How to maximize bad eating habits during the silly season

By December 4, 2012 19 Comments

Fitness advice is often shrouded in irony.

You spend all year training hard and refining your physique, and when it comes time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour with some much needed rest and time with the family, we are told that it’s ‘not ok’ and that you shouldn’t be letting your guard down.

The ‘proof’ is in the media

Just flip open any one of your trashy mags (I know you have some) and you’ll be sure to find any number of articles written on subjects such as ‘How to prevent gaining fat this Christmas Period’ or ‘The Top 20 ways to avoid becoming Santa’.

Just recently it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, an alternate perspective on the situation was needed.

Can’t we make the ‘most’ of this time, rather than succumbing to pudding, turkey and egg-nog abstinence?

Bad eating habits and caloric surplus abounds us this time of year

Name the only time you EVER want to be in a caloric surplus? (I bet you can).

That’s right — it’s when you’re trying to add ‘muscle’ to your frame.

Maintenance and fat-loss a flawed approach?

Whilst a lot of people will be trying to ‘maintain’ their current shape and weight, others will be desperately trying to lose fat during the lead up to the extended beach and pool time over the festive season (I’m talking to those south of the equator here).

Whilst both of those goals are completely fine to have, they can be potentially unrealistic this time of year.

Maintenance is probably the easier of the two (especially if you don’t drink alcohol), but losing body fat during this time (if you have an active social life), can be next to impossible for those that are lacking even one tiny iota of willpower.

Switch your training to hypertrophy

It ‘sounds’ easy enough doesn’t it? Eat more, gain muscle.

If only that was the case.

Whilst you need to ingest more calories than you expend in order to gain mass, it’s critical that a few key factors are adhered to:

  • Train in a muscle-promoting fashion – This means higher reps (8-12) and shorter rests (45-60 seconds).
  • Keep your carbs and protein relatively high on training days (which shouldn’t be too hard during the month of December).
  • Be careful with your alcohol consumption – this is the biggest problem that you’ll be faced with during the festive season. If you’re going to increase your calories via the food you’re ingesting, you’re going to need to cut back on the calories coming from alcohol. Alcohol does bad things to your body in regards to fat-gain, and I’ve written a bunch on that topic in my book, as well as this article >
  • Train consistently (try for a minimum of three days per week), with maximum intensity at all times.

What about for women?

This idea is gender agnostic and will work for both sexes. I’ve written about the difficulties women face in regards to building muscle due to hormonal profiles numerous times before (and it’s a discussion for another article).

However, rest assured that the farer sex will have a pretty hard time becoming a huge, muscle-bound gorilla with some minor ‘tweaks’ to training (especially over a one-month period that I’m suggesting).

Why 8-12 reps?

The 8-12 rep range is considered to be a ‘moderate’ rep range (with 15+ being considered the ‘highest’ range).

It’s the rep range that’s been proven to offer the most bang for buck in regards to building muscle. The increased time under tension will stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (muscle growth) especially when coupled with shorter rest periods (as mentioned previously).

christmas ham

Who can resist the Christmas Ham…

Keep the protein and carbs moderately high

This part should prove to be a no-brainer. You’re probably going to be susceptible to canapes and finger-food throughout the month of December (due to office Christmas parties and the like). Add these ‘extra’ calories to your ‘already solid eating plan’ and you should have no trouble reaching your macronutrient requirements each day/week.

Note: Make sure to lower your carbs on non-training days, and replace them with ‘good’ fats. No need to re-fill the tank of your car when you aren’t driving anywhere right?

Alcohol consumption

Alcohol intake is arguably the deciding factor that will tip your surplus of calories from ‘muscle gains’ into ‘fat gains’.

It is for this reason, you’ll need to find a ‘balance’. By that I mean — if you KNOW that you’ll be drinking copious amounts of red wine during a Christmas party, then abstain from eating heavily throughout the earlier part of the day.

Perhaps try Intermittent Fasting. Skip breakfast, eat a mid-afternoon (small) meal around lunch time, then you’re good to go.

Sure, you have a good chance of tipping your caloric intake into ‘more than a surplus’, but at least the negatives will only be ‘slight’ and you’ve given yourself a fighting chance.

Train consistently and with intensity

What often follows closely behind parties and family gatherings, is a sudden lack of motivation to train or time to do so.

I’m not saying that taking a week off here and there is a bad thing (not by a long shot) — rather that you can still push through this period and fit in some form of resistance training at least three days per week whilst being in a caloric surplus.

Maximise your intensity in the gym

When you DO have time to train, make sure you’re training yourself with maximum intensity. Half-assed workouts will doing nothing for muscle growth, and will more than likely have you pack on ‘pounds’ in the form of fat rather than muscle.

Not ideal.

To wrap it up

I’ll probably be lambasted for even trying to promote such a mindset — Telling people to potentially over-eat and drink to excess.

I’m not suggesting that at all.

I call it ‘making the most of a less-than-ideal situation’.

Get real…

If you’re a long-time reader, you’ll know that I’m a realist in every sense of the word — and at this time of year I’d rather be rewarding myself rather than ‘feeling guilty’ (naturally without undoing all of the year’s hard work :)).

Sure you may add a little bit to the waistline come December 25th, but hopefully you’ll have added some muscle at the same time. You can always switch to ‘fat burning’ mode during January right?

Life’s too short after all.

Over to you…

What are your goals for the impending ‘Silly Season’?
Think you’ll switch to muscle-gain, fat-loss or maintenance? Comment below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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