The Festive Season is upon us. While it’s a time to be merry, it’s worth keeping in mind what you are consuming. On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition we look at the dangers of weight gain over this time of year. We also look at options for keeping it clean and bearing in mind the impact of your indiscretions. There is still time to let go a “little” bit.
David Katz: The festive season is upon us and for many people that means over-indulgence. Not just one day, but many days. If you are training for a big event or you have something on the horizon or you’ve been very good throughout the year, there can be negative effects to do something like that. We talk about there is time to treat yourself and of course there is, but everything in moderation.
On this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, Mark Wolff is with us once again. Mark, I want to look at healthier options. Often these things can be very heavy, very nutrient dense. Almost taking in way too many calories and a lot of people do. It’s not a myth, people tend to put on weight over the festive season.
Mark Wolff: I think it’s a big problem. A lot of people come to me in January and say: I’ve put on 4-5kg over the December period and I need to lose it quickly. To put on that amount of weight over that period is crazy. Especially if you’re an athlete and it is the peak season. January/February/March are very big peak racing seasons.
So even guys that are doing Comrades they like to build-up quite a nice base through December. Again, remember, when you are overweight, it can lead to injury. Especially if you’re doing volume because you’re putting more excessive weight on your joints, especially if you’re a runner. If you try speed work at a heavier weight, then you’re just asking for trouble.
Moderation is the key this Festive Season
I think the question is, how do you cope with the festive season? I think the big answer is moderation. In other words, don’t overdo it. First of all, a lot of people eat out quite a fair amount. I would say try and eat out less, try make your own meals as much as possible. Keep the eating out as infrequent as possible.
When you are eating out at family or friends, I think over the season, again, try and make sure that you’re able to identify the foods that agree with you. Try again, keep those foods healthy. Obviously there’s always cakes and desserts etc, and alcohol at a lot of functions.
Just try and be responsible and look at consuming alcohol in moderation. As opposed to going for lots of beer, maybe rather go for a little bit of hard liquor. Maybe one glass or a glass of wine here or there is probably a lot better than drinking 5-6 pints of beer.
When it comes to desserts, again, a lot of people will tend to have desserts on a daily basis. Again, if you know that you are going out or you know that you’re going to a function, keep the meals as clean as possible. So that when you do go out and have a dessert or a cheat meal, it is just that. A dessert or a cheat meal.
A lot of people come to me and they say to me: Can I have a cheat day? I don’t believe there’s such a thing. There’s not a cheat day because that can really put havoc into the week. I think one treat meal is more than sufficient. If you keep that in mind, by eating cleanly and then having a cheat meal, you should be okay. Another thing is don’t make a cheat meal every single day
Try keep a food journal this Festive Season
If you really want to monitor your food intake and see how you’re doing, why don’t you actually record a food journal? To me that’s amazing. Recording a food journal is the best way that you can get an accurate measure of what you’ve been consuming.
A lot of people think that they’re eating healthily until they actually write down what they’ve been eating in a day, two or three days and over a weekly period. After an entire week when you go and review what you have eaten, that you think has been healthy. You’ll actually see that probably it could be landing up to be 60-70% of un-healthiness.
Again, that’s another way of keeping yourself in check, is by actually writing down everything that you eat and drink each day. Then reviewing it each night before you go to sleep and then saying, wow, I overdid it today. Tomorrow I really need to make sure that I eat clean and it’s a nice way of driving you forward. Training your stomach according to what your journal says and using that as your major guide each day.
DK: Mark, in the southern hemisphere it’s very strange, we tend to have this, both in Australia and South Africa. This heavy Christmas lunch, more winter time northern hemisphere tradition. But you don’t have to stick to that. What about having something like a seafood lunch? Because generally, look, depending on how you cook, but seafood can be a lighter and healthier option.
Lean proteins are a great Festive Season choice
MW: I agree with that Dave. I think that when you’re looking at proteins, lean proteins like fish or chicken. Definitely are much lighter and easier on the stomach as opposed to heavy meat. That’s another thing when it comes to the end of the year, more people are having braais. They’re having a lot of red meat all the time. Then again, it’s not just about the protein, but it’s about what you’re consuming with it.
I always tell people, if you’re going to go and eat red meat, then maybe try and have a salad with it. But then you’ll get somebody who looks at me and says: No, I don’t have red meat without my baked potatoes or my pap. I guess it’s a very difficult thing.
Again, look at those meals from a holistic point of view. See exactly what you’re consuming with what and again, try and keep those unhealthy meals in moderation. Because you are going to land up consuming excessive calories and you’ll land up paying the price for it when the new year starts.
DK: Calories aside, another problem, a lot of athletes try and avoid eating too much red meat. They stick more to fish and chicken and the leaner proteins over the space of the year. Red meat, when you’re not used to it, can wreak a bit of havoc with your system as well can’t it?
MW: Look, I’m not a big red meat eater and because of that, if I do eat red meat, there’s no ways I’m going to be doing a long or hard training session the next day. Because it does impact me quite significantly. People look at me strange because if I do order a meat, I generally go for the 100g or the 150g fillet. I don’t go for the 300-500g sizes.
Don’t let those heavy meals drag you down
The thing is, your stomach is basically close to the size of a fist and it just expands as you put food into it. I always say to people, if you consume small amounts, you’ll feel lighter. You can spread those meals over a longer period. I prefer eating like that as opposed to eating one big meal and making it so heavy. It’s just going to drag you around all the time.
One of the things about protein which a lot of people don’t realise is that the body is only capable of processing and absorbing a certain amount. That’s generally between 20-30g per serving, net protein we’re obviously talking about.
If you over-consume protein, your body is just going to go and process what it can, the rest will eventually be converted into glucose. If your glycogen stores are topped up, it’s just going to be stored as fat. People think that eating meat doesn’t cause weight gain. But it causes and excessive amount of weight gain.
It’s not just the fat that’s in the meat, it’s actually the excessive amount of protein that you’re eating. It can also lead to health issues. Again, keep the portions smaller, portion sizes are quite something that I’m a big fan of. Your body will tell you whether you’re hungry or not. If you just take a massive portion and you eat it quite quickly, you’re going to feel very bloated and heavy afterwards. It does take time for these foods to digest and you’ll realise, no, I over-ate.
If you go for a much smaller portion and you leave it for a little bit of time. For 20-30 minutes and you’re sitting there and you think, okay, I’m not full, I’m still a little bit hungry. Then you can go and have a little bit more. But at least that way you’re pacing yourself a lot better and you’re not overdoing it.
DK: If you traditionally do a big Christmas Eve meal or a big Christmas lunch, that’s some valuable advice. Have less and then you can always snack on stuff throughout the day and days to come, which is some great advice. Especially in the Southern Hemisphere again, we are event heavy at this time of year, especially going into January/February/March, some big events happening.
In South Africa alone you might be training for the Cape Epic, you might be training for Two Oceans and Comrades. So you’re getting back into the swing of those pre-races and your big training weeks and the same. We’ve got our 70.3 down in East London at the end of January. So all those gains you’ve been doing in the weeks leading up to the festive season can be lost.
A lot of people will take a bit of time off training, maybe a week, maybe two weeks. They’ll cut back the training, get through that time of the year, then pick it up. You basically want to treat diet in the same way if you cut back because also you’re doing less training. So you really need to be watching what you are eating over those two weeks. Don’t completely cut it out, but you really do need to be cognitive of the fact that you’re doing less training.
You can’t out-train a bad diet
MW: I agree with that 100%. Even Tim Noakes has said, you can train as hard as you want, but you just can’t out-train a bad diet. That’s 100%, that’s spot on. You definitely cannot out-train a bad diet. But the problem is when you stop training and your diet is bad, you’re putting yourself in a really precarious position.
First of all, when it comes to nutrition, we did something called BMR, which is your base metabolic rate. Generally we’d look at how many calories you’re burning off at rest. You want to take in fewer calories than you’re burning off at rest in order to be able to make sure that you’re not gaining a large amount of weight.
That depends on age, it depends on your body weight, it depends on the level of activity etc. When you stop training, your diet needs to follow suit. There’s no doubt, you need to reduce the intake. You don’t need these recovery meals anymore. You don’t need to justify that I deserve a treat meal because you haven’t exercised. A lot of people do that post-exercise as well.
You really need to take control and this is where the problem starts is when you actually tone down your training and you start to consume excessively. That’s where the major problems start, that’s where the weight gain comes in very quickly.
You need to be far more careful when you stop training and take a rest from training. You need to be far more careful about your diet than when you are training. What I say to people as well is that, people say to me: I’m not training, I’m taking a break. I say: Well actually, you are training.
They say: No, I’m not training. I say: You are training; you’re training your gut every single day. You’re not training your legs and you’re not training your arms, you’re training your stomach and that’s where your focus needs to shift.
DK: Whatever your plans are over the next couple of weeks, do take note of what you are putting in your system. You might be cutting back your traditional training of the event you are training for, but there are other ways to keep active.
If you’ve got the kids with you, find ways to keep active because it will help. Thanks for joining Mark Wolff and myself, Mr Active, David Katz on another edition of 32Gi Sports Nutrition. We’ve got some great content coming up for you in the next edition of the show.