Sports Nutrition

The Holidays

For many people, the annual month-plus-long stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is worse than a sticking point — it’s a major step back that wipes out months of progress because you’re skipping the gym entirely and going for seconds and thirds at every office party and family meal. The culprit is often an all-or-none mentality: I’m either going to eat whatever I want and put exercise off until January or stay strict with my diet and not miss a single workout. When these are the two choices, the former usually prevails. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can enjoy the holidays without losing all the gains you worked so hard for during summer and fall. “One of the things I tell my clients around holiday time is to at least maintain,” says Robert Ciresi, a certified personal trainer at A Taylored Body gym in Riverside, California. “You don’t always have to be pushing to lose weight. Maintaining what you already have can be a really good goal.”

If this sounds like a defeatist attitude, trust us, it’s not. It’s about approaching a challenging time of year with the right mindset to avoid a training setback and possibly even take a step forward in an area of weakness. Ciresi offers the following strategies for weathering the fitness storm this holiday season.

SHIFT YOUR GOALS: If you’re prone to pigging out at holiday gatherings, this is probably not the best time to set a weight-loss goal. You’re going to be eating more than normal anyway, so make this a mass-gaining phase. Program your workouts for hypertrophy with a classic bodybuilding scheme: three to four exercises per muscle group, three to four sets of eight to 12 reps each, hitting each bodypart one to two times weekly. 

“Shift your focus away from the weight scale or being lean for the month,” Ciresi says. “I have so many people come to me and say they want to add size, but they’re not eating enough. During the holidays I’m sure they will be, with all the parties and extra calories.”

“PEAK” FOR THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS: Athletes regularly peak in their training, working up to high volume/intensity over weeks or months before backing off with a tapering or deloading phase. You can, too. If you know you’re going to miss gym time while traveling for a holiday vacation, build up to a high training workload before the break so that you’ve essentially “earned” an off week and some nutritional leeway for a major feast. 

“Because these holidays fall at the end of the month, use the two or three weeks prior to kind of ‘prep’ for the meal,” Ciresi says. “Knowing you already did all that work and can afford to eat this big meal might take some pressure off your mind.”

SET YOURSELF A CHALLENGE: Last November and December, Ciresi completed strength coach Dan John’s “10,000 Swing Kettlebell Workout” challenge — 10,000 swings with a 53-pound kettlebell in four weeks. We’re not recommending you try this, but it’s a good example of a specific, volume-based goal you can establish in a given month to stay focused on your training without being bogged down by a program that requires going to the weight room five days a week. Set an ambitious yet realistic goal for one or more exercises that can be done outside the gym. For example: Complete 1,000 push-ups, 1,000 sit-ups and 1,000 bodyweight squats in the month of December. Reps can be broken up in any fashion, as long as they’re completed before January 1. 

“Now the goal is something different than just losing weight or hitting a big squat number,” Ciresi says. “I’m not going to be concerned about weight or PRs in the gym. I’m going to enjoy my holidays, but in the meantime, hey, I did 1,000 push-ups this month.”