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Guilty Holiday Pleasures

Gym memberships see a huge uptick in January.  In addition to resolutions, the holidays often get the best of our cravings and guilty food pleasures, leaving us eager to start the New Year seeking to erase December indulgences.  The Christmas/Chanukah stretch is especially tough on our best dietary intentions.

Recovery Methods From The Holiday Gorge

Common wisdom has us “burning off” our calories after the fact; hitting the treadmill hard the morning after Christmas.  While there’s some merit to this method, there is actually an alternate approach that may be better suited for some.

The activity of exercising – primarily intense interval training (short bursts of explosive activity) and heavy resistance training – kick starts a rebuilding process in the body.  The activity of exercise itself is catabolic in nature, meaning it breaks down muscle fibers and other cellular components.  It’s not until we enter into our recovery phase where we begin to see anabolic (growth) effects, some time after the exercise has been completed.  This is why we’ve all heard about the “post-workout meal” as being an important consideration.  If we’re thoughtful in how we tackle post-workout feeding, we can (depending upon our goals) yield improved gains as compared to a less conscientious approach.

An Alternate Approach

Glycogen is a currency of energy our bodies use for rigorous endeavors.  Whether we’re lifting heavy weights, pedaling on a bike to near exhaustion, or holding a static pose to the point of near failure – you’ll be tapping into your finite stores of glycogen for fuel should these bursts of output fall into the 10-90 second range.  Our bodies store glycogen in two places: the liver and the muscles.  We burn small amounts of it just going about our daily lives, but depletion truly ramps up under strenuous exercise, with the primary expenditure coming from within the muscles that are being trained.

Glycogen can only be replenished via the consumption of carbohydrates.  And when the exercise is taxing to the point of muscle fatigue, muscle cells will literally send recruiters to the surface of the cell in order to snatch up the first heap of circulating glucose (which is derived from carbohydrate consumption) and pull it back into the muscle cell, creating an anabolic transaction while building back up glycogen stores. See any connection? 

The foods that tend to do us in – cookies, cake, etc. – are generally comprised primarily of high glycemic carbs (i.e. carbs that elevate our blood sugar levels more than we would like).  While we don’t endorse these types of food per se, we all love to indulge, especially when the occasion calls for it.  So, if we’re going to do so, why not try and mitigate the downsides?  By seeking to expend more calories than usual the day after a feast, we’re more or less making an effort to mobilize fats that have been stored from the excess glucose we consumed the day before.  This can be tricky, especially if our activity levels during and after our indulgent meal were fairly non-existent.  Instead, the idea is that if we first exhaust the muscles, then many of those junky carbohydrates can actually assist in the rebuilding process.

Proceed With Caution

We must be clear – for this suggestion to be sound, one must engage in high intensity interval training (aka “HIIT”) or particularly heavy weight training.  If your exercise plan is more akin to a steady-state jog, then this hack is certainly not for you.  And this is by no means a recommended approach for continual usage.  We’re not advocating for the routine consumption of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, although we’d love to be able to get away with doing so. The gist, to reiterate, is that if the plan is to eat outside your norms and engage in some serious food debauchery AND you have the time and know-how to engage in some intense training, it makes more sense to schedule the exercise before the party…not the morning after.

Have a wonderful holiday week!