per week. Make sure you’ve got a squat and deadlift variation, a vertical push, a vertical pull, a horizontal push, and a horizontal pull. Throw in a single leg move as well if you can. You can use barbells, dumbbells, bodyweight, machines – whatever.

Here’s some example exercises for the above:

Q: My diet has gotten out of hand since I got kids. How do I get back on track?

Rob: You need a reset. It’s hard when your kids aren’t sleeping and you’re tired. You will be more hungry. I find it helps to throw everything out of the house that you don’t actually want to eat – you know, your trigger foods. “Everything in moderation” works if you are tracking macros accurately and have good willpower, but this probably isn’t the case when you’re sleep-deprived and have young kids around. Throw out the foods that trigger you into binges, and stop buying them. If they’re not there, you can’t eat them.

Some other tips:

  • Make sure you have protein at every meal.
  • Meal prep by batch cooking things like chili, curries, casseroles, spaghetti bolognese, etc., and portion them out into meal-sized zip lock bags or Tupperware for freezing. Try to cook slightly more than you need. That way you always have high protein meals (that you know, or can figure out, the macros of). This is so handy on those busy days where you’re fighting to keep your head above the water.
  • Brush your teeth after dinner.
  • Go to sleep when you have the opportunity.
  • Stop finishing what your kids leave on their plates.

Q: My sleep has taken a hit since I got kids. What should I do?

Rob: There’s not a lot you can do here other than just getting on with it, trying to fix the source of the problem (improve your child/children’s sleeping habits), and making sure you take the opportunity to sleep when it is there. When the kids are asleep at 9 pm you need to not lie in bed on your phone until midnight. Limit your caffeine consumption. Stop having caffeine after 12pm. You may also have to dial back your lifting routine. Your training volume should not exceed what you can recover from and while your sleep is poor you won’t be able to recover as effectively. Dial back all the extra sets and extra exercises. You really don’t need as much as you think.


Thank you for your time, Rob!

If you want to read more from Rob, whether about working out on a busy schedule or fat loss and muscle growth in general, head on over to Nothing Barred Fitness and also follow Rob on Twitter.

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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and lifters at the international level. Daniel lives in Lund, Sweden with his wife and three kids. On StrengthLog, Daniel geeks out about all things related to his lifelong passion of muscle and strength.