Eating for physical strength during lockdown

By Alison Smith, Registered Dietitian and Chair of the Older People Specialist Group, British Dietetic Association

Many of us are concerned about maintaining health and strength, both for ourselves and for those we are caring for, during a long period of self-isolation, and there are some simple strategies to help maintain physical fitness during lockdown.  

Fortunately there are a number of new resources to help people of all ages continue to undertake physical activity while inside their homes, which is vital to maintain physical strength.  There is a wide variety of activity guides and classes accessible both on YouTube as well as on TV including the return of ‘golden oldies’ such as Mr Motivator and the ‘Green Goddess’, Diana Moran, leading age-appropriate exercise classes.  Even really simple things like climbing the stairs more frequently during the day will help.

Nutrition is obviously also really important in helping maintain good overall health and strength.  Eating balanced meals is important for the ongoing growth and repair of every cell in the body (which is still needed even when you are older), as well as keeping our immune system working – particularly important for all of us at the moment.  

Protein in particular is increasingly important as we get older and together with activity will help maintain muscle strength.  Growing evidence suggests that, in addition to physical activity, eating enough protein at each meal may help prevent sarcopenia (loss of muscle size and muscle strength) which is a significant concern for older people as sarcopenia can increase dependence and frailty. The latest research therefore suggests that when we are older we should aim to eat a portion of protein food at each meal.

Fortunately there is a range of high quality protein foods that are both inexpensive and have a good shelf-life – both critical at the moment.   These include:

  • eggs
  • cheese
  • tinned or frozen meat and fish
  • tinned meat or fish pate
  • baked beans
  • tinned or ambient temperature packs of beans or lentils
  • nuts and nut butter
  • frozen and ambient ready meals (there are a number of suppliers who produce these to suit  older people)

Cracking open the protein during the day

Many people find it easy to reach their protein target at the main meal of the day, but it can be trickier at other meals, especially if appetite is poor and a slice or toast or bowl of soup may seem like enough. 

Eggs are an ideal food to boost protein intake at breakfast and lunch.  They contain the highest quality protein and are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D – particularly important when we have to remain inside. 

A couple of eggs – boiled, poached or scrambled – with a slice of toast makes a quick and easy first meal of the day, and a savoury omelette or frittata including whatever vegetables are available makes a quick, healthy and filling lunch – here are some easy recipe suggestions

We all find ourselves living through unusual times at the moment and even finding the foods that we normally rely on can be a bit challenging. However maintaining health and strength is really important right now so try to choose the foods above as part of your meals and keep active, even if you’re at home all day.

Alison Smith is an independent nutrition advisor to the British Egg Industry Council

For further information please contact the British Egg Information Service on 020 7052 8899