It’s that time of year when fun, food, drinks and late nights go up a gear. If you eat and drink to excess, forget exercise and ignore sleep, this will play havoc with your health, mental well-being and what you look like. Get it right and you could enjoy a more balanced combination of festivity and fitness. The YMCA’s resident Nutritionist, Nick Owen, guides us through a healthier holiday season.
The average person will gain about two to three kilograms over Christmas, so how can you avoid undoing the last eleven months of good work? You’re probably not going to make huge improvements to your fitness over the festive period. Whether you want fat loss and/or muscle gain, you are unlikely to achieve this at this time of year.
List your social events from early December to early January. Pinpoint events where you’ll be eating or drinking out, especially events with free food and drink which could lead to excess consumption. Mark the days before and after as a means of balancing out the excess. Pinpoint days you plan to exercise and detail what you intend to do. Between Christmas and New Year, mark days when the gym is closed and schedule time for physical activity, even if it’s just a walk after a large meal.
Lots of ab classes and core is not the best solution to keeping your waist-line in check. If your routine consists of classes, go for variety:
- Try these 30-min express classes: Cycle, Circuit, HIIT, ViPR and Kettlebells
- Cycle classes use your biggest muscle group and burn energy, but balance them out with some upper body work too.
- A Circuit will focus on your cardiovascular fitness whereas a Sculpt class will focus on your muscular endurance. A TRX class will use all of your muscle groups and a HIIT class will test your cardiovascular fitness
- If you prefer resistance training, focus on your biggest muscle groups with compound lifts. If you need to ditch a day, lose the 'arms day'. Benching, press-ups, military press, pull-ups, chin-ups and bent over rows will help maintain those biceps and triceps.
Energy and alcohol
Between Christmas and New Year, your body needs less energy. There’s little commuting and fewer gym sessions meaning more time at home to indulge. Many of us have gone to the gym with a hangover believing it will clear our system and make us feel better. It might temporarily take your mind off feeling below par, but the impact on your body is negative. You are better off skipping the routine if something intensive was planned, or reducing the intensity until your body has recovered from the excess.
Alcohol interferes with your metabolism and dehydration increases the risk of muscle cramp, strains and the body's ability to produce adenosine triphosphate. This results in energy loss and renders you less capable of achieving your training routine safely and with good form. Alcohol impacts the storage of nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals, with a negative impact on the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and B. Alcohol also negatively impacts your calcium, magnesium and zinc levels.
Do go out and enjoy yourself as deprivation can cause resentment. Just accept that the evening will be one of moderation, regardless of what everyone else gets up to. Find a friend who also plans to have an evening of moderation, agree a plan and support each other.
Approximately two hours before the party, consume a snack high in protein with slow release carbohydrates and fats. Also drink a few glasses of water. This will prevent hunger pangs and overindulgence at the event. If the event clashes with your gym routine, just make an alternative plan for the gym.
At the party
Avoid bread, sausage rolls, quiches, nuts and dried fruit. Fill half your plate with salad and add lean protein sources such as chicken, fish or beef. Even better, go for plant protein sources such as beans, chickpeas, mixed bean salad, lentils and quinoa.
Drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink and set a sensible limit which you will be able to stick to. Avoid mulled wine and creamy liquors which contain lots of calories - a cup of eggnog has over 300 calories! Instead, choose white wine or champagne which have less.
Start the day with eggs, lean cooked-meat and wholemeal toast. The average person consumes two to three days' worth of calories on Christmas Day, partly due to snacking before and after the big meal. Eating chocolate, nuts, shortbread, mince pies and crisps damages our physiques, rather than the Christmas dinner itself.
Turkey and sprouts are quite healthy, so fill your plate with them. Eat fewer ‘pigs-in-blankets’ (approx.150 calories each), Yorkshire puddings (100 calories), stuffing and roast potatoes (approx 200 calories each). Be wary of cheesecake, fruitcake and Christmas pudding (approx. 300 calories per slice) – there’s not much less in a mince pie! A pudding with custard and / or brandy butter contains at least 25% of your daily energy needs.
Drink plenty of water – the brain mistakes dehydration for hunger which causes snacking. For starters, avoid bread and choose a soup, salad, cold meat or vegetarian option. For main meals, avoid creamy sauces. Anything grilled, boiled or steamed is usually a good choice and fill up with vegetables rather than pasta or rice. Mixed bean curry, lentil based dishes and salads are good choices. Avoid potato salad and lots of dressing.
Nick Owen is a qualified Nutritionist and has a Diploma in Non-Medical Nutritional Advice. Nick uses nutrition to support clients’ goals including weight management, fat loss, muscle building, health and well-being, energy levels, concentration and complexion. Nick’s approach is practical and realistic including analysis of eating patterns and lifestyle, plus consultations to help reach desired goals.