When shopping centres begin hoisting christmas trees in October, you know shit is about to get real! So while Santa is busy making a list, most of us have our festive season calendars filling with work parties and family functions.
Staying lean during this time can prove tricky. Especially when the temptation to gorge yourself over the christmas break threatens to sabotage all your hard work in the gym.
So in order to help you survive the festive season, I've put together some handy hints to help minimise the spillover.
6 TIPS TO HELP YOU SURVIVE THE SILLY SEASON
#1 STABILISE BLOOD SUGAR WITH A MEAT & NUTS BREAKFAST
It is no secret that I am a BIG advocate of Charles Poliquin's 'Meat & Nuts Breakfast.' Why you ask? Well the benefits are numerous and include improved insulin sensitivity, stabilised blood sugar levels and increased anabolic drive as a result of the healthy hit of amino acids you get from eating meat first thing in the morning.
Basically the 'Meat & Nuts Breakfast' entails your first meal of the day being high fat and high protein, from nuts and animal proteins, with all foods rotated daily. That is all.
Backloading your carbs in this way dramatically improves your carb tolerance, as the longer you abstain from eating carbs throughout the day, the more insulin sensitive you become as the day goes on. It is important to remember also, that when insulin is elevated our fat burning potential is reduced, and there are new studies being released that support the benefits of a low carb diet as begin beneficial for increasing your bodys fat burning potential. So in short, 'eat more fat to burn more fat.'
It is also important to note, that the more stable your blood sugar levels, then the less likely you will be to experience the 'mid morning slump' most folks get who eat the standard western style breakfast of toast and juice. Eating this way skyrockets blood glucose levels and gives a burst of energy, only to bring you crashing down a few hours later. When this happens, typically people will go for the nearest energy dense food they can find to bring their energy levels back up. Hence why meat and nuts works to increase satiety and help stabilise you energy levels, tying you over between meals and helping you resist the urge to snack in between meals.
The secret here is to keep your blood sugar as stable as possible for the best part of the day, until Christmas lunch is on like donkey kong and you begin putting away the pudding! To read more about the meat and nuts breakfast, I strongly encourage you to read the full article titled, 'The Ultimate Fat Loss Breakfast.'
#2 EXERCISE PORTION CONTROL
This kind of goes without being said. When eating calorically dense foods, use a smaller plate and eat slowly. Fill your plate with protein first as it will increase satiety. Chew slowly to ease digestion, and simply take the time to enjoy the company and conversation. Allow your food time to settle before going back for round 2...or 3...or 4.
#3 MODERATE ALCOHOL INTAKE
Abstinence from alcohol is a no brainer if you want to fast track your body composition goals. Even just a few cheeky beers, is enough to suppress testosterone levels and increase estrogen, resulting in decreased strength and increased fat storage.
Theres no sugarcoating it, alcohol is poison to your body. Metabolically, as soon as alcohol is introduced into your system, your body switches from primarily utilising fats and carbs for energy to focus on metabolising the alcohol and removing it from your bloodstream as quickly as possible through the liver.
Now the myth goes that once you drink, EVERYTHING you eat turns to fat. This in itself is not entirely true. However, bearing in mind that alcohol yields 9 empty calories per gram, then add to that the additional calories that are in your drinks as mixers etc. Then after a couple of drinks and the added caloric intake from a days worth of food, if by combining these factors you are exceeding your energy requirements then yes, of course you are going to have a recipe for fat storage. One other thing to be mindful of is alcohols ability to impair decision making and increase appetite, and I think I can safely say that we can all vouch for this at one point or another.
If you do choose to enjoy a drink, here's a couple of pointers to minimise the damage:
- Plan your drinking days ahead of time. Know when, where and with who you are planning to drink with. If you need an excuse not to drink, volunteer to drive and be 'Sober Sam/Sally.
- Mix drinks with mineral or soda water and lime, cucumber, mint or lemon over fruit juices and sodas.
- Drink plenty of water in between alcoholic beverages, to ensure you stay hydrated. Alcohol has diuretic properties and the more dehydrated you are, the more you will be tempted to drink.
- Use plenty of ice so theres less room for liquids.
- Stick with high quality clean spirits such as vodka or gin over liqueurs, beers, pre-mixed drinks and cocktails.
- Buy organic wines and spirits to limit exposure to sulphites and preservatives.
What about the morning after? Plan ahead and supplement smart to take the edge off that nasty hangover by taking care of your liver. Most alcoholics have notoriously low magnesium levels, so supplementation with a magnesium glycinate is ideal. Also consider electrolytes for hydration and supplements to support liver detoxification such as a multivitamin with methylated B complex and a high quality super greens powder.
#4 SET POST XMAS GOALS BASED ON PROGRESS - NOT GUILT
Be proactive, not reactive. Write down all the things that you want to achieve in the coming year. Give it a deadline, make it achievable and get cracking on it as soon the festivities are over. You'll be more relaxed, and feel a hell of a lot better sitting down at the Xmas dinner do with a new found focus, and it will spare you a heck of a lot of guilt once the party is over.
#5 TRAIN FOR MAINTENANCE
You are taking a holiday break. Not stepping into retirement.
Keep up your training regime as far as circumstances will comfortably allow. Don't have a gym, find a hill and do some balls to wall sprints. Climb a tree. Get all primal. Whatever. The human body was designed to move so stretch your legs and get outside.
If you are someone who is 110% dedicated to their training and cringes at the thought of taking a break, I would recommend doing a phase of super accumulation training prior to your time off. By the time you are done with super accumulation, not only will you want to kill yourself but even the thought of training will make you wince.
Planned over training in this way, accompanied by a break afterwards is ideal as it will allow your body to super compensate in the time that you are having off and the extra calories that you ingest over the break will be beneficial in restoring your hormonal balance and giving your body the extra calories it needs to grow. You will not enjoy this, but you WILL grow!
#6 USE THIS TIME AS AN EXPERIMENT
Ingest gluten. Smash down some dairy. Eat ALL the things and then notice how you feel.
We all usually have some degree of intolerance to certain foods, and unfortunately chances are unless you are attending a function in your own home you can be guaranteed that there's going to be gluten & dairy in the spread. When put in this scenario, what should you do? Personally, unless you have a severe intolerance, I would simply eat what is provided because to turn your nose up or begin telling people how dairy makes you all farty and bloated is just plain rude.
Yes life can be a cruel master, but think about this for a moment: if you can enjoy the foods that you usually abstain from during this time, at least you can see how you respond? How do you feel? Feeling lethargic? Sluggish? Bloated? Got enough gas to put your own hole in the ozone layer?
Using this time to allow yourself to indulge in the treats you usually would abstain from, can serve as a reminder of the inflammation and adverse reactions caused by these foods, and the reasons we choose to avoid them for the other 50 weeks of the year.
#7 IF YOU CANNOT CHEAT GUILT FREE; DON'T CHEAT AT ALL!
Nothing raises folks cortisol quicker than someone self deprecating, feeling guilty for satisfying their indulgences. If this is you, then please don't insist on killing the mood and making others feel bad just because you do.
If you want something naughty, then don't deny yourself, just exercise some self control. Manage your portions sensibly and nobody gets hurt. There is absolutely no reason why anything should be off limits. Just remember portion control and keep yourself in check so your conscience can rest satisfied. At times the anxiety we create about the food we eat is actually worse for us then whats on our plate.
On a final note, although it's applaudable that you are striving to reach a body composition goal, sometimes it is all too easy to become so intensely focused to the exclusion of all other things. This is not always entirely a bad thing. But remember that you are only human, and if you work hard you should allow yourself to play hard too.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Mar;59(3):619-25. Effect of alcohol on postmeal fat storage. Sonko BJ1, Prentice AM, Murgatroyd PR, Goldberg GR, van de Ven ML, Coward WA. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8116538
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