Let’s face it, when the holidays roll around, the furthest two things from your mind are diet and exercise. But, if you want to avoid the same fate suffered by millions each year (unwanted holiday weight gain) you’d do well to at least try to eat somewhat healthy and maintain some semblance of physical activity.
And, while exercise brings with it a world of benefits (emotionally, mentally, physically, etc.), one thing it can’t do is rescue you from a crappy diet.
In other words, you can’t out-train a bad diet.
If you’re serious about avoiding the fat gain over the holidays, but don’t want to stress about micromanaging your macronutrient intake, logging foods in MyFitnessPal, or weighing every bite of food with a scale, then you’re in luck!l
Use the following diet tips and quick, metabolism-boosting workouts to limit excess fat gain during the hectic holiday season all the while enjoying (a few) winter cocktails and decadent desserts.
Best Nutrition & Fitness Tips to Stay Lean During the Holidays
Pile on the Protein
Of all the foods you eat this holiday season, priority #1 isn’t grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookies (those are #2). Your top dietary priority during the holidays is protein, lots and lots of protein. Why is protein so important?
You are made of it for starters. Protein provides the foundation and structure of your body along with essential amino acids required to repair, build, and grow muscle tissue and organs. Without consuming adequate protein each day, your body turns to your muscles for the amino acids it needs and begins tearing them down.
In other words, without protein, you’d be a squishy sack of fat, water, and sugar.
But there’s more.
Protein is also highly satiating, and by consuming enough protein at mealtime, you’ll help limit hunger pangs in between meals, reducing the chances that you’ll binge on a bunch of sugary foods.
Protein is also “expensive” to digest for your body, meaning that to break it down into its amino acid components, your body must burn more calories to disassemble it than either carbohydrates or fat.
So, when sitting down to those epic family feasts, one thing that you do NOT want to pass on is the protein.
HIIT it Before Eating
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been and continues to be a major buzzword in the world of fitness, and for a good reason.
It’s one of the best “bang for your buck” forms of training when it comes to maximizing calorie burning and minimizing time spent exercising. Essentially when performing hit, you rotate between periods of all-out effort and active rest (recovery). You bounce back and forth between these two intensities for 15-30 minutes, and you’ve revived your metabolism, crushed some calories, and freed up some room for more delicious carbohydrates.
As you’re probably aware, glycogen is your body’s stored form of carbohydrate. High-intensity interval training (as well as resistance-training) rely primarily on glycogen.
So, by performing some high-intensity workouts (like the ones listed below), you can burn off some of your carbohydrates stores, creating a “carb sink” of sorts, and freeing up room for the mouthful of carbohydrates you’ll be shoveling down come meal time.
And, if you’re under the misguided notion that eating carbohydrates inherently leads to fat gain, realize this.
Your body will not store carbohydrates as fat until after its glycogen stores have been replenished. So, by performing some high-intensity training bouts before eating, you help deplete carb stores in the body, which reduces the likelihood that the carbs you do eat will be converted and stored as fat.
Change Your Definition of “Working Out”
So often we tend to get mired down in our typical way of doing things or looking at things from a certain point of view — including our view of an approach to fitness and “working out.”
To most of us, being fit and working out means going to the gym, lifting weights, and performing regular bouts of cardio on a machine such as the elliptical or treadmill.
Now, don’t get us wrong, these are all fine forms of exercise and can be particularly effective for building muscle and burning fat. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are the only way to improve your health, wellness, and fitness. Furthermore, a workout doesn’t necessarily have to be one that leaves you huffing and puffing on the floor, sucking serious wind.
A holiday workout could easily be going on a long hike in the snow with your family, friends, and/or significant other. Other outdoor winter activities that could check the “fitness” box for the day include ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, or even chasing each other around throwing snowballs.
Hell, even shoveling snow can burn a few hundred calories if you do it long enough!
If you’re in regions that don’t get much snow, you have even more options at your disposal, including:
- Rock climbing
- Hill Sprints
- Climbing stairs
- Bodyweight workouts at the park
- Outdoor Yoga
- Pick up games of basketball, football, kickball, etc.
- Chop wood
The options are endless. The main point is to get outside, get your body moving, and have some fun!
Detach yourself from the thinking of the conventional, and you’ll quickly realize there’s a whole world of fun physical activities awaiting you that could easily qualify as a “workout.”
Top 3 Fat-Blasting 15-Minute Workouts
Workout #1 — Bodyweight Burner
Bodyweight workouts are fantastic for the sheer fact that you can do them anywhere — no weights, no gym — just you, gravity, and Mother Earth.
If you’ve got a sturdy branch nearby, you’ve got a place to do pull-ups too! If you don’t have a thick tree branch close by, then remove pull-ups from the following bodyweight circuit and substitute jumping jacks instead.
For the bodyweight circuit, you will perform one exercise at the beginning of every minute. Perform each exercise listed below for 40 seconds and rest the remaining 20 seconds. Keep track of your reps and aim to complete more reps the next time you perform this workout.
- Pull Ups
- Jump squats
- Diamond Push Ups
- Reverse Lunges (Right Leg)
- Chin Ups
- Reverse Lunges (Left Leg)
- Push Ups
- Side-to-Side Skater Jumps
- Side Plank (Right)
- Side Plank (Left)
- Lateral Lunges (Right Leg)
- Lateral Lunges (Left Leg)
- Mountain Climbers
- Bodyweight Squats
Workout #2 — Total Body Dumbbell Shredder
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, resting as little as possible in between each exercise. After completing one round of the circuit, rest 60-90 seconds before beginning the next round.
Complete as many rounds as possible (while maintaining good form) in 15 minutes.
- Hammer curl to overhead press
- Romanian Deadlift (hip hinge) to dumbbell row
- Front squats (dumbbells held in racked position)
- Alternating reverse lunges
- Farmer’s walk
Workout #3 — Kettlebell Chaos
Set a timer for 15 minutes.
Perform as many rounds of the kettlebell circuit as possible within the time limit, resting only when needed between circuits.
- 10 kettlebell swings
- 10 kettlebell goblet squats
- 10 kettlebell sumo deadlift high pulls
- 10 alternating goblet hold reverse lunges (5 each leg)
The holidays are a time to relax, unwind, and celebrate. At the same time, the holidays are not the time to completely go off the rails of your diet and exercise program. Use these tips and short, intense workouts above to avoid unwanted fat gain and maintain your fitness without having to stress or sweat the small stuff.
And at the end of the day, realize that even if you miss a whole week of workouts, you’re not going to lose all of the gains you made over the past 12 months. Sure, you might be a bit slower or more easily fatigued from taking an entire week away from training, but the mental break can do a world of good.