To the fitness-minded, the holidays are of course looked forward to, but can also be a scary, anxiety-inducing time. Many of us strive to rush the holiday season to “get it over-with.”
“I don’t want to gain holiday weight.”
“I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve worked so hard for all year.”
“I’m scared that ___ event/meal is going to make me get FAT!”
What a terrible mindset to have about the happiest time of the year!
The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, whether you have pressing fitness goals or not. Below will be my best tips for navigating the holiday season. Notice how I said “navigating” and not “surviving.”
The title of this newsletter was used to get your attention. If you’ve gotten this far, it worked! Surviving implies dread, and I want you to look FORWARD to this time of celebration, friendship and love.
Thanksgiving Day: The Feast
Rule number one: If you are not preparing for a physique competition – do NOT restrict yourself on this ONE day of the year. There are 364 other days you can stay on track for, but the Thanksgiving holiday should not be one of them!
The rest of this article is going to tell you how you can mitigate any guilt you may feel from indulging to your heart’s desire on this day.
Here’s the truth:
Going into the Thanksgiving holiday with intentions to “stay on track,” hit your macros, and not overindulge is setting yourself up for failure. You will probably have family in town or will be traveling to be with friends and family for the day. You will be surrounded by carb and fat-dense foods. Everyone around you will insist on eating until they feel sick, and will insist you do the same. It WILL be socially isolating to choose to do something completely “different.” By the end of the day, you will likely find yourself OVER-stuffed, eating until you hate yourself because you went a little off-track so you decided to say, “screw it,” and feeling incredibly guilty for hours and days after.
However… going into the day with intentions to HONOR your cravings, the holiday, and the social norm to eat until you are full will more than likely set you up for more success than the former. Here are some tips to keep yourself from going completely overboard while still enjoying all your favorites:
Say “YES” to tasting everything that is offered to you.
There is nothing wrong with taking one or two bites of Aunt Karen’s (terrible) souffle just to be respectful, but there’s no requirement to finish it.
Only have full servings of the options that make you say “HECK YES!!!”
If you are going back for seconds, don’t pick up the food that isn’t worth your enjoyment (i.e. Karen’s souffle)!
Notice when you are eating, if you are enjoying every bite or if you are just eating to clean your plate.
Slow down. See if you start to get full if you stop chewing to talk for a few minutes. You probably won’t feel super full until ten to twenty minutes after you’ve shoved down your whole plate, so pacing yourself is key to staying in tune with your body.
Drink water before, during and after the meal.
Hydrating will help with tuning into your hunger and fullness signals, as well as aiding in digestion.
Focus on your loved ones and the opportunity to interact with them.
Thanksgiving IS a food-centered holiday, but it’s not the only aspect we should honor and pay attention to.
Follow these guidelines as best you can, and you will likely end Thanksgiving day feeling much more satisfied and far less (if at all) guilty. You will still probably feel pretty full, due to the dense caloric value of Thanksgiving foods, but you will probably avoid feeling sick from fullness.
Having this meal more than once in the same week?!
So you got through Thanksgiving day and you’re feeling good. But then you remember you have TWO (or more) friendsgivings planned during the weekend ahead. How can you possibly navigate all this food and not blow out your progress?
My Best Tips:
1. Acknowledge that you WILL be bloated after one, two or more Thanksgiving celebrations. The food is not “clean,” contains plenty of sugar and butter, and will cause you to look waterier and heavier for a few days after the fact.
2. Acknowledge that you don’t have to eat until you are stuffed just because the food is in front of you.
3. Acknowledge that this is just one week out of the entire year. You still have 51 other weeks to be on track.
4. Stick to the same guidelines from your traditional Thanksgiving. It is likely that through multiple thanksgiving celebrations you will feel a “fading enthusiasm” or “fading hunger” effect because your palette has already been satiated for these flavor profiles.
& If you don’t experience this effect, HONOR your enthusiasm and hunger for these amazing foods and still allow yourself to eat.
Training: Make the Most of the Holiday with your Gains
While it might seem intuitive to slave away on a cardio machine running for an hour before the big feast, you will be enthralled to know you’re probably not making the best use of your time.
Your better options: Lifting Weights & HIIT Cardio.
Resistance training and HIIT cardio will do the best job of depleting your glycogen stores before eating your Thanksgiving meal.
Quick breakdown – your glycogen stores are your energy stores within the muscle cell. Think of them as batteries you charge to be able to produce force when you are working out. When they are depleted (and needing a charge), your body is more likely to take sugar you eat from the bloodstream to your muscle cells to recharge those batteries. If the batteries were fully charged already, your body would direct ingested sugar to be stored in your fat tissue instead.
In a paper by Knuiman and colleagues (2015) regarding concurrent training, it was stated that “the largest reductions in glycogen (~24-40%) are seen with high repetitions with moderate load training.” Additionally, the paper found that the depletion of muscle glycogen is strongly associated with the degree of muscle fatigue during endurance exercise, implying that HIIT cardio would be a better bet than steady state to improve insulin sensitivity and glycogen replenishment post-exercise (Knuiman et al, 2015). Before the Thanksgiving meal, we want to deplete glycogen as much as possible so that as many carbs as possible get stored as glycogen preferentially to extra fat.
Lift weights, hit the higher rep ranges (8 or above) and get close to failure.
Add in some HIIT intervals post-workout if your masochistic heart desires.
If you eat before you train, have a meal of carbs and protein for quality pre-workout fuel.
If you choose to train fasted, consume BCAA’s or EAA’s while training to prevent excess muscle breakdown.
If you can’t get to the gym, just get active! Do not feel discouraged if you can’t lift weights and do HIIT cardio. Even if you are doing a Turkey Trot 5k, going for a walk or hike, or playing a sport, remember that exercising in some form IS STILL BETTER than not at all.
Knuiman, P., Hopman, M. T. E., Mensink, M. (2015). Glycogen availability and
skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise. Nutrition & Metabolism, 12(59), 1-11. DOI: 10.1186/s12986-015-0055-9.
Nutrition: Should You Compensate?
Let’s break it down. If you overeat on Thanksgiving, be mindful that you would need to overeat beyond your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) by 3,500 calories to gain a pound of weight.
Of course, the scale is going to tell you otherwise because of inflammation, bloating, and other factors that contribute to water fluctuations. With those aside though, remind yourself that it is highly unrealistic that you are going to push yourself that far over your calorie needs in one day.
Say you are a small-sized, around 140lb, female. Your TDEE probably ranges from 1800-2200 calories depending on how active your lifestyle is (outside of what you do at the gym). This means you would need to eat 5300-5700 calories in one day to gain a pound of weight from Thanksgiving dinner. That’s a lot for anyone to consume, especially a small female.
So to address the questions,
“Should I slash my calories the week around Thanksgiving?”
“Should I add cardio the week around Thanksgiving?”
The answer is, probably not. If it is going to ease your mind’s anxieties to cut away a few carbs and fats from your macros in the days surrounding, then I wouldn’t be against that as a coach. But be mindful that extreme calorie cuts are only going to spike your appetite and likelihood to overindulge far more than if you did nothing to your diet.
WHAT IS THE BEST WORKOUT TO DO BEFORE YOUR THANKSGIVING FEAST?
The week of Thanksgiving, the previously empty gym is now crammed with people worried about their figure before the big day.
The holidays can be an anxiety-inducing time for many who are invested in their health and fitness goals. I’d like to start off this (bonus!!) newsletter with some important thoughts:
|1. Being anxious about the holidays in regards to food does NOT imply that there is something WRONG with you.|
Far too often I see the “fit-instagram” universe shaming those who struggle to relax with their nutrition because they are scared of losing progress.
In my opinion, you should absolutely acknowledge the fact that you are anxious, rather than trying to suppress it. Acknowledge the nerves are there so you can take productive steps toward a great holiday season rather than getting stuck in denial.
2. The following newsletter is going to elaborate on what is likely most optimal for mitigating fat gain in an acute overfeeding scenario, but please keep in mind that one day, EVEN Thanksgiving, is not going to make or break your progress, or set you back on your goals much at all. It is impossible to gain copious amounts of body fat from one day, let alone one meal.
| What does SCIENCE say is the best way to train before a big, hyperpalatable meal like Thanksgiving dinner?|
I talked in the previous newsletter (above) about how resistance training with moderate load and higher reps, as well as HIIT is the best way to deplete glycogen stores and set your body up for reabsorbing carbohydrate into the muscle rather than being stored as fat.
Great… so what do you DO with that?
I figured I would write out a nice full body workout + cardio that embodies the principles that should be the best at mitigating potential fat gain from the big feast.
Please remember that this workout will not do anything ‘magic’ and you will still feel full and/or bloated if you go ham on your Thanksgiving meal. Remember that ‘better’ for you still doesn’t mean ‘fulproof’.
Duration: ~ 1 hour 15 minutes total
Take 45-60 seconds of rest between sets
RPE 8 for all lifting exercises
Part 1: Full Body Lift
2 sets of 12 per side bird dogs, monster walks and deadbugs to wake up the glutes, core and stabilizers
BB Back Squat (or Leg Press) – 4 sets of 12, increasing weight each set
DB Walking Lunges – 3 sets of 12-15 steps per leg
BB Hip Thrust – 3 sets of 15
DB or BB Bench – 3 sets of 15
Barbell or Cable Row – 3 sets of 15
Standing DB Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15
Part 2: HIIT Cardio
I prefer to do this on the bike, it’s easiest to adjust resistance back and forth and is easy on the joints.
[1:40] moderate pace, moderate resistance
[0:20] all out, dying, as hard as you can sprint with a higher resistance.