Something I’ve learnt over the years is that the silly season isn’t just defined by the period across Christmas and New Years when most people are away. The silly season starts in November and carries on through to some time later in January. So let’s revisit some silly season nutrition and training tips.
For me, it’s pretty straightforward – if you’d like to hold on to the changes you’ve made until now you simply keep doing what you have been. But I get it, it’s a festive time, it’s been a challenging year and you’d like to kick back. You should!
I always say that you’re going to be away for a month at the most. That’s just one month. It’s nothing relative to your lifetime, and about 5% of your training time during the year, IF you were consistent throughout the year. If you weren’t consistent, then you shouldn’t be worrying about losing all your gains during the holidays…..because you don’t have any gains!
So relax, enjoy your food and live well. But at the same time, I’d like to see you keep at least one foot on the wagon because if you do come off it entirely, it can take a very long time to get just that one foot on again.
Here are some tips to help you. Remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and keep it simple.
Protein and Fat
Aim to get a moderate amount in at all meals and snacks. It keeps you satiated so you’re less likely to snack, and protein has a thermic effect so it keeps your metabolism ticking over. If you’re not doing any physical activity that day, have a bit less than you normally would.
A reminder: All veges and fruit, all starches, fruit juices, baking, sweets and chocolates, ice-cream, and all grain-based products end up the same way – as sugar. The goodies, however, spike blood sugar and therefore insulin, stimulating the storage of fat, especially if you aren’t exercising much.
Have the goodies, but make that your carb for that meal or snack. If you are training, have your goodies after training. Put simply, if you plan on having treats, have less or none of the ‘good carbs’ to keep total carb intake similar to what it would be normally. But don’t avoid the veges, roots, tubers and fruit entirely because you need the fibre, mineral and nutrients.
There isn’t a particular amount of water that you should be having. Drink if you’re thirsty and avoid sports drinks and off-the-shelf fruit juices. Opt for a freshly squeezed juice and avoid sodas as much as possible. Tea and coffee does contribute to your fluid intake. Alcohol does not so avoid using it as your hydration 😉
You don’t have to train as much or as intensely as you would normally to maintain your fitness. In fact, the down time will do your mind and body good. But keep active as a way of expressing your fitness. Play sports, hike, cycle, swim, and try different stuff. Walking can be especially beneficial. Go for brisk, long walks every day if you aren’t doing any other physical activity.
Eat for Yourself
If your mates or partners can have a burger, fries and milkshake for lunch everyday without much ill-effect, it doesn’t mean that the same will happen to you. Be realistic about your body’s response to foods, and eat accordingly.
I personally consider holidays a time for (more) food and lots of sleep. So don’t geek out too much about what you’re eating while away!
There’s always a new expert in the field of nutrition, new books, new approaches, and lots of new information. If you are someone who’s looking to optimise health and fitness, nutrition is the foundation of your efforts, but how do you decipher all of that information?
The reality is that there’s nothing new to all the (good) nutrition information. We’ve known most of it for decades. And when you dig in to all the information out there you’ll see that almost everyone who knows a bit about the topic agrees on the most important facts. Your nutrition is almost sorted when you have these factors down.
- Eat well raised sources of animal protein. Even if you are training intensely on most days of the week, you don’t need to consume massive quantities to get your daily protein needs in.
- Eat vegetables everyday.
- Get your fats from animal sources, olives, nuts and their oils, egg yolks (why would you waste the best tasting part of the egg?), and avocado.
- Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates (and other man made products).
- Having a knowledgeable coach is a well placed investment
Keep it simple by getting your ABCs locked down and don’t focus on anything else until you do.
You’re exercising a lot, you think that you’re eating well most of the time, everyone says you’re looking “slimmer,” and the scale shows that your body weight is dropping. But you’re lacking “go” in your workouts, your strength has either plateaued or is regressing, and your body fat percentage (BFP) has actually gone up. What the……??!!
Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Your body weight is the sum weight of your organs, bones, muscle, soft tissue, etc. Weight loss simply takes into account a drop in this sum.
Your BFP is the weight of body fat relative to your total body weight. Therefore, fat loss would result in a lower body fat percentage. Depending on gender, age and types of activity, healthy body fat percentages for women and men are respectively 12-20% and 8-18%.
How does that explain an increase in BFP concomitant to a decrease in body weight? That would happen if part of the weight loss comes from a loss of muscle. If BFP is the weight of body fat relative to total body weight, your total body weight (kg) less the amount of body fat (kg) leaves you with your lean body mass (LBM). LBM is made up of every part of your body – skin, hair, nails, bones, ligaments, organs, etc. – EXCLUDING boy fat.
The heaviest component of LBM is muscle. The amount of muscle you have directly affects the BFP equation.
If your body weight doesn’t change but you lose muscle, it will be reflected as an increase in BFP. Similarly, if you lose body weight and muscle, the loss in muscle would either mitigate a decrease in BFP or also reflect as an increase in BFP. You’re “slimmer” with a high body fat – what is referred to as skinny fat. That’s also why your performance in training drops – muscle is your engine!
Lose Fat & Maintain or Build Muscle
Your body weight tells us little to nothing about changes in your body composition. It’s also affected on a daily basis by your diet, water retention, the weather and possibly even mood states. So you need to change your mindset from wanting to lose weight to losing body fat.
Losing body fat requires you to maintain or increase muscle mass. Note: Increasing muscle mass does not mean you’ll “get bulky.”
What will happen when you maintain/increase muscle mass while reducing BFP, however, is your body weight often remains the same. That is simply because muscle weighs less than fat.
How To Avoid Skinny Fat
- Train functional movements at a high (relative) intensity with a variety of loads (light, moderate, heavy).
- Eat clean at least 80% of the time. You all know the deal: Eat a variety of meat and vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, little dairy and grains, and no sugar
- Ensure that part of eating clean includes a healthy amount of good carbs and protein.
- Avoid the “cardio” trap. Unless there’s a good deal of resistance-based exercises in your training regime to go with all that cardio, you won’t maintain good muscle too. That’s why I like to call endurance only athletes ‘skinny fat.’ Yes, they have low body weight, but a low percent of that is muscle!
So ditch the scale and mirror because they’re just playing tricks on your mind. Eat clean, train smart, be consistent, and results will come. If results don’t come, call in for a consult.
Should you control your food portions? It’s a question I’ve covered a lot on the blog and in nutrition seminars. My answer is always yes, and no. Whether you should or not is dependent on your goals and your personality traits. But there’s no point getting into that unless you understand what portion control is.
There are some visual guidelines of what your plate should look like, and for some those guidelines work. If you’d like to get it done correctly you do need to measure your macronutrient intake. It makes the amounts specific to YOU, and the numbers enable you to make educated changes about your portion sizes.
What is a Macro?
Macronutrients (macros) are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, rebuilding and all basic body functions. There are three macronutrients that all food is categorised under:
What do Macros Do?
On one hand, all macros provide calories (energy). Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Aside from providing calories to fuel various functions, each macro has a different set of responsibilities in the body.
We need CHO because:
They are the body’s main source of fuel.
They are easily used by the body for energy.
All of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy.
They are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.
They can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy.
They are important in intestinal health and waste elimination.
We need protein for:
Growth (especially important for children, teens, and pregnant women)
Making essential hormones and enzymes
Energy when carbohydrate is not available
Preserving lean muscle mass
Fat is essential for:
Normal growth and development
Energy (fat is the most concentrated source of energy)
Absorbing certain vitamins ( like vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids)
Providing cushioning for the organs
Maintaining cell membranes
Providing taste, consistency, and stability to foods
Why Measure Macros?
As you can read above, macros provide calories. We need enough calories to support exercise but NOT body fat. One reason for measuring macros helps to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of calories in. The other reason is to ensure that you’re giving your body the correct amount of nutrients it needs to fuel and recover from exercise, and for basic human function.
Food quality is more important than quantity though. You can’t out-measure a shitty diet.
How to Calculate Macros?
There are a ton of different methods but they essentially come down to a few differences. One thing most methods do have in common is that they should be based on the individual’s body composition and levels/type of activity.
Calorie Based: These methods only calculate macros in order to calculate caloric intake and they do so under the belief that weight management is based simply on balancing calories in and calories out. There’s much more to that equation. More importantly, this method leaves people thinking that a calorie is a calorie, and it’s not.
Sustainability Based: These methods keep food categorised at CHO, fat and protein instead of calculating calories. They also place a high emphasis on food quality. The changes implemented in one’s diet are intended to be lifelong so change is gradual and maintainable.
Sports Based: These methods have been founded on systems used for athletes in weight category sports such as martial arts, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Or in sports that simply require an athlete to be at particular body weights for optimal performance or aesthetics. Such methods are characterised by having “cutting,” “building” and “maintenance” phases.
Yay or Nay?
If you are far above or below a healthy body composition, then yes, learn how to calculate and track your macro amounts. If you’d like to improve your performance in general or specifically for an event, yes, calculate your macros. If you would like to AND are able to manage flexibility with the foods you eat, yes, calculate your macros.
But only if you have the correct mindset.
For example, if you have a problem with balance – you know, the all or nothing sort – I would avoid calculated portion control. (If you’re reading this and are denying that you have a problem with balance, you have a problem with balance). Whereas if you are able to manage balance and flexibility in what you do and don’t eat, counting macros could be extremely valuable.
If you are good at AND are honest in understanding your body needs, you shouldn’t need to measure macros at all. That said, a 2-4 week stint of measuring and tracking would be good because you’d be able to compare it to what you’ve been doing by just listening to your body. If you’re good at listening to your body, there shouldn’t be much difference.
Quality and quantity both matter, but unless you, your goals and your approach fit the bill, there’s no point in measuring quantities. More importantly, you can’t out-measure or out-train a shitty diet 😉
I come from a South African Indian family and community where poor nutrition and therefore poor health is unfortunately a way of life. My family has fortunately managed to, in general, make progressively better food choices over the years. But the broader community is riddled with lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Central to the cardiovascular conditions is elevated cholesterol. And it’s a topic that always comes up, at the dinner table, that has all the high glycemic goodness you can think of!
Cholesterol is also one of the primary concerns raised when suggesting a paleo/primal/whole-food approach due to the greater fat intake. People still don’t seem to understand the connection between diet and cholesterol, and that’s partly because they don’t understand cholesterol.
I wrote the article below for a local online health and fitness mag, Rise To It. The information should hopefully dispel some of the concerns and misconceptions regarding cholesterol and food. Before you read it remember that natural fats (animal, dairy, nut and seed oils), including saturated fats, aren’t the cause of high cholesterol or artherosclerosis. Processed foods, sugar and pro-inflammatory foods are. (Note to the Indian community: It’s not the prawns that “give you high cholesterol,” it’s the bread you’re eating it with along with all the desert that follows.)
If you have any questions about the topic, ask them in the comments section below and I’ll respond within the next day.
Understanding cholesterol is essential, especially with all the misinformation out there. Cholesterol is a waxy steroid of fat found in all cell membranes and in our blood plasma. Among its many jobs, cholesterol is responsible for insulating neurons (nerve cells), building and maintaining cellular membranes (the security walls of cells), metabolising vitamins, producing bile, and initiating the synthesis of many hormones. Cholesterol is vital for life. No cholesterol = death.
Given all the important work that cholesterol is responsible for, its production in the live is self-regulated. That means that the liver will always ensure that there is enough. What’s especially important is that our livers regulate cholesterol production in response to our nutrition. When we eat less, it makes more, and vice-versa.
Contrary to ‘conventional wisdom,’ there is only one “type” of cholesterol, and it’s called just that, cholesterol. However, we don’t just have cholesterol floating about. Cholesterol can only be transported in the blood by lipoproteins. Lipoproteins deliver cholesterol to sites in the body.
When referring to cholesterol nowadays, we mistakenly refer to cholesterol as HDL and LDL. High density lipoproteins (HDL) and low density lipoproteins (LDL) do not give us a measure of cholesterol. They are simply vehicles transporting cholesterol.
HDL has the renowned job of getting rid of excess cholesterol. It transfers cholesterol from the body’s tissues back to the liver, and the liver excretes it through bile. LDL, in contrast, transports cholesterol from the liver production line to wherever it’s needed in the body. Remember, cholesterol has a lengthy to-do list!
Naturally, HDL became known as “good” cholesterol and LDL as “bad” cholesterol. LDL became really bad in the fifties when research found an association between early death by heart disease and fat deposits along artery walls. Cholesterol was found in the fat deposits. Therefore, researchers concluded that it was the culprit. However, one of cholesterol’s roles is to act as a plaster. In an inflammatory situation, cholesterol (transported by LDL) forms a temporary cover over lesions in the arterial wall. When the inflammation is resolved, cholesterol is removed (by HDL). Unfortunately in most heart disease cases, the inflammation doesn’t subside.
What causes inflammation? A diet high in simple and processed carbs, including grains and starches, does. However, given that meat, eggs and dairy are the primary sources of dietary cholesterol, the message sent home was to eat less of those and more carbs. All you need to do is look at the general state of health to see where that advice has left us – fat and riddled with cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
What compounds the good vs. bad cholesterol frenzy further is that it’s not the cholesterol part of LDL that is bad, but the lipoprotein itself. Some smaller forms of LDL are the ones involved in the process of inflammation in arterial walls. And again, these types of LDL do not increase with the amount of saturated fats you eat, but instead with elevated levels of inflammation caused by simple carbs and hydrogenated fats.
So, a high level of blood cholesterol, low HDL or high LDL does not necessarily indicate a risk of heart disease. While those measurements can tell you that something is not right, the problem is unlikely to be cholesterol itself. Cholesterol might just be the symptom, the decoy, of the larger concern.
Maintaining a healthy heart is achieved by minimising inflammation. That means eating loads of vegies, fruits, good quality meats, and healthy fats and proteins. Top that off with a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish oils.
If a blood test has been recommended, then speak to your doctor about what the numbers mean in the big picture of your health.
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