It’s hard to believe holiday season is here already! Soon it will be Thanksgiving, and then Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or even Festivus. And, of course, bringing up the rear is New Year’s Eve. Between all these scheduled celebrations are the handful of other holiday gatherings you’re obligated to attend like office parties, neighbors’ parties, friend’s parties, friends’ of friends’ parties and the many others you may look forward to attending (or not). But regardless of whether you dread these celebrations or relish them, the one thing that doesn’t differ is the fact that the tables at these parties will all be laden in carby, fatty, decadent foods.
At this time of year I get a lot of questions regarding how to avoid overindulging and how to make healthy alternatives for many holiday dishes. My take on holiday eating may surprise many of you, given the fact that I maintain a very low body fat year round: I’m actually not a big believer in cooking alternative “healthy” holiday dishes or avoiding the enjoyment of these foods. Rather, I’m a firm believer in fully enjoying yourself.
My Personal Holiday Feasts
At Thanksgiving I HAVE to have mashed potatoes with gravy. And the creamier the potatoes and gravy, the better! I also HAVE to have pumpkin pie and maybe even pumpkin cheesecake! For Christmas, my mother makes Italian cookies that are insanely good – she even mails them to me in LA when I can’t get back to Connecticut for the holidays. I also have to have egg nog – with plenty of rum, of course! Since I only eat these foods once a year, I’m definitely not missing my chance to fully enjoy them guilt-free.
So how do I enjoy these foods without ruining the results I get from the gym and my solid diet and supplement regimen? I have a few tricks up my sleeves that involve the gym, my diet and my supplement regimen – tricks that get me through all the holiday indulging without it ruining my physique. Here they are:
Holiday Trick #1: Drop Carbs in the Days Leading Up to a Big Feast
My first trick is to drop carbs before I plan to pig out. For example, this Thanksgiving I plan on eating all the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie I can stuff into my pie hole. So starting the Friday before Thanksgiving, I drastically slash my carbs, going as low as 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. (I weigh 210 pounds, so that’s 105 grams of carbs daily for me.) I do this Friday through Sunday. Then, the week of Thanksgiving, I drop down to about 0.25 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight Monday through Wednesday (52 grams of carbs daily).
This way, when Thursday rolls around, I’ll actually need the gorge fest to spike my metabolism back up so I can keep burning body fat. After going so low carb for so many days, I actually have to pig out in order to prevent my metabolism from dropping too low. With this technique I’ve turned an otherwise unhealthy dinner into a way of actually enhancing fat burning!
Of course, this same method can be used in the six days leading up to Christmas.
Holiday Trick 2: Use Intermittent Fasting
Dropping carbs leading up to Thanksgiving (or doing the same six-day protocol leading up to Christmas) can be planned for, but what happens when a party suddenly drops in your lap without fair warning? Let’s say your significant other tells you on Thursdy night that you’re accompanying her to her aunt’s big holiday party on Friday night. In this case, you have no time to plan for it by eating low carb for a few days, plus you may have just spent Thursday night eating way too many of your mother’s famous Italian cookies!
Sure, you could go to the party and look like one of those stick-in-the-mud health nuts that won’t touch any of the delicious treats on hand. But I have a better option that allows you to enjoy yourself and not damage your physique, or your reputation: intermittent fasting (IF).
While using IF is a solid long-term diet strategy for getting ripped, it can also be used acutely to minimize the damage from a massive cheat day. One of the many advantages of IF is lowering daily food and calorie intake by limiting the time window of when you eat.
When a holiday party is sprung on you at least a day in advance, you can use IF to prevent much damage while you fully enjoy the party. To do this, you simply don’t eat anything other than non-caloric drinks such as water, black coffee, unsweetened tea or diet drinks the entire day leading up to the party. This way, even if you consume 2,000 or 3,000 calories (or more) at the party, you’re still in your daily allowance for total calories. Most foods at parties will be carby and fatty, so focus on getting as much protein as you can from the party fare.
Holiday Trick 3: Train Hard Immediately Before a Party or Big Meal
Another strategy to use when a party immediately falls in your lap, even if it’s just a few hours notice, is to turn your party gorging into your post-workout meal. Train before the party and make sure that it’s an intense workout. Try to limit rest periods between sets and use supersets, and be sure to include some HIIT cardio at the end. Better yet, do cardioacceleration throughout the workout.
If possible, work out an hour or so before the party. The closer to the party, the better. Then, you can turn all that delicious food into post-workout refueling. The reason this works is that after you work out your muscles are like sponges and will take up most of the nutrients you feed them. Plus, recovering from a workout is an energy consuming process; you burn up a lot of calories for your body to recover after an intense workout, so there’s no better time to eat cheat foods than after an intense workout. This is when the damage to your physique will be minimal, if at all.
Of course, you can use both tricks #1 and #2 and #3 together to really ensure that you can enjoy yourself guilt-free at any holiday meal without ruining your progress. I certainly do!
Holiday Trick #4: Take These Physique-Saving Supplements
But what if there’s no time to workout? I have a trick for that, too: supplements. Actually, four supplements in particular can lessen the damaging effects of a big meal.
First, simply drink a 40-gram protein shake (Pro JYM) before the party. Research from Canada, Australia and the UK have reported that drinking protein shakes, particularly those including whey, before meals significantly reduces hunger and reduces the amount of food eaten at buffet-style meals for up to four hours after drinking the protein shake. This is because whey protein has been found to raise levels of the hunger-blunting hormones cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon-like peptide -1 (GPL-1) higher than other types of protein.
The Canadian researchers further found that when the subjects drank a whey protein shake before a pizza buffet, their blood glucose and insulin levels were significantly lower than when they didn’t drink the whey protein shake. So not only does drinking a protein shake help you to eat less at a holiday feast, but it will blunt the insulin spike that all those carbs you ingest will normally cause. With less insulin around, all those carbs you eat will have less of a chance of being stored as body fat.
Another supplement to try when you’re suddenly faced with a holiday party is glucomannan. This water-soluble dietary fiber is derived from the Asian konjac root. When mixed with water, it expands up to 50 times its original volume, so it curbs hunger by filling the stomach and giving the sense of fullness. Glucomannan also delays stomach emptying, slowing the digestion and absorption of all nutrients, including carbohydrates, which leads to lower blood glucose levels and prevents major spikes in insulin. In addition, this supplement binds to bile acids in the gut and carries them out of the body in the feces. This prompts the body to convert more cholesterol into bile acids and results in lower levels of blood cholesterol and other fats, which helps prevent fat gain. Take 1–2 grams of glucomannan about an hour before parties to cut down the amount of holiday food you stuff in your face.
A third supplement to add to your holiday survival checklist is green tea extract. This traditional ingredient has been known for years to aide fat-burning, but recent research has shown that it can have a strong acute effect to give you more wiggle room for a big meal. In a study published in a 2015 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, Poznan University (Poland) researchers fed subjects a meal consisting of cornflakes and low-fat milk, totaling around 50 grams of carbs and 250 calories. Subjects were also given either green tea extra providing roughly 250 mg EGCG or a placebo. The researchers found that those taking the green tea extra supplement absorbed 30% less of the carbohydrates from the starchy meal than those given a placebo. This was likely a result of EGCG’s ability to inhibit two specific enzymes – alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase – that normally break down starch into smaller units that can be absorbed by the intestines. When the starch doesn’t get broken down into these smaller units (because the EGCG is present), it can’t be absorbed by the body and literally gets flushed down the drain. Way better than being stored as bodyfat, right?!
To take advantage of these carb-blocking benefits, take 200mg-250mg of green tea extract right before eating your large holiday party meal. Conveniently, Shred JYM contains 225mg of green tea extract per serving, so that will do the trick, too. To ensure you’re timing it up with your meal, take your Shred JYM serving (or green tea extract supplement) with you to your party and have it when you start eating.
Finally, consider taking carnitine as well. Carnitine requires an insulin spike to be taken up by muscle fibers and put to work. Research shows that when subjects supplement with 2 grams of carnitine twice a day with a high-carb meal, they do not gain body fat, despite having a significant amount of carbs (180 grams) added to their diets. Those not receiving the carnitine, but still the extra carbs, gain a significant amount of body fat. So bring along 2 grams of carnitine as L-carnitine or L-carnitine L-tartrate with you and take it while you’re pounding the carb-laden party food.
So remember to enjoy yourself over the holidays. They only come around once a year. Just use these three tricks to minimize the damage that holiday eating can have on your physique. You’ll be able to enjoy the holidays guilt-free and enjoy your lean and muscular physique as well!
Happy Holidays, everyone!