Hogwarts Holiday Feast

It’s been a beautiful Sunday so far in Newark Delaware, and December’s soft sell is making the transition to winter much more enjoyable.  I absolutely love this time of the year, along with the commercialization of holidays based on the conglomeration of holidays.  This is a wonderful time of year regardless of what your secular or religious participation, and I hope you’re as excited as I am.  If you’ve noted that it’s Sunday, I know what you’re thinking:

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I was thinking the same thing, but I’m excited: I’ve just participated in a Mills Music Mission with the Xi Mu chapter, and I hope I’m listening to The Cadets 12.25 show from the 2012 DCI Season.  Along with regular use of the Michael Buble Holiday station on Pandora, seasonal beverages (peppermint lattes, please), and seasonal candles (Christmas Eve,) I’m ready for Harry Potter weekends on ABC Family.  You know I love me some Dumbledore, but it’s the scenes in the Great Hall that I make me feel like a holiday feast is upon us.  Unfortunately, the faculty has dropped the ball on health education:

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Hey, this is a serious issue; don’t take the pre- O.W.L. over-consumption lightly!  Many of us have the same issues, and view the holiday season as a time of unfortunate, uncontrollable weight gain.  Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s controllable, but we don’t need to avoid parties all together.  Rather than considering them a weight loss enemy, consider them an asset.

How can eating lots of food help you lose weight?  It’s not really that simple, but I’d like to help you understand some simple strategies that you can use that can help stave off holiday weight gain and/or facilitate fat loss.

When are you training?

Modifying the timing of your training might have the biggest impact on what your body does with the calories you put into it.  It’s relatively simple, but appropriately modify your schedule so that you can train hard on the days during which you have a party.  This would best apply to higher volume lifting or conditioning workouts during which your body depletes glycogen stores.  Your body will seek to replenish these stores, so the food you eat will be shuttled into muscle rather than be stored as fat.  Note that this isn’t a license to eat everything and the kitchen sink, but you can get away with more than usual.

There isn’t a perfect pre-party workout, but if possible a full-body strength training and conditioning routine would provide the most room for error.  If I was planning one for myself, I’d try to include at least one exercise from each of these options:

  • Deadlifts or Front Squats
  • Inverted Rows or Chin-Ups
  • Push-Ups or Overhead Presses
  • Sprints or Sprints… or Prowler Pushes.

Include appropriate core stability work, unilateral work, and personal modifications, and you should be in business.  Your body will respond more favorably to what you’re eating, and you might have some nice DOMS to remind you not to indulge too much.

Carb Cycling

In addition to the pre-party lifting, I like to recommend avoiding carbs pre-party as well.  Depending on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re used to eating, this can be as simple as a low-carb breakfast, or perhaps an entire week of low-carb eating.  Socially, we seem to define “carbs” as food types rather than as macronutrients, so by ‘carbs’ I mean breads, pastas, cereals; that icky stuff that comes in boxes.

The metabolic pathways and sciences fascinate me, but it should be an intuitive strategy that you can apply through out your training week, and it’s almost as simple as:

More training = More carbs.  Less training = Less carbs.

Here’s a look at a potential training week and more/less/no carb cycling:

  • Sunday – Lower Body (Deadlifts and Sprints) – Moar Carbz
  • Monday – Upper Body (Horizontal Emphasis) – Less Carbs
  • Tuesday – Off/Yoga/Walk – Minimize carbs
  • Wednesday – Lower Body (Front Squat, Kettlebell Swings) – More carbs
  • Thursday – Upper Body – (Vertical Emphasis,) – Less carbs
  • Friday – Sprints – 10-20 minutes – More carbs
  • Saturday – Off/Yoga/Walk – Minimize that ish.

If you’re more concerned about body composition, include less of those higher carb days, and you’ll be set.  As I begin to track my weight for my upcoming powerlifting meet, I’m using one ‘high’ carb day per week, and am pretty low-carb throughout the rest of the week.  (My ‘cheat’ meal yesterday was four sliders.  Those potato buns were absolutely delicious.)

When do you break fast?

Intermittent fasting blew up in the fitness world last year, and it has continued to grow in popularity.  I’ve used it in several modifications, and I’m finding it pretty simple to summarize my personal strategy as eating a pretty low-carb breakfast between 12-2pm, training between 4-7pm, and then focusing my 2nd or 3rd meals for the day on animal protein sources and vegetables.  On non-training days, I’ll delay eating slightly longer, minimize sugars as much as possible. The strategy might not work for everyone, but I’m finding it to be very effective.

I was worried about training in a fasted or low-carb state, but it really isn’t that bad, and it can be pretty beneficial, as Brad Pilon is about to explain to you:

Putting it all together.

Today is Sunday; you’re recharging so you can take control of the first week of December.  You’re meeting some friends for drinks after work on Tuesday, and on Friday night you have your first big holiday party of the year.  To accommodate your schedule, you decide you’ll sneak in a quick 15 minute HIIT session during your lunch break on Tuesday, and that you’ll switch Wednesday’s workout with Fridays, because it has a higher overall training volume.  Since you’re going out twice this week, you set a reminder on your phone that you should focus on vegetables and protein sources for the rest of your meals for the week.

There’s a whole lot of science to consider and ‘rules’ you can think about, but it’s bigger than that.  It’s a practical approach to managing how you train and how you eat, so that you can enjoy the holiday season with less stress about your weight or body composition.  Now, the biggest decision you have to make is what kind of vegetables you want with that skirt steak.  I vote for asparagus:

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