It’s no secret that the holidays are coming up...
The holidays pose a LOT of stress for many people.
But they don’t need to.
Last year, I shared alllllll of the strategies you can implement to see weight loss during the holiday season because with a good and strategic plan you CAN still see results even during the holiday season. In fact, sometimes I enjoy being in a weight loss phase during the holidays because it’s one extra step of accountability.
This year, though, is going to be different.
This year, I’m going to switch things up a bit and teach you how to use the holidays in your favor.
#1 – Periodization
Your nutrition should be periodized, meaning you have periods of maintenance, deficits, reverse diets, and surpluses. Even if you’re not an elite athlete, this is something that should be factored in because it’s the most effective and easiest way to see results. A lot of people want to build muscle and lose weight...and that can’t be done at the same time.
Build muscle = caloric surplus
Lose weight = caloric deficit
Two opposite directions for two separate goals.
It may seem that some can achieve this, so you may want to write me off....but don’t!
New and novice athletes often can build muscle while losing fat because they’re simply establishing the neural connections to begin with and essentially starting from scratch. For more trained athletes, these connections and pathways are already established, so it’s much less likely to do.
If you already have a good muscle composition and you go into a fat loss phase (meaning a deficit) it will appear that you’re gaining muscle while losing weight, but in reality you’re losing the fat that was hiding already existing muscle...so now it’s just that your muscles are now showing.
Periodization for athletes is a bit more strict and diligent because it’s mostly performance based.
Periodization for the general population simply just wanting to look and feel good is a bit different and is more based on times of convenience and adherence...enter the holidays.
As a coach, I know for the majority of people that the holidays are either...
A time of stress
A time of extra calories
A time of sweets and treats
KNOWING THIS, it would be pretty absurd for me to expect a client to be able to adhere to a reduced intake. As I look at their year, I set the realistic expectation that the holidays are probably a period where adhering to a deficit is going to be difficult. Instead, I simply move that deficit to a more convenient time in the year, like after the holidays or after summer during fall, when stress is lower and motivation and adherence are higher. After the holidays, you’re often mentally in need of a “reset” and have that motivation. You’re also leading up to summer, so this is a perfect time to enter a deficit and lose some weight. During summer, you’re likely vacationing, doing more social things, more cookouts, etc. so maintenance is a perfect time here. Post-summer is usually the next best time for a deficit (if you even need or want one) to prepare for your holiday gaining season. Other than football, life is a bit less hectic and things have slowed down so it’s easier to adhere to a cut better.
Not sure what this looks like? Below is a great schematic breaking it down for you!
Note that this is just one way to periodize your nutrition...but often one that works really well.
#2 – Nutrition
For your nutrition during the holiday season, I recommend periodizing it so that you’re eating MORE calories than maintenance.
That’s right, extra food and as you’ll see less cardio...you might be shocked...but don’t be! Why restrict your food when you don’t have to? Why NOT use the extra available calories in your favor to help you reach your goals? Especially if you’re going to be eating those extra calories anyways and LOSE progress...why not intentionally add in those calories, relieve some stress, and see some progress as a result? Talk about a win-win-win!
Going off of the periodization schematic above, the holiday months will actually be at a higher calorie amount than most of the other times in the year. Yes, actually try going into a surplus, eating more than your maintenance calories.
This surplus is going to depend mostly on your individual TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). Not sure how to find that? Take your body weight and multiply by 14-16. This will give you your maintenance calories. Now, before you immediately start logging your calculated surplus calories, you’re going to want to track your current intake for ~7 days if you haven’t already. If you’re eating >500 calories less than that calculation, you’ll first need to reverse diet. Luckily for you, I’ve written just how to do that. If you’re less than that difference you can easily just bump yourself up to maintenance.
To find your holiday, surplus calories simply just add 100-300 calories. You also can bypass most of these steps and simply multiply your body weight by 18-20. If you don’t have much weight to gain or have a couple of years (5+) of training under your belt, you’re likely going to want to stick to the lower end of the range. If you’re newer to training, relatively lean, or have very little muscle mass, I’d stick to the higher range of things.
To get up to that surplus intake, you can take two routes. You can either just jump up to that surplus caloric intake or somewhat reverse diet by making a couple jumps up to your increased intake.
Now for macros:
For protein, I’d make a slight increase from 1.0g protein/lb body weight to ~1.2g/lb. The reason for this is as you’re adding overall intake (mostly via carbs), you’re likely increasing foods that have trace amounts of protein. Foods like oats, lentils, rice, and quinoa have a few grams of protein in there. Unfortunately, these are less bioavailable and if you don’t increase your overall protein intake, you likely are inadvertently decreasing your bioavailable protein intake.
The minimal amount of fats is 0.2g/lb bodyweight to keep hormones happy and healthy. Adding more fats doesn’t “super optimize” or enhance hormones and in a surplus, fats are more likely to be stored as fats (as compared to protein and carbs which need to get converted before storage).
Factoring these things in, I’d keep fats between 0.3-0.35g/lb bodyweight.
Now what’s left? You know your calories, protein, and fats. Now it’s just some simple math to figure out how many grams of carbs you need to fit the equation. Most of the caloric increase is going to come from carbs...which is perfect for those yummy carb-filled holiday treats.
Now when to add in those calories? You can add in another meal, especially if you’re only eating 3-4 meals/day. You can add a little extra at each meal.
You can use those holiday treats to your advantage and factor those into your macros on occasion. You’ve got the room...might as well put it to use!
#3 – Training
Because we’re trying to gain weight and build muscle, you’re going to want to be prioritizing weights and resistance training.
Fortunately for you, I just realized a very extensive guide to writing your own workouts. So, start following a smart training program and remove the cardio. Not only are you actually going to be feeling better, but you’re going to start growing the muscle you’re looking for and putting those extra calories to good use. It’s likely, too, that if you’ve never followed a weight-training program, that you’re going to be starving...which is great because now you’ve got the extra calories!
This also means that you should remove most of the cardio you’re doing. If this is something you don’t want to do, I’d first consider your “why” and what your ultimate goal is. If it’s building muscle, then you need to throw that cardio out the door and start doing movements and exercise that are going to support that goal. Now it’s okay to swap out most of your cardio for low intensity cardio...mainly in the form of walking, but I’d remove most of the moderate and high-intensity cardio as to not encourage muscle breakdown. If it’s a super non-negotiable, then move your cardio to non-training days or at least 5 hours apart from training.
#4 – Mindset and Challenges
Gaining muscle and eating more food is tough. It’s as mentally challenging, honestly if not MORE.
But it’s also very liberating to lose the necessity for restriction and to realize how little your holiday candy is actually going to “ruin your progress”. This is one of my favorite things I get to do with clients...teach them how much freedom they do have within their diets and free themselves from always having to restrict day in day out.
The biggest concern you could face is sensing the newfound freedom and leading into and unrestricted 3 month-long binge...which is NOT this. This is a controlled 100-300 calorie surplus...which honestly is NOT a lot...just enough to see some gooooood gaining results.
If this is something that you’re very concerned about, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a coach during these holiday months to keep you accountable and on the right track.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.