With the festive season approaching and the temptation to overeat stronger than ever, it can be hard to stick to a balanced diet. Luckily, Freeletics Training and Nutrition Specialist, Felix, has a couple of tips on what we can do to prevent that Christmas feast from doing some serious and unnecessary damage.
At a time when professional and private stress levels are at an all time high, Christmas can be an unwanted additional stress. As the days become shorter and sunlight is a rare occurrence, people are more likely to lose motivation. With a rush of work deadlines, a jam-packed social schedule and the need to go Christmas shopping, it’s easy to skip exercise, and kid yourself you’ll return to it in the new year - we’ve all heard that before. At the same time, this is when nutrition often takes a backseat to indulgent festive dinners and hearty evening meals. Combined with reduced exercise, this can easily become a recipe for weight gain and loss of fitness and unhappiness. Nevertheless, we repeat these same patterns year on year, using the festivities as an excuse rather than bracing the cold and training outside. But this year will be different.
The two most noticeable effects of the festive season on our routines are the reduction in workout sessions and the increase in rich, caloric food that we consume. To reduce the risk of both those effects, you need to do just two things:
1. Make your workouts as intense as possible.
What do we mean by an intense workout? In cardiovascular exercise, intensity usually refers to the velocity, incline or resistance experienced during a workout and the intensity of the heart rate, blood lactate and oxygen uptake as a result of this. In resistance training, intensity can refer to what percentage of the 1 rep max a load is and the amount of muscular effort needed to complete a movement against a resistance. In short, intensity refers to the amount of effort needed to complete an exercise, be it aerobic or anaerobic. The more intense your workout, the greater the amount of energy you have to spend during and after the workout to keep your muscles fuelled.
The human body is constantly changing between anabolic and catabolic states. We drive to get to a state of balance (homeostasis) because this enables us to keep all of our physical and biological functions at an optimal level. If we destabilize this important balance – for example, by pushing extra hard to reach a new PB - the body adapts to this new situation and tries to regain its balance. During this period the body uses up its energy reserves and becomes
catabolic. To prepare itself for its next exertion, the body not only restores the “damage” this extra push did, but it also builds up muscle and cardiovascular fitness levels. If we find the right balance between regeneration and taking on new challenges, we can constantly build up on our previous form which will result in the body becoming stronger and fitter over time. This principle is called supercompensation. When we change from a catabolic state to a state in which we are building up or restoring tissue and muscle, the body is enters an
The same principle applies to oxygen consumption. During intense anaerobic physical activity (like HIIT), you often cannot take up enough oxygen for your aerobic system. The higher your deficit on oxygen during the training is, the higher your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is going to be. This means your body will work more to restore adenosine-tri-phosphate (ATP) and creatinephosphate (CP) levels, whilst also getting rid of lactic acid and replenishing glycogen. These all require energy, which necessitates a higher caloric intake.
Exercising also increases body temperature - a more difficult task in winter - and this, in turn, raises your metabolism, meaning that you need to consume more calories to fuel your body.
Enough of the scientific talk, here’s what that really means: The more intense your workout, the more damage you do to your muscles and the more time and food you will need to regenerate. You should aim to maximise your caloric deficit if you want to kick back and enjoy big, festive meals directly after a workout. That means more Freeletics HIIT workouts.
2. Try to eat your largest meal straight after your workout.
The best point of time to refuel with lots of calories is within 90 minutes of finishing your workout, a period of time called the anabolic window. During this time, the body is more capable of sending nutrients directly to where they are needed most; following a workout out, this is usually the muscles. There are several signalling cascade proteins involved in the regulation of energy and protein metabolism not just in our skeletal muscle tissue but throughout the body, including in our nervous and hormone systems. The ability to use and restore those pathways to enable the uptake of relevant nutrients is important for muscle strength, power and overall performance. Your body can actually even tolerate bad nutrients to a certain degree, as its reserves are so depleted that it will take energy from any source to regain strength and rebuild muscle. Leaving your main meal for longer than 90 minutes after your last workout means that your food will head to your fatty cells and store energy for the next time you’re hungry. There’s no need to restore muscle cells as the glycogen stored in these muscles hasn’t been taken up.
So, to recap: this holiday season, keep your workouts tiring, strenuous and intense and your meals healthy, nutrient-packed and directly after your training sessions. When finding yourself in front of a gigantic festive meal, next to the Christmas tree or surrounded by delicious sweets on a Christmas market, don’t feel like you can’t indulge yourself a bit, as long as you have paid your dues at workout time.
(1) Steele, J. (2014). Intensity; in-ten-si-ty; noun. 1. Often used ambiguously within resistance training. 2. Is it time to drop the term altogether?. Br J Sports Med, 48(22), 1586-1588.