The popping of logs burning in a fire pit, the cracking of a beer can opening and the tantalizing smell of BBQ food from the grill are all telltale signs it’s summer. While the weather in the summer poses incredible opportunities to get outside and be active, it also taunts you with social gatherings that will sabotage your fitness goals. Unfortunately there seems to be no happy medium for people in this area. Either you’re avoiding every BBQ invitation because you don’t want to be tempted to break your clean eating habits. Or, you’ve said f*** it and you’re going to every get together and thinking to yourself: this winter I’ll get it together nutritionally and have that beach body for next summer.….but then comes Halloween candy followed by Thanksgiving and Christmas cookies… The bottom line is there will always be temptation nutritionally throughout the year; thankfully there are several strategies you can implement that will lessen the blow of summer BBQ’s- as it relates to your fitness goals.
First and Foremost: Avoid the “Nutritional Bender”
No matter how committed you are to your fitness goals, having instances where you just let loose and either drink or eat more than you should is totally normal. The most important thing is to make sure these instances are isolated. In other words, if you get after it with some day drinking followed by all kinds of BBQ food and ice cream, make sure that next day you’re focusing on reigning yourself back in nutritionally- AKA not waking up and going to your favorite pancake spot for breakfast. To isolate yourself from fun times with friends or family, in the name of fitness, is not living your life. Keep in mind that the fitness journey is all encompassing; the laughter and good memories created in these social situations is just as important for your soul, as grilled chicken and brown rice is for your physique. As long as you don’t let the good times keep rolling into a whole week or month’s worth of consistently bad nutritional habits, you’ll still be on track with your health goals.
In order to avoid a nutritional bender, it is imperative that you stave off the “what-the-hell effect,” that tends to lead to extended periods of extremely unhealthy choices. This phrase is credited to dieting researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman and is referenced in the tremendous book, “The Willpower Instinct.” (Thank you to my good friend and fellow personal trainer, Steve Otter, for the great recommendation a few years back) Basically, the concept can be summed up through what I now call the “Oreo effect.” Everyone has been there, where you start with 2 Oreos then next thing you know half the sleeve is gone- then you say to yourself WHAT THE HELL, the diet is already blown; and you proceed to finish the sleeve, if not the package. Two Oreos or even half the sleeve, is not really the issue. It’s the guilt we feel about “blowing our diet” that leads to things getting out of control. The ability to throw the brakes on and resist the additional temptation is the springboard to positive future nutritional choices. In the case of a summertime BBQ, the ability to go home at the end of the night and not order late night greasy food will hopefully lead to you choosing to eat a nutritious breakfast the next morning….now that being said, if you can’t resist the late night fast food, don’t dwell on it- just get yourself back on track the next day and understand that it shouldn’t be an every weekend habit if you’re serious about working towards a fitness goal.
Pick Your Cheats Strategically
Under the umbrella of containing a nutritional bender, sometimes it helps if you strategically pick what areas you’re cheating with. For example, if you get to a BBQ and there’s a mac-n-cheese and a dessert that you know you’re going to go crazy for, it’d be a good idea to limit the amount of empty carbs you’re consuming through alcohol. Limiting your alcohol if you’re planning on crushing carbs through food will make you feel moderately less bloated and allow you a little more flexibility with that second helping of your favorite dish…The opposite is true as well- if you’re down the rabbit hole with drinks, maybe make sure to take it easy on the dessert. Just being mindful of what you are consuming in a social setting is a step in the right direction. Learn to walk the fine line where you’re able to enjoy yourself guilt free while simultaneously keeping your fitness goals in the back corner of your mind.
A healthy lifestyle always involves drinking water as opposed to sugary drinks. The old adage of 8 cups of water per day is largely being scientifically debunked because everyone has individual requirements, however, the fact is: the more water the better (The CDC doesn’t officially have a “water only” intake guideline- only liquids in general). Aside from hydrating you, water also provides satiation- these are two benefits that will prove to be most helpful in navigating a summer party. If you go to an event planning to drink alcohol, or eat a plethora of salty foods, being hydrated upon arrival is imperative. Especially in the summer time because there’s a very good chance you will wind up sweating in addition to the food or drink you consume. So rather than set guidelines for water intake (because again, everyone is different), the best barometer for proper hydration would be when your urine turns clear you can claim to be hydrated. Once you get to the gathering, be sure the H2O consumption doesn’t stop. You will feel infinitely better the next day if you match your alcohol intake with water- every 8 oz of alcohol have about 8 oz of water. This also leads into the satiation effect- the more water you consume at your gathering, the less hungry you will feel. It doesn’t mean you’re going to bypass all food, however, the “feeling full” effect from drinking water may prevent you from circling back for the 2nd or 3rd plate of your favorite dish.
Walk it Off!
It may seem like a habit out of an episode of “Leave it to Beaver” but a great habit to get into after a big cheat meal is to go for a walk. This habit will help regulate your blood sugar and aide in digestion as well. (A German study in 2008 found that a walk as brief as 15 minutes after a meal increases the rate at which food moves through the stomach. And a 2009 study found that a 20 minute walk, 15 minutes after eating, led to lower blood sugar levels across the board) The benefit of lower blood sugar levels is that you will avoid “the crash” that usually comes with a carb filled meal. Now this may be difficult to implement in a party type setting, however, my recommendation would be after you’ve done the bulk of your eating, just find the bathroom and take the long way. It doesn’t need to be a full 20 minute walk, but anything to start the digestion process and drop your blood sugar will be better than nothing.
Advanced Strategy- Workout + “Fast”
This is a strategy that I have personally implemented for years. When I know I am attending a party that will result in some “flexible diet choices,” I make sure to structure my workout in a specific way. Now before I explain my protocol I will start by saying: this is not for everyone. Fasting (not eating for an extended period of time) in general is not something everyone can do. Not eating for an extended period of time can make the blood sugar drop and some people will wind up feeling on the verge of passing out. Personally though, fasting is something I’ve done for several years now with good results. Over time I have learned to cope with any hunger I feel by drinking water or black coffee to get me through the fast. Like anything if you’re interested in doing fasts, you should start with a small window and build to a longer one.
The simplest way to implement the Fast + Workout strategy is as follows: fast from when you wake up, until your workout. About 30-40 minutes before you go to the gym, have either a small pre-workout meal or take your pre-workout supplement. Then after your workout you can have a protein shake to aid in recovery. Aside from the supplements surrounding your workout, continue to fast from that point until the party…In a perfect world, your workout would end about 2-3 hours before your party, in which case the calories you consume will be within the post-workout window and go directly towards recovery. This means you will be able to absorb the high calories and carbs significantly better. When I implement this strategy exactly as I’ve laid out, I found that the next day I wake up feeling remarkably less bloated than when I eat my normal meals and bypass the gym. Now you can take that basic eating strategy and manipulate it based on your schedule as well as the time of the party.
The second and arguably most important part of this strategy is the workout itself. Using your workout as a way to channel a cheat meal is a great way to find yourself in the gym on a day you wouldn’t normally – such as 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or New Years Eve/Day (holidays that most gyms are open but people skip because it’s written off as a holiday). No matter how your workouts are broken up, or what your goals are, your holiday workout routine should have 2 components: high volume and a metabolic finisher.
High volume means more sets and more reps- so anything from 4-6 sets and 5-20 reps with 60-90s. rest would fall under this category. Personally I almost always do a lower body workout on holiday lifts because the compound moves (Squats/Deadlifts) have such a great metabolic effect (in other words they cause you to burn fat long after you’ve left the gym). Even though Squats and Deadlifts are classified as lower body moves, you’re also engaging your upper body and core to perform them properly, so they provide more bang for your buck than if you were to just do isolation moves. After my compound move(s) are done, I hit a whole slue of single leg work, which again, has a much greater metabolic effect. When the workout is all said and done, a good goal would be 20-30 total working sets…excluding the finisher!
Your finisher can involve anything from kettlebells, battle ropes, medicine balls, tire flips, TRX straps, bands or even light dumbbells. Whatever exercises you choose, you should arrange in a circuit and perform for a set time for a set number of rounds. The benefit of a finisher again is metabolic. You’re going to be burning fat hours after you’ve left the gym by doing a tabata style finisher..I usually recommend the following parameters:
- 6-8 exercises
- 20-30 second working sets
- 10-15 s. rest between exercises
- Repeat 3-5 rounds
- 60 seconds rest between rounds
As always, start with less and build to more, depending on how your body responds! The workout + fast option is certainly not for everyone, but if you’ve ever done a fasted workout, you may want to give this a shot. It is truly night and day how much better you’ll feel the morning after a day’s worth of bad nutritional choices if you correctly implement this strategy…DISCLAIMER– you can’t out train a bad diet. So you can’t implement this method on a daily or weekly basis and expect to have results. The whole mindset going into a big cheat that normally occurs at a party is to “weather the storm” so to speak. The Workout + Fast is a great way to control the damage you’re doing nutritionally, but understand there is still damage being done- your body will just absorb the bad calories a little better by implementing this strategy. The bottom line is this: the value of this method is, you will feel less like sh*t when you wake up the next day. The better you feel the next morning, the more likely you’ll be to make positive food choices going forward- ultimately resulting in successfully avoiding the nutritional bender I mentioned earlier.
Go Try It!
The next BBQ/Holiday party try one of these strategies out! Even if none of them actually come to fruition, the notion that you’re aware of what you’re putting into your body and the ability to get back on track quick is a big win to start. Remember to take baby steps and don’t dive right into the workout with a fast. Live your life, and enjoy the summer months. These are some of the best months of the year, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about the flexible nutritional choices you make, but you should also not let it derail you from your fitness goals- short or long term.
Yours in Fitness & Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass