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This is the most beautiful time of the year (in theory).
We spend a generous amount of time with our family, friends, and loved ones, and we share experiences and make beautiful memories of which we’ll store and call upon for years to come.
We anticipate this time of year, we hype it up, we stress, and plan much of the latter portion of our year around this time because of those we get to see, the food, the smiles, the weather, the sharing of time, moments, and experiences.
In regards to your fitness, your nutrition, your appearance – this is where things stray from “the most beautiful time of year” to “the most stressful time of year.”
It’s assumed we’re going to gain some “holiday” weight. It’s assumed we’re not going to be incredibly dedicated and focused towards this aspect of our lives right now, fitness, that is, because of the demand of the holiday season.
I mean the entire months of November and December are chalked up to “I’ll make it in when I can” in reference to the gym, and “eh, it’s the holidays” in regards to your diet.
We are thinking of this time of year totally wrong.
This isn’t a time of year to completely brush off your training, or have a sense of amnesia for how to eat, how to structure your day, what your goals are for yourself, or assume you’ll have an uphill battle on the other side.
Most people white-knuckle it through this time of year, and then wake up hungover and laden with disgust on New Year’s Day.
“I’ll gain a bit through this season, but come first of the year it’s all gonna change.”
Why not take that staunch approach to the holiday season?
Just not necessarily with the focus on being lean…for now at least.
Let me explain:
Metabolic Adaptation states that with a caloric deficit, or less calories consumed than are being burned, our energy expenditure will reduce, and our metabolism will downregulate.
Essentially, if you’re dieting and eating fewer calories, you’ll burn less energy, you’ll move less, and your metabolism will begin to slow a bit. Your body is trying to regulate, and it knows it can’t lose weight forever, so some functions slow down.
Conversely, if you’re eating in a caloric surplus, or, more calories being eaten than being burned, your energy expenditure will ramp up and your metabolism will begin to increase. You’ll begin to move more, your metabolism has a higher set point, you can maintain your weight at a higher calorie intake. Meaning if, oh, say you want to diet in I don’t know, a couple months (new year), you could go into that dieting phase primed for fat loss with a sparked metabolism.
It’s seldom thought of that we can create a metabolic-boost in this way, we seem to only think of dieting and weight loss and eating less and diet challenges and fasting and keto and cutting carbs and detox tea and cutting more calories.
All of which not being conducive to the hectic, indulgent, succulent time of the year that the holidays bestow upon us.
We’re likely in it for a goal look, a goal physique, an athletic, strong, lean, aesthetic look. Of course we want health, of course we want to be stronger, fitter, more functional and mobile, but we fixate on appearance this time of year, myself included.
If there is one sport we can look to for guidance, it’s bodybuilding.
It’s literally the epitome of physique change.
We get swept up in this continuous cycle of trying to diet, having some hiccups, some binges, some holidays, some celebrations and what have you, and we induce a metabolic standstill on ourselves.
There’s no clear signal to the body what we’re trying to do.
Instead of having clear and concise focus and consistency we have a muddled input of deficit to surplus to major deficit to maintenance and back around the merry go round.
Let’s look to bodybuilders:
Clear concise phases dedicated to one specific goal.
A period of cutting, dedicated to a calorie deficit, and stripping fat.
A period of maintenance, dedicated to maintaining muscle, maintaining as much leanness as possible, and restoring health to optimum levels.
A period of gaining, dedicated solely to putting on muscle mass.
Throughout this holiday season, we should aim to gain/maintain.
Gain muscle mass, build strength, maintain leanness as best as possible (some fat gain now, for major fat loss later), and optimize overall health.
If we can shift our focus to gain and maintain for the holidays, we can make this time of year work for us.
As opposed to letting our focus fall by the wayside just to be further in the hole come the new year, knowing that the holiday season isn’t conducive to progressing to our most lean, goal-oriented physique.
Replace that “new year, new me” crash-dieting, ridiculous gym schedule and routine, and boring meal-prep that we despise that never lasts, with a successful transition into fat loss, instead of a do or die approach.
The reason that we associate the new year with such a steadfast approach, is because we try to force the idea of what we’ll be doing in the new year upon the holidays. But, we shouldn’t always just be thinking of dieting. There’s a time and place for “gaining” in the sense of muscle, and creating a metabolic environment for future successes. That time, is now. (Again, think of the paragon of physique molding; always a specific phase.)
Use the holiday season as the supporting cast for the diet of the new year, the assisting role, the on-ramp for success.
Assume this time of year we’ll consume more calories.
With those calories, let’s shift our training to reflect a more muscular-focused training plan.
Let’s build strength, let’s build muscle.
Calories will have a net increase over this time of year, put those extra calories to work, send the signal to your body that it needs to use those calories to produce muscle, not to add fat.
If there’s no signal that you need to build muscle, your body won’t build muscle. The key is to put the calories to use for a specific outcome that we desire, not love-handles.
Don’t starve yourself in between those higher-calorie days of the holiday season like Turkey-day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas day.
Eat consistently, not so many outliers, not so many caloric fluctuations.
Keep your metabolism ramped up. Don’t think that just because you consumed more than usual on Thanksgiving that you have to starve yourself the following week. Eat as usual following, no deficit needed.
We can effectively put those calories to use if there’s training stimulating the need for muscle, and sufficient protein intake (extra turkey in your leftover tupperware).
This will tell your body that you’re in a position to build muscle, not that you’re just binging, restricting, and repeating.
Muscle is metabolically expensive. It requires a decent amount of calorie burn just to maintain it.
So that when we go into our diet come the new year, we have an assistant (muscle) aiding our metabolism.
We can use this time to create, and sustain this muscle.
We can make effective use of this time of year, instead of brushing it off as a failed season in regards to your fitness goals.
Focus on lifting. Focus on building strength and muscle.
Don’t fret over cardio, don’t keep yourself up at night over the leftovers whispering sweet nothings into your dreams.
Sleep. Eat. Train. Get primed for fat loss in the new year.
The goal for this season is to set yourself for success.
Keep your metabolism ramped up, add some muscle, build some strength,
Utilize this time of year for a purpose instead of letting it invade your psyche as a complete failure will result in the most successful transition to a diet in the new year, leading you to the best results of your life.
It’s all about how you frame it.