The Basics – Getting Back into Shape During Residency

For some of you, the slow transformation into the now coveted “dad bod” started during medical school. Now during residency, with even less time for physical activity, you have started to notice just how out of shape you have become. Getting winded while walking down to that admit and how none of your jeans seem to fit anymore is probably just the tip of the iceberg.


It may seem like are you fighting a losing battle. Long hours, high stress, and free hospital food is a tough combination to overcome for even the most motivated and health-minded resident. Even I, an ex-state champion natural bodybuilder, found myself with 15 lbs of “extra padding” at the end of my intern year.


When I reached this point, I decided that enough was enough. I began to make changes in my daily routine by implementing some of the techniques that I had used when I was in the best shape of my life. And after about 4 months, I am finally back to my pre-“year that shall not be named” body weight and habitus.


If you are like me, and you have truly had enough and are wanting to get back into shape, try implementing some of these changes below. You might just find yourself losing some weight, having more energy, and more importantly; feeling better about yourself along the way.



That IPhone ‘aint just for UptoDate

With the invention of the smartphone, the old “food diary” days are now obsolete. With just a few seconds of effort, you can know exactly what you have put into your body.

As you already know, hospital food isn’t exactly the healthiest for you and is often calorie dense. In its basic form, weight loss is nothing more than calories in vs calories out. You have likely been eating far in excess above your usual TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) for quite some time. Due to this, you have likely been gaining weight.

The way to combat this is to start being more aware of how many calories you are taking in. This is probably the toughest, but also the most important, step in getting back into shape.

Use a free website like this one here, to calculate your TDEE then download a nutrition tracker like MyFitnessPal here.


There great thing about using MyFitnessPal is that there are already a ton of foods with their respective nutritional information pre-loaded in their database. There is also a built-in barcode scanner that will auto-populate the information for you as well.

Shoot for taking in 500 calories less than your TDEE. This will set you up to lose about 1 lbs a week with no change in your usual activity level.

You could go crazy and start weighing your portions on a food scale, but the above should be a good start.



Use the Buddy System

If there is one thing that pushes me more than my own motivation, it is having someone else who will hold me accountable.

In college, I never understood how people couldn’t take just one hour out of their day to exercise. Now, I totally get it. After working 70-80 hours a week, mustering up enough energy to go to the gym after a long day at work is tough.

This is why finding someone else who has similar goals than you is imperative to staying on track.

This is by no means the rate-limiting step, but will only help you excel during your journey to getting back into shape.



Use some liquid motivation

Residents work hard for long hours, and when you get home you are super tired. There is no shame in trying a caffeine supplement to help get you through your workout. However, you should be careful as these supplements can affect your sleep if taken too late. What has worked best for me is taking it around checkout (17:30ish). This way, it is kicking in about the time I get home. And more importantly, it will be wearing off by the time I go to sleep.

The pre-workout supplement I use can be found here or by clicking on the image below.

C4 Ultimate

Start with a half-scoop and titrate as needed. I strongly recommend not using this every day. Only take it on days in which you need a little extra oomph.


Drink More Water

Coke Zero Nutrition

If your program is anything like mine, it is a soda paradise. Everywhere you look, there are bottles of coke, pepsi, and even monster energy drinks.

Each bottle of soda contains approximately 140 calories that offer zero nutritional benefits to you. Cutting out these alone will put a significant dent in decreasing your daily calorie consumption.

“Yea, but DvW, I only drink diet drinks and the zero calorie energy drinks”

The lure of “diet” and “zero calorie” sodas are enticing. However, during the time this article is written, there are no studies showing these drinks actually aid in weight loss. In some studies, it has even been shown to be linked to a higher risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.

Until there is clear evidence about these beverages, I recommend substituting all forms of soda for water. Its natural, zero calories, vegan, and gluten-free.



Do something every day

Fresh Prince

It has probably been a while since you were in Physics class. But bear with me. Does Newton’s first law of physics ring any bells?

“An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force”

This is very true when it comes to exercise and physical activity. Whether it is lifting weights, walking your dog, or shooting some b-ball outside of the school. The more active you are, the more likely you are to remain active.




Let us know what tips and tricks you have found to help you stay in shape during residency? Leave them in the comments down below.

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Current PGY-2 Family Medicine resident at a Full-Spectrum FM residency program in the south. Fitness enthusiast, Investor, Husband, and future father come October 2018.


Current PGY-2 Family Medicine resident at a Full-Spectrum FM residency program in the south. Fitness enthusiast, Investor, Husband, and future father come October 2018.

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