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!
Nutrition and training are only pieces of the health and fitness puzzle. If your eating and training are consistently good, but you still don’t look and feel the way you’d like to, one of the other pieces may need fixing. Most often, it’s the result of poor sleep.
Your body composition, mental acuity, digestion, skin health, mood states and physical performance are some of the components heavily dependent on sufficient sleep. Seven hours of peaceful sleep every night is the minimum needed to keep health and fitness problems at bay. If you’re getting less than that but feel like you’re getting enough sleep, you’re kidding yourself.
These are some signs that your sleep habits may need tweaking:
You’re Struggling with your Body Composition
Poor sleep can:
- Increase excess body fat
- Disrupt your feelings of hunger and satiety
- Increase caloric intake, especially from comfort foods
- Excess body can in turn reduce sleep quality making this a negative feedback loop
Your Mental Performance is Shaky
Sleep is especially important for the recovery and development of the central nervous system. Insufficient sleep can cause:
- Low mood states
- Attention deficit
- Impaired judgement
- Reduced alertness
- Mental acuity during exercise
You’re Prone to Sickness
Sleep is also responsible for keeping your immune system in check. Insufficient sleep results in:
- Increased inflammation
- Vulnerability to viruses and bacteria
- Greater stress to the cardiovascular system
- Inability to recover from colds and flu
Does any of this sound like you, but your eating and training is fairly on point? If so, your sleep habits may need tweaking. You should be aiming for seven hours of restful sleep a night. That is, seven hours of shut eye. Not seven hours from the time you get into bed until waking 😉
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.
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 😉
What is the most common response to “I need to lose weight”? “I need to eat less,” of course. So, using people who frequently train at high intensities as an example, let’s look at what happens when you eat less in an effort to shed weight.
The first thing that happens is naturally consuming less energy than the body needs. This is often achieved by guesstimating how many calories you expend on average, and calculating how many calories you need to consume to stay in a calorie deficit (burn more than you consume). More often than not, however, people stick a wet thumb in the air to feel which way the wind is blowing to find out which and how much food needs to be cut in order to lose weight – crash dieting.
You continue trying to train regularly, even though you’re barely making it through workouts thanks to your lack of food intake. But you’re burning more calories and eating less so it’s all good, right?
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the human body recognises the innate lack of common sense in the human mind and does what is necessary to keep itself safe. Safety for the human body is simply survival. When you’re constantly expending more energy (through movement) than you are consuming the body retards fuel depletion and alters the substrates it uses for fuel.
Retarded Fuel Depletion
Movement is one way energy is depleted in the body. This is of course where, if you’re training, most energy depletion comes from. However, you are expending energy even at rest. The entire body needs a constant supply of fuel to keep functioning normally. All internal organs, the musculoskeletal system (especially because of training), cartilage, hair, skin – everything aside from body fat – requires ongoing maintenance and therefore fuel. This energy consumption when not moving is known as your basal metabolic rate (resting metabolism).
When you’re constantly depleting more than you are consuming, the body retards this fuel depletion because it perceives this as a threat to survival. Of all the parts of the body that require ongoing fuel, muscle is the most (metabolically) costly and also the “safest” to get rid of. You begin to lose muscle mass to reduce energy depletion and to aid in the change of fuel substrates (see below).
So now you have the body reducing metabolism and shedding muscle to save energy. Less muscle mass further reduces the metabolism too. This is the body’s first big up yours to eating less – you end up burning less calories AND losing muscle (the stuff that makes you look good naked) BECAUSE you’re not eating enough. Just to make it worse, this also results in reduced performance.
Change in Fuel Substrates
When you’re eating correctly – to support training but not body fat – your body uses fat and glucose to provide energy. When you don’t eat correctly this system is disrupted. The first thing that happens is you begin to hold on to fat stores because it’s the most efficient fuel source – it keeps on giving and you’ll need that for survival. Because you’re not eating enough carbohydrates and the body needs to get rid of muscle, you begin to catabolise muscle for fuel.
This is the body’s next up yours to eating too little – you end up holding on to more fat instead of losing it! More body fat + less muscle = skinny fat = unfit and unhealthy.
You knew you had to make changes to your nutrition in order to lose body fat, but you jumped the gun. So before you jump the gun on the above advice, some more advice. It’s easy to get the amount of calories you need by eating rubbish, but the same things happen. You lose muscle, put on fat and lose fitness. You need to eat good quality calories most of the time.
You also don’t have to be eating all the time. You can get the correct amount of good calories in by just one meal a day. How your nutrition is structured depends on your lifestyle and goals.
Lastly, the ratio of carbs, protein and fat does matter. But it must be calculated relative to your amount of body fat, your levels and type of activity, and your goals. It’s not a thumb suck.
Posts tagged with ‘fat’