5 Tips to Staying Healthy and Strong During the Holidays

Isn’t it funny how four weeks of holiday parties, family dinners, and other assorted festivities can sabotage 11 months of gains? Well no, actually. One of the reasons that so many people include “get stronger,” “go to the gym more,” or “lose weight” in their New Year’s resolutions is because of the excesses of the Christmas season. But digging yourself into a diet and nutrition hole in December is by no means inevitable, and if you’re able to maintain good habits most of the time, you can blast into January ahead of your growth curve. Here’s a quick guide to navigating the curveballs so that you maintain and even improve your health and strength, keep colds and flu at bay, and go into the New Year primed to crush 2020.

How to stay strong and health during the holidays

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1. Be Consistent

My Waterman 2.0 co-author and co-founder of The Ready State Dr. Kelly Starrett often says, “Be consistent, then we can talk about being heroic.” What he means is that putting in a moderate amount of high quality work day in and day out will eventually yield better results than going all out on Monday and then being too sore to try again until Friday. So while you might not be able to get in a full workout as often as you’d like over the coming weeks, you should still try to get at least something purposeful done in the gym. Picking two exercises, like the single-arm kettlebell swing and Turkish get-up combo Pavel Tsatsouline advocates for in his book Simple and Sinister, is a tried and true approach. Or pair up squats and pullups, lunges and dips, and farmer carries and plate twists. The focus should be on quality, not quantity.

2. Be Realistic

If you know that you have your work Christmas party coming up tomorrow evening and that you’re likely to have a couple of beers (more on this in a moment), then planning a 5 PM workout is probably not the best plan. Instead, shift your session to the morning and make it one of the lighter ones for the week. The same goes with travel. If you’re crossing time zones or even heading overseas, there’s no sense in putting in a monster back squat or deadlift effort right before you fly, because that lack of leg room is really going to come back to bite you when you get off at your destination. So before a flight or long road trip, focus on movement and mobility instead of crushing yourself. You can extend such realistic planning to your entire holiday calendar, and strategize appropriately.

3. One is Good, Two is OK, Three is Too Many

It’s all too easy to overdo it on the alcohol during the Christmas period, isn’t it? Whether it’s single malt with your dad and uncles or a few pints with your friends, a quick drink can easily turn into an all-nighter that leaves you feeling like crap for a couple of days. A long time ago, a good friend shared with me his personal rule for avoiding such seasonal excess: “One drink is good, two is OK, three is too many.” You don’t have to be a party pooper or deny yourself completely, but implementing such a policy can save you money and (literally) a headache. And as a bonus, you won’t sabotage whatever training you did earlier in the day, or prevent yourself from working out tomorrow.

4. Follow the 80/20 Rule

I enjoy a big feast at my mother-in-law’s house as much as the next person, but I’ve learned to be more deliberate in exactly what I eat. So thumbs up for the meat and various veggie sides, and thumbs down to that second slice of pie and the plate of Christmas candy that gets passed around afterwards. I’ve also learned to time my training so that holiday meals with family and friends actually benefit me. So sure, I’ll load up on protein, but not until after I’ve made good use of the kettlebell that I’ll be putting in the car as my portable, one-stop gym while we’re away. It’s also beneficial to stick to a sensible yet not tyrannical guideline like the 80/20 rule – eat well for 8 out of 10 meals and do whatever you want for the other two. That way you can enjoy some festive treats without putting on unwanted pounds or sending your blood sugar soaring.

5. Call it a Night

‘Tis the season for cold and flu. So as fun as it might sound to stay out with your buddies until the wee hours of the morning, that’s only going to put your immune system in jeopardy and make you more susceptible to a seasonal sickness. In his fascinating book Peak, my fellow TrainHeroic contributor Marc Bubbs shares research that shows those people who got less than six hours of sleep were four and a half times more likely to get a cold than those who got eight hours or more, while those who got less than seven hours were three times more likely to succumb to sniffles. Not to mention the fact that sleep deprivation will rob you of training gains and limit hypertrophy by lowering your testosterone levels. So when possible, try to turn in a little earlier than you might want to and if you can, sleep in a bit later as well.

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