As many long-time lifters know only too well, quality gains can come at a veritable snail’s pace yet, with a lack of training consistency, can disappear fast. Indeed, of all the variables responsible for long-term lifting success, consistency with regards to training, nutrition and supplementation is most important. This is not to say that such consistency cannot be put to the test.
The holiday season presents a host of temptations which may derail the gym efforts of many normally devoted trainees. With a disruption to our normal routines and schedules, seasonal commitments pulling us away from the gym, and otherwise off-limits foods and drinks tempting us wherever we go, it can be difficult to maintain, or ideally further build upon, the great progress we had achieved throughout the year.
It seems a shame to spend much of the year meticulously tracking calories, periodizing our training, taking the best supplements and building a physique to be proud of…only for the holiday period to fast undermine all the good work we have done.
While there is nothing wrong with indulging a little over the festive season, there are ways to do so that can keep your progress on track and your body improving into the New Year. The following six strategies have been devised specifically to keep you progressing a time where gains are more likely than ever to come to a standstill.
By following the advice below you can continue look great at a time at which many are going backwards. Better yet, you’ll start 2020 stronger than ever and be well placed to keep the positive momentum going as the New Year unfolds.
To let focus slip for a single second in the gym can result in injury. Most lifters also know how important complete focus is when aiming to correctly target a working muscle. Focus is furthermore immensely important outside of the gym, for it is in proper planning and present moment awareness that we may keep our eyes firmly on each of the steps we must follow to ensure training momentum remains consistent.
As the holiday season approaches, many of us experience a shift in focus. We become less attuned to the various aspects of training and begin to concentrate more on holiday planning, arranging and attending events, time with family and friends, and occasions that involve copious amounts of less than forgiving foods. To keep focus for training strong is not to suggest that any of the above need to be permanently shelved over the holidays. But we do need to separate the good from the bad and prioritize that which promotes positive change.
As would normally be the case, our training life come the festive season needs to be divided into the distinct, though interrelated categories of training, nutrition, supplementation, rest/recovery, and must be kept separate from other aspects of life in order to maintain a healthy life balance. This becomes ever-more important over the holiday season, when there are more conflicting demands competing for our time and energy.
The holiday season is among the worst times to lose focus, as one small slip-up may lead to a succession of missed workouts and an unravelling of one’s dietary habits. So, run your training game as you normally would. Focus on keeping fitness first and when the time is right, train, eat, sleep, supplement and rest like your gains depended on it.
Maintaining complete focus when it counts most is near impossible to do without a solid plan of attack to provide direction and accountability. When in pre-contest mode or training for any other event you would never dream of deviating from your plan. But it seems that the holiday season is a time when training plans are as much a consideration as squats racks are at your local Planet Fitness. And just like the squat rack, a solid plan is an essential prerequisite for impressive, ongoing results.
An effective way to keep training consistent over the holidays is to begin a new training plan, preferably one that is divided into distinct phases and which must be followed from beginning to end in order to fully maximize its effectiveness. A new plan (whether training, nutrition or supplementation) is fresh and exciting and provides an opportunity to kickstart additional progress. Such an incentive increases motivation and encourages adherence.
Changing your training environment can further strengthen this process as different environmental cues can have a profound impact on establishing new habits (whereas old environments may, over time, lead to complacency and less effective outcomes).
Secondly, we become more accountable when an effective plan is in place, which may put us back on-track should we choose to deviate from it. Yet another way to stay accountable to our plan is to inform others of our intention to stay in shape. By making our intentions public we enhance these intentions’ behavioural impact and we more fully commit ourselves to a self-view which takes into consideration how we expect to look and feel upon embarking on our plan.5
Reflect on your plan daily, write up a list of goals that coincide with your plan, tick-off what you have achieved, and chart any progress experienced. Review your goals routinely and repeat them to yourself daily, as doing so will further solidify their effectiveness and keep you more accountable to them.
Having a solid plan and a workable list of goals can, over the holiday season, keep training focus higher than might otherwise be expected. However, having a plan and series of goals will only keep you on task over the long-term when the actions responsible for their achievement become habitual.
Science has shown that our goals are stored in a specific area of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex, and it is in this region that these goals are converted into automatic habits via specialized neural messengers called endocannabinoids (the same messengers that modulate memory, mood, appetite and, as would be expected, the psychoactive effects of cannabis).6
Unfortunately, due to a disruption to one’s normal schedule, many well-established habits may become weakened over the holiday season. The only way to further strengthen these healthy habits is to get the endocannabinoids working overtime and the best way to do this is through consistency of effort.
Set aside specific times to train, eat, and sleep, and stick to them even when you don’t feel like it. The more an action is practiced, the more habitual it becomes. On the other hand, training erratically or haphazardly (i.e., lacking consistency) will likely lead to poor adherence in the long run. Either way, inconsistency can only result in training stagnation and in extreme cases may even lead to a reversal of results.
As mentioned, the holiday season is a time when many of us neglect the very things that keep our training results consistent. Beginning the New Year, the right way, means that we instead need to maintain the practices that got us to where we are now.
One such practice is supplementation, and certain key supplements are nothing short of a Godsend when it comes to making the transition from holiday season to training season as smooth as can be. Here’s my personal favorite supplement stack for providing an edge going into the New Year:
ISOFLEX is a premier whey protein product that’s known for its great taste, purity and digestibility. It’s especially designed to keep muscle growth ongoing when stressful situations are likely to place the body in a catabolic state (i.e., when training at high intensity). Because you’ll be training through the holidays and into the New Year, you’ll need a reliable protein source that always delivers high-grade amino acids to the muscles when it counts most.
Remembering also that you are looking to keep your eating as clean as possible over the holidays, ISOFLEX is perfect in that it’s much lower in lactose, sugars, fats and carbs than other protein powders. ISOFLEX is also useful in reducing appetite to offset the urge to overindulge on those festive treats.1
-Working in conjunction with ISOFLEX is ALLMAX’s patented AMINOCORE, today’s most advanced BCAA product. Highly soluble, rapidly assimilated and with the most desirable ratio of BCAAs for activating and sustaining muscle protein synthesis (not to mention great tasting), AMINOCORE is the go-to amino product for many of today’s most celebrated bodybuilders and strength athletes.
As well as boosting muscle growth (and post workout anabolic hormone levels), AMINOCORE prevents muscle degradation and increases training energy to spark fresh muscle gains.4, 10 Tip: place 1-2 servings in your drink bottle and take it wherever you go to nourish your muscles between meals.
-Unfortunately, many people still associate a high carb intake with excess fat gain. Provided the right kinds of carbs are consumed and nutritionally-inert junk is not consumed at other times, a hefty complement of carbs can, in fact, improve training progress and enhance fat loss above and beyond the current trend of low carb eating.
In fact, a decent ratio of carbs (40-50% of daily caloric intake) can boost muscle growth, enhance testosterone and growth hormone levels, improve fat burning and, of course, provide the energy to power through the toughest workouts.2, 3 With calories from fats, proteins and carbs coming via a range of different foods, it can sometimes be difficult getting enough quality carbs.
CARBION+ provides a concentrated selection of specifically-engineered carb sources to maximize training effectiveness, boost recovery and enhance muscle growth, all without the deleterious effects of many of today’s popular carb-heavy energy drinks.12, 13 Furthermore, this state-of-the-art product includes a full complement of the most effective electrolytes to further enhance all of the above while keeping the body well hydrated (important during the warmer months).8, 9, 11
–Go easy on holiday treats loaded with empty calories. These will only stifle training progress. By all means, indulge (sporadically), but otherwise keep a tight rein on what you put in your body. The holiday season provides plenty of opportunities to indulge, but what if I were to tell you that you can still indulge without fleshing out the waistline? You can, with a great tasting product called QUICKMASS.
Fortunately, QUICKMASS, delicious and extremely filling, is available to provide a hefty 1010 calories of the right kinds of nutrients per serving. Ultra-high in protein and with a good ratio of beneficial carbs and fats, QUICKMASS is great for keeping the body in a positive caloric state that’s more conducive to promoting quality mass gains and not the unsightly fat that so often accumulates over the holiday season.
With the warmer weather approaching and increased stress levels threatening to drain us of every last ounce of training energy, we’ll be well covered with a selection of today’s best energy-boosting supplements. Of these, IMPACT IGNITER is especially important when it comes to generating maximum training intensity during times when we may not feel especially invigorated.
Loaded with only the very best pre-workout essentials, IMPACT IGNITER is known for vastly increasing blood volume to the working muscles to enhance the coveted growth-inducing pumping sensation while stimulating the body and mind with a key selection of nootropic compounds and ingredients designed to greatly increase focus and drive.
In addition to the better-known products listed above, ALLMAX also features an impressive selection of essentials of importance for muscle building and general health. Of these products, ALLMAX GLUTAMINE remains top of the list for many.
A conditionally essential amino acid, glutamine is especially important for improving immune function and wound healing in times of great stress. In addition, this frequently underutilized amino also enhances natural growth hormone release while improving nitrogen retention to keep the muscles anabolic for longer.
Yet another way to increase adherence at a time when many are just as likely to lack motivation for intensive training is to tick off each small accomplishment and savour the enjoyment of task completion. Here, by framing each fitness focused task as significant in its own right we may generate a small boost of dopamine upon task completion.
Known as one of the more invigorating ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, dopamine increases the positive feelings we associate with important tasks on our daily ‘to do’ list. With each new dopamine jolt upon task completion we become ever-more compelled to repeat the associated behaviours that led to this boost in the coveted D. This is because compared to other neurotransmitters, dopamine does double duty when it comes to motivating cognitive effort.17, 20 It keeps us focused on the task ahead and motivated to repeat concomitant positive experiences.
So, rather than dreading that next heavy-duty workout, take pleasure in the fact that you will have accomplished something of great significance. The associated outpouring of dopamine will strengthen your motivation to do this task again until the very act of training intensely (or eating your next meal, taking your next supplement stack) is transformed into the kind of addiction that is to be sought rather than avoided.
Because resistance workouts usually take a great deal more planning and motivation to complete, otherwise well-intentioned trainees are liable to brush them off over the holidays, focusing instead on incorporating more cardio to “burn off the extra calories,” in a more convenient manner. This can be a problem for several reasons.
First, missed weights sessions invariably lead to metabolic inefficiency due to a diminishing of the high intensity afterburn effect which keeps calorie burning consistent in the hours following a brutal session with the iron.
In addition, less weights means a potential loss of muscle and fewer attendant metabolic benefits (more muscle translates to faster fat loss irrespective of the individual benefits cardio and nutrition). This is not to mention the metabolic adaptation (the paradoxical effect of metabolic shutdown due to sustained fat loss) that so often occurs when cardio is overdone or emphasized ahead of heavy weight training.7, 15, 19
Second, less resistance over time will likely lead to strength losses and a weakening of the supporting structures (primarily the tendons, ligaments and bones) that make heavy training more effective and less injurious to the body.
Therefore, when it’s time to again hit the weights room in the New Year, you’ll have to begin with much lighter loads and gradually work your way back to full strength. This takes time and, with a weakened physique, injury is more likely to occur. Both these factors can hold back progress for months. With a loss of strength, you’ll face an uphill climb as the New Year begins. In short, stay strong.
Instead of thinking that the extra calories can simply be taken care of with additional cardio, a better practice is to keep cardio consistent (or perhaps add an extra few minutes per session) and include more volume in the weights room. An ideal solution might be to include HIIT cardio (less muscle depleting) along with HIIT weight training (more intense and favorable to increasing metabolism).16, 18
- Abou-Samra, R. et al. (2011). Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter Nutr J. 10: 139.
- Anderson, K.E., et al. (1987). Diet-hormone interactions: protein/carbohydrate ratio alters reciprocally the plasma levels of testosterone and cortisol and their respective binding globulins in man. Life Sci. 1987 May 4;40(18):1761-8.
- Bisschop, P.H., et al. (2001). Isocaloric carbohydrate deprivation induces protein catabolism despite a low T3-syndrome in healthy men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Jan;54(1):75-80.
- Falavigna, G. et al. (2012). Effects of diets supplemented with branched-chain amino acids on the performance and fatigue mechanisms of rats submitted to prolonged physical exercise. Nov 16;4(11):1767-80.
- Gollwitzer, P. M., et al. (2009). When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap? Psychol Sci. May;20(5):612-8.
- Gremel, C. M., et al. (2016). Endocannabinoid Modulation of Orbitostriatal Circuits Gates Habit Formation. Neuron. Jun 15;90(6):1312-1324.
- Hall, K.D., et al. (2010). Predicting metabolic adaptation, body weight change, and energy intake in humans. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 298:E449–466
- 8 Signs and Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency (Hypokalemia). [Online] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/potassium-deficiency-symptoms – retrieved on 15.12.19
- Jung, A. P., et al. (2005). Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. J Athl Train. Apr-Jun; 40(2): 71–75.
- Kim, Dong-Hee. et al. (2013). Effect of BCAA intake during endurance exercises on fatigue substances, muscle damage substances, and energy metabolism substances. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. Dec; 17(4): 169–180.
- Maughan, R. J., et al. (1991). Fluid and electrolyte loss and replacement in exercise. J Sports Sci. Summer;9 Spec No:117-42.
- Warnings issued over energy drinks. [Online] https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/warnings-issued-over-energy-drinks/ – retrieved on 14.12.19
- National Center for complementary and Integrative Health. Energy Drinks. [Online] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks – Retrieved on 27.7.19
- Pontzer, H. (2015). Constrained Total Energy Expenditure and the Evolutionary Biology of Energy Balance. Exercise and sport sciences reviews. 43:110–116.
- Rosenbaum, M. et al. (2008). Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight. Am J Clin Nutr. 88:906–912.
- Roy, M. et al. (2018). High-Intensity Interval Training in the Real World: Outcomes from a 12-Month Intervention in Overweight Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Sep;50(9):1818-1826.
- Ryback, R. The Science of Accomplishing Your Goals. [Online] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201610/the-science-accomplishing-your-goals – retrieved on 15.12.19
- Viana, R. B., et al. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A Systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity training (HIIT). Br J Sports Med 53:655–64.
- Weinsier R. L., et al. (2000). Do adaptive changes in metabolic rate favor weight regain in weight-reduced individuals? An examination of the set-point theory. Am J Clin Nutr. 72:1088–1094.
- Westbrook, A. et al. (2016). Dopamine does double duty in motivating cognitive effort. Neuron. Feb 17; 89(4): 695–710.