Most people look at their calendar this time of year in giddy anticipation of all the family gatherings and office parties to come. Some, however, are instead seized by a looming sense of dread, able only to focus on the stressful logistics of travel and the nutritional minefields that loom this month. It doesn’t have to be that way. Breathe deep and read on — there’s hope yet for us health-and-fitness-minded basket cases during the holidays.
1. Squeeze in Workouts
Whether you’re traveling around town, heading to the train station for a long haul or getting ready to play host, the holiday schedule can make it tough to get your workouts in. So first, train early — waking up 20 to 30 minutes earlier to train will ensure that you are burning more fat for fuel and that the rest of your day is free for yuletide cheer. Also, in lieu of a gym trip — which can require a lot of commute time — consider equipment-minimal, at-home workouts using a TRX system, resistance bands, jump ropes or your own bodyweight. Next month, you can get back to your 90-minute sessions. Right now, it’s just important to get workouts in.
2. Blunt Appetite
Your aunt’s biscuits and gravy are the stuff of legend. They’re also a minefield of salt, butter and blood-sugar-terminating carbs. It’s the holidays, so we won’t say don’t eat them, but if you want to cut your portions, mix in a good high-intensity workout before mealtime. Research shows that tough workouts can blunt — not eliminate — appetite in the hours following the final rep. You also can down 16 ounces of water immediately before putting biscuit to mouth — studies show that this helps you feel fuller faster.
3. Airport Eats
If your winter schedule calls for a lot of air travel, you need to be prepared for a lack of healthy food options at the terminal. Instead of heading to the Golden Arches, gravitate toward healthier grab-and-go fare — harder, but not impossible, to find. Many airports have kiosks that peddle fresh fruit, yogurt or even bottled smoothie blends (or hard-boiled eggs, if you’re really lucky) that can tide you over until your flight is called. Your best defense against airport food is to pack your own healthy snacks. Opt for shaker cups packed with protein powder (add water once past security), protein-packed, calorie-rich (raw) nuts, small amounts of dried fruit and protein bars.
4. Manage Stress
No matter how painful it is to talk politics with your father-in-law or how much your brother’s kids drive you nuts, you have to find healthy ways to mitigate stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, kills muscle gains and can signal your body to store your holiday bounty as fat. You can reduce its effects by getting more sleep, reducing caffeine intake and keeping workouts regular. Studies also show that taking 200 to 400 micrograms of chromium per day can keep cortisol in check. (Also, just nod politely at your dad-in-law and smoothly shift the subject to sports.)
5. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Don’t be that person who’s talking about dieting while people are passing the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. It’s the holidays, for crying out loud — have at least a little fun. The handful of celebratory indulgences during this time will not be your physique’s undoing. And if you happen to gain an inch or a few pounds, we’ll be here to help you get back on track next month!