With the holiday season comes parties, an excess of delicious drink, plenty of sweet treats, and time away from the gym. For fit-minded folks, these temptations can be difficult to navigate, and pose a source of great anxiety and stress. If you've been working hard over the last 6-12 months, the last thing you want to do is step back from your goals.
In this scenario, you've got two options: Hide under a rock for the next couple of months, or use the season to your advantage! If you like the dark, cold earth, then the rock may be for you. But it may be much more fun and a lot less lonely to make the holidays work for you and your fitness goals. You really can have your cake—er, protein shake—and eat it, too!
WBFF pro and fitness rock star Ashley Hoffmann knows exactly how to help you harness the holidays to achieve maximum fitness benefits. Read on for a few of her expert tips on how to stay on target through the holidays!
Build a Smart Training Schedule
"Structure your training so you can rest on those days you want to spend with friends and family," suggests Hoffmann. "That way, you won't have to forgo any gym sessions when visitors come knocking at your door."
To take things a step further, if you're traveling for 3-4 days and know you won't make it to the gym, plan a little "overreaching" phase before your trip or lifting break. The week before your planned training pause, hit the gym hard for the entire week—no rest days. After seven straight days of training, you'll probably feel pretty beat up. When you get to this point, however, you'll get to take a few days off and enjoy the benefits of supercompensation!
A significant bout of rest and solid nutrition after a tough training week can lead to some really impressive progress. When you return to the gym, you'll have recovered fully, so you can resume your program as normal. Changing your schedule may be a little challenging, but remember that change can be good for your gains!
Stagger Your Calories
If you're currently trying to get lean, or even just trying not to gain fat over the holidays, try staggering your calorie intake. "A few days prior to a family gathering where you know there will be plenty of food, lower your calorie intake. The day of the family gathering, do a refeed," says Hoffmann.
Eating on a schedule like this—with planned low- and high-calorie days—can work to your fat-burning advantage. Giving your body extra calories after it's been in a deficit for a while can turn up your metabolism and jump-start your progress. Just be careful that your refeed day doesn't turn into a week-long binge!
"Using an "If It Fits Your Macros" (IIFYM) approach to your nutrition is an easy way to enjoy the holiday food you want, without the guilt," says Hoffmann. Instead of restricting any specific food group, your responsibility will be to control your portion sizes and make them fit your daily calorie and macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) goals.
If you choose to take this route, be sure to choose healthy foods most of the time. Even if your macros fit a fair amount of carbs, indulging in nothing but holiday goodies can leave you feeling lethargic. The holidays are the perfect time to work those treats into your macros, but make snacking an exception rather than the rule.
"By using this nutrition style, you won't get too far off track, and you'll be able to keep your goals in mind," Hoffmann adds.
Increase Training Intensity
If you are not already doing a high-intensity program, now is the time to start. "Making your workouts more challenging to your cardiovascular system will keep your heart rate high and help you burn more calories," explains Hoffmann. High-intensity exercise can increase your metabolic rate even after the sessions are completed, so you continue to burn fat.
Most of us are familiar with high-intensity cardio, but you can also add some intensity to your weightlifting sessions. To increase the intensity of your workouts, decrease the rest periods; add cardio movements like jumping rope, air squats, burpees, or mountain climbers between sets; or implement low-rest circuits that challenge your muscles and your energy systems.
Train Before Meals
"If you lift before your family gathering, you'll have the perfect opportunity to replenish those depleted glycogen stores with delicious holiday food," says Hoffmann.
If you can, do an intense workout right before any big meals you have planned, like a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast. This way, you won't have to feel guilty about eating more than you normally would. You'll be putting that extra food to good use!
If you lift prior to the holiday meal, make sure that meal includes some protein! Give your muscles the building blocks they need to grow. Eat protein first, and then move on to carbs and fat to ensure your muscles don't go hungry.
Adjust Your Goal
If you're not dead-set on a fat-loss goal through the holiday season, you may want to think about training for power or strength. "You can utilize the food as extra energy to fuel your heavy workouts and help build more muscle," explains Hoffmann.
Changing your workout protocol to a strength or muscle-building plan may actually help you lose more fat later. The more muscle mass your body has, the more calories it takes to run. So, putting on a few extra pounds of solid muscle in the winter might actually make the fat-burning process easier this spring.
Focusing on strength can also give you a nice mental break from the rigors of dieting. This change in training focus can help make the holidays even more enjoyable! So, if you're always focused on your scale weight, consider dropping that from view for a while and focus on adding more weight to your core lifts like the squat, bench, and deadlift.
Hooray for Holiday Fitness
These are just a few ideas to make fitness a part of your holiday season. Do you have some of your own favorite methods? Tell us how you stay fit during the holidays in the comments section below!