Survival Guide To The Holidays.

A more moderate approach, where you don't overeat to the extreme, will make the whole process easier despite not forgoing any of the stuff that really matters. This survival guide will help you keep the spare tire away.
'Tis the season to scour the attic and find those horrible, neon-colored early-90s training pants. Not because making others laugh is your contribution to the holiday spirit, but because you need the generously expanding waist to stay comfortable after the fourth helping of turkey, mashed potatoes, pie or whatever you have on your xmas dinner table.

Fair enough, if indulging in a traditional xmas binge is really important to you, then by all means go ahead. Realize, however, that to stay on track you have be quite restrictive about your eating before and after C-Day. A more moderate approach, where you don't overeat to the extreme, will make the whole process easier despite not forgoing any of the stuff that really matters. This survival guide will help you keep the spare tire away.


Eat normally, perhaps slightly less than usual in the days leading up to the xmas party. Stick with lean meats, lots of vegetables and other healthy foods that are low-to-moderately calorie dense. If xmas cookies are important to get you in the holiday spirit, have one. But pass on seconds.

On the day of the party, do NOT starve yourself all day in anticipation of a huge binge in the evening. If you do, you'll be not only famished, you will also have a perceived justification for slamming down 5,000 calories in a sitting. As an extra kicker, the starving will force your body into a catabolic state where it cannibalizes muscle, followed by massive calorie overload.

Instead, eat a normal breakfast and lunch. Then have a big serving of green lettuce, or other fluffy but very low-calorie food along with a big bottle of water before going to the party. This will keep you fairly "normalized" as you enter the party.

When choosing the dishes, don't start with the fatty stuff. Begin filling up your plate with the lowest-calorie items on the table and work your way backwards towards the calorie bombs. Click here to review the calorie content of different types of food.

Food Nutrient Database .
Find out how many grams of protein, carbs and fat are in the foods you eat, along with the full vitamin and mineral profile. This database contains data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

This brings us to the next point: you don't HAVE to pile food 3 inches high on your plate. There are several benefits to keeping your servings moderate. First off, the brain is slow to recognize when the belly is full, and it's easier to shuffle it in too quickly when you have big servings. By having to take breaks you give your brain a chance to catch up.

Secondly, when you DO start getting full, it's easier to stop eating rather than feeling the urge to finish off a huge serving just because you'd hate to see it go to waste. Thirdly, it gets awkward somewhere around the fifth helping, which may help you ease up a little.

Are You The One Cooking?

Here are some links to recipes for low-calorie baking, low-fat/low-sugar cooking and general low-calorie holiday foods. Even eggnog can be made low-cal; click here for the recipe.

You may be tempted to have a glass of something stronger than milk at the xmas party. It's not ideal, but in moderation it isn't that harmful - as long as you take the calories into account. A single glass can pack 200 calories or more (a LOT more if you're forced to down one of Aunt Jocalyn's gigantic fruit-juice-and-vodka concoctions!) and since these calories are liquid they will barely fill you up at all.

Serious drinking, on the other hand, is a big no-no. Period. In addition to the calories, you dehydrate the body and mess up your natural hormone balance. And what are the odds of you getting out of bed and doing jumping jacks the next morning? Not very good, I'm guessing. And that's too bad, as that is exactly when you'd need to burn off some of that extra energy. This brings us to the next part of this survival guide: training.

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It is tempting to put the training on ice for a few weeks. What could possibly be wrong with taking a little break around the holidays? Isn't it a good idea to take a break now and then, so that your body gets to fully recover for a change? Yes and no.

Laying Off The Weights For A Week Or Two Is A Good Idea If You:

  1. Continue to do some form of cardiovascular exercise
  2. Stick to a lean, protein-rich diet.

This assumes that you are an otherwise dedicated gym rat who really could use a break. If you go to the gym twice a week and skip the occasional workout, you're probably some ways from being overtrained and therefore have little to gain from a couple weeks off.

In addition - and this goes for all types of trainers - cease training just as you are about to enter a period of overeating a lot of potentially fat-filled and/or sugar-packed foods and you're practically begging for a few pounds of lard.

So, unless you're toeing the line of overtraining, you should keep lifting weights as usual, and preferably increase the amount of cardio to whack those extra calories. However, it's worth noting that this is an excellent time to push the envelope in terms of weight. As many of you probably know, I am an advocate of periodization (read more about it here). This is a terrific opportunity to have the holiday weeks coincide with a heavy phase.

Because of the extra calories and carbs from xmas parties, cookies and whatever you after careful consideration decide to eat, you now have peak levels of stored glycogen in your liver and muscles. Add sufficient sleep and it translates to peak power for your bench press, squat and other compound exercises where you need every ounce of energy you can muster. Can you think of a better time to reach for new records?

But let's not lose sight of cardiovascular training. This is THE most important component of keeping the holiday gut away. If you normally do cardio twice a week, try adding 1-2 cardio workouts. If you run 3 miles a day, try running 5 miles a day. And don't be lazy - get the heart rate up there.

Even though conventional wisdom has it you should keep the heart rate low (around 60% of max) you actually get more benefit from a higher rate (around 75% of max.) True, the percentage of calories burned from fat is slightly lower, but the net sum of burned calories from fat often end up higher with a more high-intensity cardio workout.

Maximum HR Calculator
Target Heart Rate Calculator

Enter Your Age - Then press Calculate.
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(75% - 85% of Max)
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Also remember to take advantage of the seasonal opportunities. Cross-country skiing is a phenomenal cardio workout. Skating and snowshoeing can be fun. Or get your workout from covering your obnoxious neighbor's car with snow and hosing it down with cold water. Anything that gets your heart rate up is good - especially since the last suggestion may involve a fair deal of running, too.

Stress Management

Ironically, the holiday of peace involves a fair deal of stress. For a bodybuilder, stress is especially bad since it comes with a slew of undesirable side effects. For one thing, the body tends to release stress hormones that are highly catabolic.

Secondly, a stressed body is more inclined to pack on fat. Thirdly, stress may interfere with sleep, which is crucial component of good gains due to the natural release of growth hormones that occurs during the night.

Oh yeah, and circling the mall parking lot for 20 mins only to have some dweeb steal the spot you've been waiting for is enough to get a stroke from suppressed anger any day, but having a 2-feet long shopping list doesn't make it any better.

Stress management begins with good planning. It may seem like common sense not to wait until the day before xmas to shop for presents, yet the crowds that pop up every year tells us that there are a lot of people out there with poor planning skills.

Instead, use the Internet to plan out exactly what to get for everyone. Either order online or hit the specific stores for those specific things and avoid aimless wandering in search of ideas. Stay home around the time when people get off work and scurry off to the malls.

Relatives often have a phenomenal ability to know just which buttons to push. This is a harder source of stress to avoid, as family obligations are notoriously hard to duck out of. That's when it is time for damage control.

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As you feel stress coming on, take a few deep breaths and remember that tomorrow, this won't matter. Distance yourself from whatever is causing the stress and do NOT escalate. Even though you may be itching to do something, ask yourself when the last time were in this situation - and you DID act on impulse - ever resulted in anything good?

Don't underestimate the power of exercise for eliminating stress. Just 20 mins on a treadmill can do wonders in burning the stress right off you. So if you know you'll spend xmas dinner between Aunt Jocalyn and Uncle Dork who take turns taking potshots at you for not being a Nobel prize laureate in astrophysics, schedule a cardio workout before AND after the dinner.

Supplements To Consider

Taking supplements may help take the sting out of things. Fat burners may or may not be your thing, but there are two types of blockers that just may tilt the balance in your favor.

Chitosan is a supplement made of different kinds of crushed cells. This insoluble fiber has a positive ionic charge and soaks up fate molecules like a sponge - 1 gram of chitosan mops up 7 grams of fat. After absorbing as much fat as it can, it simply proceeds and flushes it right out the natural way, so to speak.

Normally, this may be a concern for fat-soluble vitamins and the like, but for the purposes of an xmas dinner, hey, go wild. Read more about the specifics of chitosan here.

Carb blockers work along the same lines in that it inhibits absorption. If you're planning to hit the starchy foods, it may be worth a shot. Read more about the different carb blockers available here.

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Other Tips

  • When family obligations are inevitable, push for activity. Rather than have everyone sitting around the TV, get people outside. Even a walk in the park is better than on the couch.

  • Keep a positive mindset. If you assume that you'll gain 10 lbs, you've already thrown in the towel and have no reason to even try staying in shape.

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  • Eggnog is good, but it's a calorie bomb! Have some if you like, but switch to water or diet soda after the first mug.

    Learn How To Make Healthy Egg Nog Here...

  • If you have to run lengthy errands, don't forget to bring a protein bar or other emergency snack. Being stuck in traffic while starving is neither fun nor good for your bodybuilding goals.

  • Keep a master plan with caloric goals for each day. This will help you stay on course, as opposed to random feasting where you have no clue of where you stand nor where you're heading in terms of calorie intake.

  • Talk to whoever cooks in advance and explain that you need to limit yourself on the fatty stuff, so that they don't take your reluctance as a sign of mistrust for their cooking.

Damage Control: To Cheat Or Not To Cheat!
In this article I'll share a few tricks with you - taken straight from the research journals - for minimizing the damage caused by eating your weight in turkey and candied yams.
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  • Enjoy the gym while you can. There's no waiting for anything now, but that will all change on January 1 when a few million clueless people who don't know a barbell from a Smith machine will be pouring in.

  • Enjoy the holidays!