It’s normal to worry about the impact the holiday season might have on your diet. You’ve been working hard and made progress over the course of the year. With each rep, set, and bite of chicken, you’ve moved one step closer to your goal. But seasonal cheer and yuletide greetings typically bring parties, pastries, and plenty of temptation. Not to mention, longer nights and shorter days make staying in a much cozier option than getting up and braving the cold to train! This year, don’t let the holiday season sabotage your gains, lead to overindulgence, or sap your training motivation.
1. ALWAYS PLAN AHEAD
When it comes to maintaining your diet and workout plan over Christmas and New Year’s, you simply won’t make it if you don’t plan ahead. Before you gorge on a breakfast of eggnog-soaked French toast, think smart: Don’t blow everything at breakfast! Instead, rearrange your calories for the day so that you have some evening leeway for a party or big feast, and opt for a whey protein shake rather than a carb-heavy meal to keep hunger at bay beforehand.
Try thinking about what you’ll be eating at a party or social dinner, and building your nutrition around that. If you know you’ll be enjoying some calorie-dense foods or beverages, keep your intake light early in the day so that you don’t blow your budget. This way, you can socialize and enjoy time with friends and loved ones while sticking to your fitness goals.
2. IMPROVISE YOUR WORKOUTS
As holiday obligations arise, sticking to your normal workout routine can start to feel like an impossible mission, but a busy social life is no get-out-of-jail free card. A hectic schedule doesn’t give you a pass to skip getting your sweat on. You want to make your workout happen, whether or not the circumstances are ideal. Remember, the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do. Your workout doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re crunched on time or limited by resources, make alterations where you see fit. Improvise using body weight exercises at home if you need to.
If you were planning to train a particular body part or skill but don’t have much time, you can turn your regular workout into a quick circuit, or switch from standard sets to supersets. Both techniques will help you maximize your time in the gym so you can get in, get out, and enjoy the holidays.
3. AVOID SITTING FOR LONG PERIODS
The holidays are all about parties and visits with family and friends, but when you’re not tearing up the dance floor, you might often find yourself plopped on the sofa. Sitting around at gatherings with families and friends for an hour here and an hour there—especially when combined with a sedentary 9-5 job—can add up to hours on end with little movement.
Add in those nights you’d rather cozy up in front of the fireplace than brave the cold, and you could be developing a pattern. You want to make sure that you keep moving and avoid TV binges for hours at a time. Do your best to keep moving, even if that means being active at home by doing some house cleaning, turning up the music and dancing, or doing a short bodyweight circuit in your living room.
4. USE THE COLD TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
If you’re courageous enough, venture outside to knock out your cardio in the cold. This is one case where being a snow bunny could benefit you, because you might get an extra calorie bump from cold-weather training. Your body uses a considerable amount of energy to warm up the air you breathe as well as maintain core temperature. Plus, if you wear a lot of heavy gear out in the cold, your body can burn a few more calories carrying the extra weight of clothes, boots, or a heavy jacket.
5. NAVIGATE PARTIES WISELY
Staying hydrated is key, especially if you tend to find yourself with a cocktail in one hand and a sugary morsel in the other. If you must splurge, at least eat some fibrous foods in between. Your best part-nosh bets? Between cocktails, have water, hummus, or a handful of nuts. You want to be satiated, but not stuffed.
Beyond that, moderation is key. If the cheese and crackers or deviled eggs are calling your name—or your Aunt Joan swears up and down you must try her famous dish—just sample it. A small serving size can often go a long way.
6. TRY HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT)
HIIT can be a saving grace around the holidays. It’s faster than low-intensity cardio and just as effective, if not more. If you’re looking for ways to get in a quick, 10-minute sweat session, try doing interval training on a cardio machine by alternating 30-second bursts of running and walking. Or take a look at my personal favorite HIIT workout.
Not only will this cardio session burn calories and help keep you trim, it will also keep you mindful of what you put in your body. More often than not, once you’ve trained hard and put in some work for the day, you’re less likely to eat poorly.
7. TRY HEALTHIER RECIPES
Try finding healthy alternatives to some of your traditional holiday favorites. It’s a win-win! You’ll still get to partake in social gatherings, but without the extra calories. With so many different healthy recipes available, there’s no reason you can’t find one that will make both your taste buds and diet plan happy!
8. GET YOUR GOALS IN CHECK NOW
Most people set goals for the New Year, meaning they essentially write off’ December and let themselves slack until January first. Why wait until next year to start your health and fitness goals? Write your goals down now, and get everything lined up and ready to go!
While you may have to modify your goals slightly due to the nature of the holiday season, have some markers in place that you can hit every day, like tracking your meals, eating under a certain number of calories, hitting one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, or doing cardio a certain number of times per week.
9. TRY ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF KEEPING FIT
If you’ve got lots of friends and family in town for the holidays, don’t feel like you have to go it alone at the gym. Consider alternative methods of getting fitness into your routine. Skiing, skating, running a 5K, or playing Wii or Xbox Kinect with your friends are all great ways to incorporate activity into the holiday schedule. If you start having more fun with fitness this holiday season, staying active won’t feel so much like work!
10. DRINK UP BEFORE YOU GO
You probably know not to overdo it on the booze, but it’s also important to make sure you drink enough water before the festivities. Water is necessary for the body to function at its optimal level, and it can help calm a false sense of hunger.
I find that if I keep a big bottle of water and make it a point to drink large volumes while I’m prepping holiday meals or planning activities throughout the day, I feel full much faster. Filling up beforehand will shut down the pigouts, making it easier to stick to your diet plan. If you tire of plain water, try adding a few slices of lemon, some fresh berries, or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to add a hint of flavor and support your recovery.