It’s about that time again.
The leaves are changing colors, the temperature is dipping and travel plans are in place.
Good times and great memories are on the horizon, and it’s almost impossible to focus on the everyday tasks because nostalgia brings you back to that same feelings you had as a child.
It’s a fun time.
It’s also a challenging time.
The food, (Peach cobbler, stuffing, egg nog and apple pie are my favorites) the break in routine, the stress of travel and work deadlines, and general lack of proper planning all coalesce to make sure you lose muscle, gain fat and feel gross.
So it’s high time we had a talk about how to plan for and enjoy the holidays accordingly.
And I’ll make it easy on you.
1) Get 10,000 steps/day
Despite the recent negative spotlight on the accuracy of fitness trackers[i], I am going to advocate living by their word through the holidays. The main arguments against using them is that the calorie calculations are up to 40% inaccurate. To be honest, I could care less. Calorie balance is not why I’m advocating steps.
You’d think “traveling” would inherently accompany an uptick in the amount of steps you get in a day. But it doesn’t. While you’re sitting in a car or on an airplane, your body is entering a state of sedation.
What’s that mean? That means that with the travel, cold weather and plethora of available holiday movie marathons, your metabolism is dropping and your insulin resistance is rising.
Your lack of steps is creating the perfect storm for fat storage.
Set your goal to 10,000 and work like heck to get that trophy.
Walk around the airport while you’re waiting on your flight. Go for a stroll after each meal. Have a holiday dance party. And whether you are with them or away, challenge your loved ones to beat you. We do better when we do things together.
Getting off of your tailbone will ensure you have consistent energy, store less fat, and crave less sugar before the New Year!
2) Set Your Limit
This time of year is notorious for plentiful servings of fat-storing foods. But the sneakiest saboteur doesn’t come on your fork. It’s in your glass.
Alcohol, hot chocolate, egg nog, and holiday lattes all have one thing in common: they all end up as sugar in the blood stream eventually.
While so many are fretting about whether or not to eat the cheesecake, I’m worried about the chestnut praline latte and the three (big) glasses of wine they had today. Over 200g of sugar. 150 more grams than is in their cheesecake (give or take, depending on the drizzle). Catch up on the demonizing of sugar here.
Many don’t realize that caffeine, alcohol and sugar all have a compounding effect on each other and all spike insulin in the blood stream, leading to fat storage, plummeting energy levels and the vicious cycle of craving more.
Your pro tip for the holidays is to set your limit for the week and stick to it. Generally I advise clients to stay at five or under.
You can have five holiday beverages each week (wine, egg nog, cocoa, latte). All on the same day or one on five of seven days. I don’t mind which, but set your limit and take it seriously. These beverages will do more damage to your body composition, sleep and energy than all of the other food combined.
3) Take Supplements Religiously
If there was ever a time that your body needed the support of your supplement regimen, the holidays are it. Pack them and take them every morning at the very least.
Fish oil has a number of benefits, but the most important ones in my book are the anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitivity boosting effects. Take fish oil to offset the inflammation caused by stress and out-of-routine eating adjustments that are characteristic of this time of year.
A good probiotic can support consistent digestion and keep your gut from requiring months to get back in order. The inevitable events of the holidays can foster the growth of the wrong kinds of bacteria and a probiotic can ensure that you continually restock the right players back in your digestive system.
A multivitamin is a must. While you’re likely eating too many processed carbohydrates and not enough vegetables, a multi can make sure that the nutrients your body needs to burn fat, maintain muscle and put out consistent energy are all there. Now is not the time to skimp on the basics.
There are a few other supplements that I would recommend to support various circumstances, yet these three are the must-haves. Connect with your resident dietitian or nutrition coach for a more personalized list.
4) Take Advantage of EPOC
Excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption. In layman’s terms, your metabolism is higher for up to 36 hours following intense exercise.
To take advantage of this important mechanism, do 30-90 min of intense exercise (Beast Mode Challenges work well!) the day BEFORE you’re big food functions and your body will be able to handle the excessive macronutrient load much better.
This tip, coupled with your 10,000 steps, supplements and self-imposed drink limit will have you losing fat and gaining muscle in all the right places while everyone else is feeling miserably over-stuffed.
5) Pack the Right Travel Snacks
One of the biggest challenges this time of year is the travel environment.
It’s very difficult to find free range chicken and organic avocado in a gas station while road-tripping.
So what to do?
Don’t be tempted to grab a candy bar and an energy drink when you stop. Instead, keep a bag in your car or in your suitcase of non-perishable “super travel foods” so that you always have something good to eat within reach.
Nut mixes, jerky, whole fruit, sprouted grain crackers and water are all great adds. Think protein, fat, and fiber. The more you can eat of those things on the road, (or in the air) the better off you’ll be.
Watch out for added sugar and preservatives in the ingredients list. So many “healthy” snacks can quickly be classified as junk food with a glance at the label.
6) Bring Back Calisthenics
“But Alex, I don’t have a gym where I’m going.”
Once upon a time, there was a form of exercise called calisthenics. All you needed was a 20 square foot space, the pull of gravity on your body and maybe a pull-up bar.
Oh wait, it still exists. But we think we need to get all fancy with our high-tech gym equipment to get a workout in.
There are countless exercises you can do with just your body weight. And with enough rounds of a simple circuit, you’ll be on your way to EPOC in no time.
Quit blaming your lack of a gym and try 10 burpees, 20 air squats, 20 HR push-ups, 20 lying leg raises, 20 lunges, 20 floor cobras and 20 bicycle crunches. Do as many rounds as you can in 30 minutes. Then wipe the sweat of your brow, shower and go kick the day’s tail.
Get as fancy or simple as you like. But if Calisthenics can work to keep Navy Seals in shape, it should work just fine for you.
Don’t Lose Ground
This time of year is challenging. But you don’t need to be owned by it.
Be an agent, not a subject, and take control.
Do these six things and you can get on to your New Year with confidence and purpose. I’d hate for you to have to spend those first couple months undoing the damage of a poorly executed holiday season.
And if you want external motivation, join the 60-Day Challenge. It’ll keep you accountable to these tips and more, during a time when so many are losing ground.
I look forward to a new year where we don’t start the same old way.
Care to join me?