We all get a case of the holidays, and it usually stems from the break in our traditional flows. Our work hours are off, family is in town, the halls are decked and the dreidels have been spun -- the holidays are a perfect storm of habit cacophony.
They roll around and that little voice inside your head gets a little louder, the one that whispers “hit the snooze” or “have another cookie, no one is watching”, and no matter who you are, looks a lot like the Kermit The Frog Emperor meme. When you hear that voice, get ancestral and simplify your strategies. As humans, we were born to move yet current holiday trends tend to move us farther and farther away from our roots.
Now a word on transactional health: I’ll be the first to tell you that yo-yoing between poor food choices and exercise is a slippery slope that you do not want to be on. I spent years trying to out exercise drinking half a rack of Natty Light on a nightly basis in college. It doesn’t work and perpetuates a terrible relationship with food. So as we go through the how-to's, the when's and the why's for the following 5 exercises, we are doing so to arm you with knowledge to battle circumstance, not justify walking a wishy washy line between wellness and science driven, justified bingeing.
1. BURPEE TABATA
Burpees are my favorite exercise -- said no one ever. There is a reason why most people despise burpees, and generally due to their sadistically heavy tax on every major muscle group in your body as well as crushing your respiratory system in a matter of seconds. Think you’re tough, see how many burpees you can do in 5 minutes … it’s humbling.
But, when you contain burpees to short windows, followed by even shorter periods of rest, you are able to sustain a longer periods of exertion while alternating between metabolic energy source preference. Your 20 second working set will push you towards your anaerobic threshold, which translates to burning glucose primarily, the 10 second rest allows your heart rate to drop back down closer to baseline (1). Numerous studies have shown that interval training leads to increased levels of fat metabolism well beyond the time that you stop sweating. So when you’ve got a day full of indulgences, start it off right with some fasted tabata.
Fasted Burpee Tabata
20 Seconds Active//10 Second Rest
Or follow this video
When: First Thing In the Morning
What to eat before: Nothing (Fast)
Why: Ramp up fat utilization for remainder of the day
2. COMPOUND WEIGHT LIFTING + ACCESSORY WORK
In my personal opinion, nothing replaces a good session with the ol' iron, or rubber coated assorted metal -- whatever is in the gyms these days. A little intelligent program design can whittle down a lack-luster, 2 hour stroll between exercise machines into a fat burning, muscle growing, metabolism boosting, holiday muffin top fighting session.
When you’re in the gym, modulation of reps, weight and pattern is everything. When you are looking for the most bang for your buck, start your session with one of the two compound lift gold standards -- deadlift or squat. There isn't a single movement you could do in the gym that is going to hit as many muscles in a shorter period of time than one of those two exercises. The more muscles you stimulate, the more calories burned and the more potential you have for nutrient uptake in the post workout period aka your holiday indulgences. When it comes to reps, keep them low and explosive -- Shoot for something in the range of 5-8 for your compound lifts and make sure that you are exerting maximal effort through each of these sets.
After any compound lift, target the primary and secondary mover muscle groups with a higher rep range and lower weight. Muscle growth happens at all weight and rep ranges, but it has been shown that the sweet spot seems to be right around 10-12 reps. As an aside, try to always follow up any compound weight session with some core work. Compound lifts generally require a decent amount of core strength; however, strengthening your abs and lower back can pay dividends in injury prevention.
When: Before a large meal (like xmas dinner)
What to eat before: Phat Fudge or Carb/Protein/Fat Mix
Why: Empty glycogen stores and create a caloric deficit
3. POST-MEAL WALK
I know I know, the last thing you want to do after a big meal is exercise, but quite a few studies have come out showing that a post meal walk has some pretty incredible powers when it comes to managing postprandial blood sugar levels. Healthy individuals secrete insulin in a regular fashion, however, those with insulin resistance often times have a delayed release, causing high levels of post meal blood sugar. Based on a study done in 2016, low intensity exercise in the range of 50-75% of your VO2 max, done thirty minutes after a meal can drastically blunt the blood glucose peak that occurs after a large meal (2). Is this strategy going to burn off the calories you just guzzled down? Barely -- but it will certainly have you making strides towards a healthier metabolism while building a bit of community accountability amongst your friends and family.
So next time you leave the dinner table to change into sweats to accommodate your newly minted food baby, throw on a pair of sneakers and hit the road for a leisurely walk with your holiday glutton crew.
When: Post meal
What to eat before: The meal you just ate
Why: Increase insulin sensitivity to create more efficient nutrient partitioning
4. GLYCOGEN DEPLETION VARIABLE CARDIO CLASS
Disclaimer, this next strategy MAY feel like transactional health, but it is not. This is not preemptive punishment or a golden ticket to eat whatever you want, its intelligently timed movement strategy to prime your metabolism to handle the task at hand!
I've talked about the anaerobic threshold and its relation to metabolic flexibility in previous posts, but I’ll give a quick dip into what it is and why it's important in the context of the holidays. Generally speaking, as your body nears its anaerobic threshold, it begins to shift its primary fuel source from fat to carbohydrate (3). Your anaerobic threshold on average lands somewhere near 180 - your age, although it can vary based on your aerobic conditioning -- a 35 year old triathlete is going to have a higher threshold than a 35 year old desk jockey.
When you consider the context of your day, you likely have a bolus of delicious, fluffy, sweet carbohydrates sitting in your future. While burning as much fat as you can may seem like priority number one, you can actually make your carbs work for you if you make room for them via glycogen depleting exercise.
I recommend doing some sort of group based class, because let’s be honest -- how often do you spend 50 minutes really really pushing yourself via cardio without someone leading the charge and a group of people commiserating with you. Group classes like cycling, interval training or boxing are perfect for depleting glycogen, building up a caloric deficit and most importantly releasing some feel good hormones to help those of you that usually reach for booze to deal with your family.
When: The Day after a big indulgence
What to eat before: a small balanced meal of protein, fat, complex carbs
Why: Lower glycogen stores, to kick start a healthy fat and protein focused diet (call it keto if you want)
5. FAT-FUELED YOGA
The holidays are stressful, and there is nothing like a good yoga session to set intentionality and calm the nerves, but did you know that yoga has the power to keep your blood sugar in check? A recent study reviewed the effects of yoga on individuals with adult onset diabetes, and confirmed that yoga was a cost-effective and non-invasive adjuvant therapy to keep the insulin resistance based disease at bay (4).
So why fat-fueled? While yoga is certainly movement that can be enjoyed in a fasted state, eating a small amount of fat beforehand helps balance blood sugar which helps some people maintain energy levels throughout a longer session. As an added benefit, Phat Fudge contains the right mix of fats and performance ingredients to kick start your next yoga session!
When: Anytime youre feeling stressed
What to eat before: Phat Fudge
Why: Balance blood sugar, lower stress/anxiety