Focus on the FEAST: Making your holiday work for you.

Despite people’s best intentions, including the more hardcore weekend warriors or athletes among us, almost everyone gains an extra layer of non functional flab over the holiday season.  But if we can’t sleep in and over indulge without feeling guilty on our hard earnt and often “once a year only” holiday, then when can we?

I often find that women especially have a psychological attachment to their training and nutrition compliance (or lack of).  We feel like if we allow our routine to slip, our intensity to drop or we have a cheat meal when we’re not supposed to, that the world as we know it has ended, and we’re now Fatty McFattersons even if our clothes or our friends tell us otherwise.

So let me take a few of paragraphs to reassure you.

Firstly, if you have built a solid foundation with your training and nutrition, while you may temporarily lose some of your “gains”, you’ll get them back far quicker than you think. It’s much easier to rebuild lost muscle than it is to build it from scratch in the first place.  As a general rule of thumb (and it does vary from person to person), this “reconditioning” works on a 1:1 ratio in terms of time frame.  If you took 12 weeks off, you should get back to your previous level of performance and development within 12 weeks of resuming your training program.  Not to mention the fact that you’ll be completely recovered and rejuvenated. 

Secondly, the softness and extra curves created by your lack of hard training on your HOLIDAY (AKA leisure period, rest or “break”), isn’t necessarily you getting “fat”. Having less muscle tone is also due to the nervous system being less “turned on”, and the amount of chronic inflammation in your stressed out muscles and tendons being less, both of which contribute to the “pumped up” look that we’re more familiar with.  Sometimes it’s just a case of reframing the situation.  Instead of having a negative mindset towards being softer, think about the positive effects that having a break from high impact or hardcore training is having, especially if there are any niggling injuries to repair.

Finally, stressing out about holiday weight gain is going to do you more harm than good.  We now know that there is a correlation between the stress hormone cortisol, and what we affectionately refer to as the “jelly belly”.  Stress is one of the most underestimated yet common factors in weight or body fat gain, especially around the mid section.  So while some of us are getting “fatter” just stressing about getting fatter, some others are seemingly getting leaner by the second as they leave their stress behind them and just relax. 

Now after having said all this, I understand that some of you fitness freaks will be rolling your eyes, and wondering when I’m going to stop telling you to just relax and take a load off, and give you some practical advice.  So here are my top two takeaways:

1.     If you’re planning a getaway, amp up your training stress significantly for the last phase of your program leading into the holidays by increasing the overall training volume by at least 50% whilst maintaining the same intensity.  You can do this by increasing the number of sets per exercise or by increasing the number of training sessions per week.  The goal here is to create a state of accumulated fatigue so the holiday becomes more about the body recovering as opposed to regressing.

2.      We’ve all heard about “functional training”. So this is where I introduce you to “functional eating for the holidays”.  No more mainstream “drink more water” or “carry some celery sticks around with you at all times” tips.  If we think in a truly paleo sense of emulating our hunter gatherer descendants, life was all about eating less during the day while we’re active and having a veritable feast at night while socializing and relaxing. This approach has lost it’s way in modern times because we’re told that if we eat too much at night, it will make us fat.  But it’s not eating big at night that makes you fat, it’s eating too many calories for the entire day.  So my advice, be a active and eat light during the day and FOCUS ON THE FEAST. That way you not only get to truly enjoy your food and the company you’re with which is what being on holiday is all about,  but knowing that you have something to look forward to will keep your hand out of the cookie jar beforehand.