This is the time of year when people start to lose focus on their health and fitness goals, bet on their New Year’s resolutions, and start to see an unwanted decline in their body composition.
Staying healthy during the festive season doesn’t mean you need to be completely strict with your diet and exercise regime. Of course, you are going to enjoy some of your Grandma’s famous dessert and maybe a few too many beverages with your friends over New Year’s, but that is no reason to write off all the remaining hours or days during this time.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty stuff, here’s some general advice. Be realistic. If you want to spend all summer enjoying yourself at parties without focusing on exercise and nutrition, you’ll probably slip a little from your fitness goals. Everyone goes through periods where motivation is lacking, or time and focus dedicated to health is reduced! However, you do have to adjust your expectations and strategies in accordance because you may well lose muscle size or definition. If you’re low on time, try shifting your focus from gaining muscle mass to maintaining muscle and not gaining excess fat. This may mean an increase in cardio training.
One of the other really important points is to get plenty of sleep! As you can see from our “How Sleep Affects Muscle Growth” article, a good night’s rest can make a huge difference to not only your muscle growth but how you feel and the food choices you make. Try to ensure you’re getting at least two early nights a week, and be kind to your body. Too many late nights can take a toll!
Here are some tips you can implement over the coming month to try your best to stay fit and healthy.
1. Remain consistent
Stick to the 80/20 rule. If you can eat a well-balanced diet of real foods, protein, and vegetables 80% of the time, then a few Christmas treats or New Year’s beverages aren’t going to ruin all the hard work you’ve put into the year. If you know you’re going out for dinner, try to eat fewer carbohydrates throughout the day and focus on having a good amount of fruit and vegetables. That way you won’t be doubling up and having two heavy meals back to back.
2. Bring nutritious food
You don’t have to stick to the unhealthy foods often prepared for parties. If you’re going to a family member or friend’s function, offer to bring a plate of nutritious food. Cook something that you enjoy and will encourage not only you but others to remain healthy during that time. That way you’ll guarantee yourself a significant helping of healthy food to fill you up first before you move onto the less nutritious treats. If it’s a fully catered event, just go for the healthiest options available! If there is a plate of chips and dip, chances are there will also be a good selection of veggies to munch on too.
3. Pick veggies first
When dishing yourself a meal from the family Christmas banquet, fill it up with vegetables and salad first, then a good portion of protein. Not only will you be getting all the nutrients you need first, it will also fill you up so you’re less hungry when dessert is being brought out!
4. Eat slowly
Stop when you’re satisfied not when you’re stuffed. It takes 15-20 min for your digestive system to let your brain know that you’re satisfied. Slowing down a meal allows that to happen before you overeat. Drinking plenty of water with all Christmas meals will also help you.
5. Don’t have seconds of dessert
If you feel like seconds after dessert, go back for a plate of dinner (protein and vegetables) and see if your body is really hungry or it was just the receptors in your brain wanting more sugar. Try having a big glass of water with your seconds, which will not only help fill you up but also keep you hydrated for the festive drinking.
6. Have a game plan when you’re drinking
If you know you’re going out drinking and don’t want it to take a heavy toll on your fitness, have a plan before you leave the house. Have a lot of water, both before you go out and whilst you’re drinking. The rule of thumb is for every drink you should have a glass of water too. On top of that, make sure you have a fair amount of food in your stomach, which will slow the absorption rate of the alcohol and stop you feeling quite as sick. A rotten hangover will lead to overeating – and often eating high-fat, high-calorie foods!
Be careful of what drinks you’re consuming. If you like them, G&Ts or vodka tonics with fresh lime are the lowest calorie options, far better than sugary pre-mixed drinks or cocktails. There are also low-calorie alternatives for beers and ciders.
Try to get in some form of physical exercise every day or at least every second day. Whether it is a casual walk or a bodyweight Tabata circuit, try your best to remain physically active during this period so that you a) stay in routine, b) maintain strength and fitness levels, and c) it doesn’t hurt as much when you do go back. Even a short workout is better than nothing at all, and once you’ve done a bit you’ll be more motivated than if you put it off completely.
Exercising first thing early in the morning is a really good idea. You won’t have time to talk yourself out of it, and you’ll have it out of the way so it won’t eat into family time. What’s more, the holiday period falls during the middle of summer in Australia, and exercising in the middle of the day is not a good idea.
The most important tip is to enjoy yourself. Don’t restrict yourself to the point where you are miserable. One scoop of ice-cream won’t make you put on 5kg just like one head of broccoli won’t give you a 6 pack. Just remember to be consistent and not to go overboard. This is the time to celebrate with your friends and family!