With Christmas time just around the corner there’s a good chance you're going to be sitting down for a few very long meals with seemingly endless options to satisfy your glutionious cravings and plenty of booze - and so you should! Christmas is a time to celebrate the year that has been and the year to come, and given the turmoils faced by everyone throughout 2021 it’s fair to say that we are all deserving of this down time with friends and family. At this time of the year it’s normal to feel conflicted, these social events and the temptations they present can appear in dissonance with your training and nutrition protocols. If you’ve stuck to your guns throughout the year and made progress towards your goals it’s easy to create a narrative in your head that the damage done in the holiday period is going to completely undermine this progress. You’ll be happy to read that this is sensationalization and for the everyday athlete a few indulgent meals and boozy nights aren’t going to erode a year's worth of progress. That being said I’d love to know that the Spike Fitness community was able to find a happy medium over the festive season so that each of us can form memories with our loved ones that aren’t tainted by the burden of guilt for acting out. With this in mind, today’s blog is going to take the form of a Tips and Tricks guide that you can reflect on in these events and help guide your decision making when you walk up to the Christmas buffet.
1 - Set realistic expectations of yourself
Expectations are the cause of disappointment. This isn’t to suggest that you should eliminate expectations of yourself as it is important to have standards of behaviour you strive to live by but rather expectations should be set appropriately so that you are not destined to fail. Although failing is important and from time to time can actually bolster feelings of motivation, regular failings will erode self-confidence and lead to a lack of engagement in a goal. For instance if you know that sweet treats are your weakness and the highlight of any christmas meal is the sticky date pudding made by your grandma then I’d argue committing to yourself that you will avoid ALL desserts is an unreasonable expectation. Instead it’d be better to commit to sticking to a single dessert choice or not going back for second servings. These expectations still create parameters to help you conduct yourself in a way that is goal aligned without eliminating the enjoyment of a special occasion.
2 - Stay hydrated
The importance of hydration for general welling being as well as physical performance is not novel and should certainly not be understated. While some of you may think ‘duh’ it’s easy to be swept up in the ecstasy of festivities and pass up a glass of aqua in favour of a more exciting and indulgent option. For many of us the decision to stick to the waters is unrealistic but at the minimum everyone should try to drink more water than normal to accommodate the food and alcohol choices over the holiday season. This will have numerous benefits, not the least of which is that it will help your recovery the following day by supporting your body's digestive function that will undoubtedly be under the pump. It will also help to induce a feeling of satiation that can eliminate the appeal of a second helping of sticky date pudding.*
*Under normal dieting circumstances water shouldn’t be used to induce feelings of satiation.
3 - Focus on your protein
As discussed in previous Spike Fitness Blogs protein is the most important macronutrient if you are looking to improve your body composition as it is required for muscle protein synthesis which is the building and repairing of muscle tissues. For this reason anyone who wants to maintain or improve on their physique over the holiday period needs to ensure that at a minimum they are reaching their protein targets. In addition to this, because of the hormonal responses the body undergoes when digesting protein it has been shown to have a greater satiating effect compared to the other macronutrients, meaning that you are far more likely to feel full after a plate full of chicken compared to a plate of potatoes. This shouldn’t be interpreted as if you only eat the Christmas ham, instead I’m encouraging you to fill up the bulk of your plate with protein and salads before turning to the pasta bake and potatoes.
4 - Make smart decisions with the alcohol
Alcohol can be a real sticking point for many when it comes to balancing their social life and their fitness goals because it presents a number of complications. The first of which is the calorie density of alcohol that many of us seem to forget. It’s daunting to think that drinking a 6 pack of beers is going to be approximately 900 calories especially when you have a full day of celebrating and know that limiting yourself to a six pack is still very unlikely. This is why I encourage clients to look for low calorie options such as a vodka soda so they can still enjoy the antics of having a drink while minimising the burden on your calorie consumption. Secondly, a day of drinking is going to impact your ability to train the following day, which isn’t the end of the world but needs to be factored in with your decision to hit the booze to eliminate the negative feelings toward yourself the following day when you're bailing on leg day.
5 - Slow down
If your parents ever told you to slow down and chew your food they were doing this on good authority. Chewing is the important first step in digestion as it increases the surface area of your food meaning that when it hits your stomach it can more easily be broken down by the gastric acid. Not only will this help to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of bloating but it will also give your body the best chance to absorb all nutrients before it continues down the digestion pathway. Chewing your food certainly isn’t isn’t the magic pill to help you lose weight but by slowing down the rate at which it’s being shoveled into your mouth it will give an opportunity for previous mouthfuls to reach the stomach and for a feeling of satisfaction and fullness to emerge.
6 - Big picture thinking
If you're like me it can be really difficult to hold back this time of year. In the pursuit of instant gratification I find myself needing to try absolutely everything and then double dipping on what I deemed to be the cream of the crop. This year I’ve decided that instead of unleashing the beast I’m going to eat until full as I know there will inevitably be leftovers that I can try for the days to come. This is an important fact, it’s not as though we reach the 26th of December and are back to normal, there are celebrations and socializing well into the new year that will also provide awesome opportunities to indulge. Acknowledging this can help to keep yourself accountable as it removes the finality of Christmas day festivities which eliminates any sense of urgency that can motivate you back to the buffet for your 3rd and 4th plate.
The holiday season is a time of celebration so try not to let concerns about your diet dampen the holiday spirit. Progress in fitness is about consistent errors over a long period of time so a few days of indulgence need to be viewed with perspective and treated as a one off so that you can come back hungrier in the new year - no pun intended. Happy holidays to the entire Spike Fitness family.