Fitness Advice for a Busy Bureaucrat (and other busy professionals)

So I’m writing this post on Fathers Day, and its fitting that my dad is the inspiration behind this. He’s a hard-working public servant (aka bureaucrat) that doesn’t have much time to devote to health and fitness, especially in the oft-extremest manner many other ‘experts’ would prescribe. With all the “no days off”, “go all in”, and “live in the gym” notions flying around, its pretty derailing when you can barely string together a continuous hour of free time.

I’m a little afraid too. When I have a 9-5, kids, a half-hour commute, and a house to maintain, will I have time to stay in shape? Will I have time to ensure I hit my macros and the gym?

Luckily, I have some tips to make getting (and staying) in shape a breeze, even for busy professionals and parents!

As we know by now, being in shape (in terms of physique) comes down to two things: hitting your macros and exercising the key muscle groups. Let’s break this thing down into two sections then.

Hitting Macros

There are many different strategies and foods to eat for health, but for manipulating body fat and weight they are all largely irrelevant.

If you eat at restaurants most of the time, then find the nutrition data of your favorite meals at those restaurants. Easy-peasy.

If you have meals cooked for you, and you don’t know the exact macros, check out my macro estimating guide. This comes in handy when you’re eating a home cooked meal from your spouse, at a restaurant with no nutrition data, or at that office party.

One tip: stick to simple food that you are used to eating. That makes eyeballing the amounts easier.

What if you don’t eat out every day, have someone to cook for you, or want to be as accurate as possible with your tracking?

Enter: meal prepping

For busy folks, meal prepping will be an easy way to ensure proper intake with minimal time. All you need is one day to cook for the entire week!

(Sorry, you may be giving up a Sunday. If it gives you an hour of rest during your hectic work days, is it worth it?)

Look at your plan for the next week, day by day, and think of recipes for each day.

You can get as simple or complex as you want. It will be easier to just make a week’s worth of baked chicken and potato wedges. Simply take your normal recipe and multiply it by however many meals it’ll take to hit your macros.

If you want to shake it up (and you should a little to diversify your micros), you can still do that in an easy way.

Literally just pick 4 different proteins/preparations, 4 different carbs sources/preparations, use a few different oils, and mix it all up!

For example: cook up some baked chicken breasts, pork loin, sautéed chicken and veggies, 93% lean ground beef scrambled with veggies, (lightly) fried potatoes, potato wedges, a sweet potato/large russet for baking, and brown rice. That yields 16 meal combos you can make, and you made it all on one day.

Depending on what you make, you can flash freeze, refrigerate, or even elect not to cook. For instance, I just prepare many of my recipes and keep in the fridge. Then when I want to cook it I save time by having preparation already done. This is actually my preferred way so that I eat a freshly cooked meal. It seems that the preparation is more burdensome than cooking, anyway.


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Hitting the gym

I always preach the minimal effective dose for the gym. There’s always a law of diminishing returns, and that law comes to fruition when folks to a million sets of a billion reps with like 10 exercises for the same muscle group. You’d spend like a decade per day in the gym to complete this lift. You may have been led to think that this is the way to make any gains at all.

I usually advise to have lifts at an hour and a half, tops (including warm up, stretches, mobility, and extra rest time if needed) and I regularly finish 15 minutes before that limit. For a busy person, I bet you can cut that time in half! All you need to do is focus on the exercises that hit the muscle groups you want to develop.

To maintain an attractive and capable body, you only need a weekly rotation of 6 movements at a time.

For example a week’s workout could look like this:

(3 sets each with 3 minutes of rest, done RPT-style, excluding warmup sets)

Monday:  Weighted pull-ups , barbell rows
Wednesday: Squat, deadlift
Friday: Bench press, standing overhead press

Of course, this is lacking a lot of accessory exercises and a lot of volume for sarcoplasmic gains (read this article for more info on sarcoplasmic gains, and when and how to add volume). Your physique won’t be optimized per se, but you will build/maintain a solid foundation of strength and lean muscle mass. If your body fat is low enough, you will see great muscle definition and

This super-minimalist routine will provide a good starting point if you find a way to free up more time in your day.

Don’t spend any time in the gym doing stretching and mobility work aside from a quick cool down. Rather, use stretching and mobility to get your blood flowing during work and when you’re at home. Pepper it in those random ~5 minute breaks you have throughout the day. You know, those breaks that are somewhat annoying because there isn’t enough time to get anything done or truly relax. That way you can truly optimize your minutes instead of sitting in limbo.

I don’t have many specific recommendations for what to stretch other than to stretch what feels tight; however, I highly recommend for every one hour seated, spend one minute in a deep hip flexor stretch for each side. I mean DEEP.

Humans aren’t supposed to sit for 8 hours a day, and doing so leads to tight and weak hip flexors that will wreak havoc on your power output, mobility, and physique.

Lastly, for cardio, simply consider walking. An hour of brisk walking can burn 400 calories for an average-built man. Walking can be a substitute for a taxi ride, can be capitalized on during your commute, and already occurs when you get groceries or walk your dog.

Walking is also so low-intensity that you can stack activities with it. For instance, you can have a long phone call as you stroll around your building. You can listen to an audiobook as you walk to and from work. Heck, you can even break open the pocketbook for a treadmill desk so you can work regularly whilst walking!

There you have it, you big-time moneymakers! Getting in shape in a time-starved schedule takes some adjusting and some rounded corners, but it can be done. Don’t let anyone convince you that you need to spend 2 hours in the gym or to spend all your downtime over a stove.

For nutrition, you will front load the work for the entire week and use some eyeballing strategies to hit your macros.

For lifting, you will focus on 6 key lifts that most of my advice, recommended programs, and programs in development are predicated on anyway. You will just miss out on the icing on the cake.

Your will sprinkle in stretching and mobility work throughout your day as you see fit. Be sure to get 1 minute of a deep hip flexor stretch (each side) for every hour of sitting.

Finally, integrate walking into your day and reap the benefits of stacking activities.

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