For so many bodybuilders and strength athletes, the holidays are viewed as something that is bound to derail their progress. It starts with Thanksgiving and before you know it the Winter holidays are upon us. A lot of people see the holidays as a deep seeded threat to their training and bodybuilding goals, but I can tell you that there is no need to feel that way. So long as you listen to what I’m about to tell you, everything is going to be just fine.
But if you allow cheat meals to turn into cheat days, stuff yourself on garbage, stop going to the gym, neglect cardio, stay up late and otherwise do everything wrong then the holidays will turn into the bodybuilding equivalent of a bender.
However, if you go at it with some sanity and you stick to your program outside of the few times that you let loose, you can absolutely enjoy yourself through the holidays without incurring a negative impact.
You Are You
You’ve got goals and you’ve been diligently working toward those goals for weeks, months, years and chances are, you have become fairly conscious of the fact that a major derailment in consistency is the greatest threat TO those goals. You’re far enough along by now to have figured out that consistently doing the right things is the key to progress. There is no magic but that’s about the closest thing to it that you’re going to find. So, stick to your plan and your consistency.
It's OK to Deviate
I have successfully worked my way through the holidays as a competitive bodybuilder; that is to say, that I enjoyed those times and did not derail my progress EVEN WHEN I was at the height of my career.
Essentially, there are 3 things to consider: how badly you deviate, how often you deviate and how diligent you are in your programing outside of these deviations! Let’s address each of them.
First and foremost, let’s establish one thing; all things are relative. If you are eating 5 or 6 meals per day, then that equates to 35 to 42 meals per week. The number of meals we consume off-program relative to our total intake is extremely relevant. So we can deviate, just be mindful of the relative amount of cheating.
My Holiday Cheating
Granted, I can only speak to my own customs and the way I celebrate during the holidays, but for me, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve always posed as the most concentrated grouping of times where my family and friends would be celebrating. Those are 3 days within 2 weeks’ time. Using this year as an example, Christmas Eve is on a Sunday and Christmas day is on Monday. New Year’s Eve is one week later the following Sunday. For me, I know that I’m going to be having a special dinner on Christmas Eve and another meal late on Christmas day.
So, let’s call that 2 meals out of the 42 total that I will consume that week. That’s 4.7% of my meals for the week. Not necessarily a large proportion of my meals at that rate! But if cheat meals begin turning into cheat days, that percentage can skyrocket and that puts us at a disadvantage. However, to assess this fairly, we would also have to consider the number of calories contained in those meals relative to total calories for the week and that brings me to my next point; how badly do you deviate? I can already tell you that for me, Christmas eve is a bunch of fish and seafood and the worst thing that I have is a big Portuguese roll that is doused with olive oil; maybe a modest desert.
Christmas day will be a roasted beef tenderloin with a potato and some other sides and again, a desert on top of that. Personally, I am someone who eats so strictly the rest of the time that when I do deviate, I don’t have to do anything too crazy to find satisfaction. To take a step further, if I DO deviate too hard, I feel lousy so I actually find enjoyment in eating reasonably well.
An Easy Hack to Stay on Track
While my approach works well for me, everyone is different, and so I understand that not everyone feels as I do. I have worked with clients in a coaching capacity for years and I have found one key guideline that has been extremely helpful to them in situations such as this. I tell my clients to eat whatever they want so long as there is no dairy contained in the foods, and you limit it to 1 to 2 meals, and you eat a reasonable amount to not get to the point of feeling sick.
Now, please don’t think that I have anything personal against dairy. However, if we were to make a list of the “junkiest” foods that a person might consume, they USUALLY have one thing in common and that thing is dairy. Lasagna, pizza, stuffed pasta dishes, cream sauces, most deserts etc. are all loaded with dairy and the elimination of dairy tends to eliminate a lot of foods that will have a negative effect on the way a person looks and feels.
My advice; so long as the food you are eating is home cooked and doesn’t contain milk, butter, cream or cheese and you don’t eat to the point of nausea, any negative impact on how you look or feel will be minimal!
I will tell clients to enjoy plenty of high calorie foods and to not restrict carbs, fats or proteins but by avoiding dairy and foods that contain it, I often find that people don’t go so far off the rails and they usually don’t see much of a negative impact in their physique and they feel better as well.
It’s Not a Big Deal
Now that we’ve addressed the frequency and degree of deviation, let’s consider what you are doing outside of that. My first instinct on the subject is to tell you that if you’re training hard enough and if you’re being 100% diligent in your adherence to the plan outside of a few off-plan meals, IT’S NOT GONNA MAKE A SHIT BIT OF DIFFERENCE!
Hell, if I could get away with enjoying Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Years on my way to several top 3 Arnold Classic placings (and several more top 5’s) then you can damn sure enjoy the holidays and still get where you want to go!
The reality is, if every other meal in the week is spot on and you are training like an absolute savage, the odds of a couple cheat meals hurting you is slim! I would encourage everyone to, aside from those few meals, maintain impeccable adherence to their protocol. If you can do that, the impact of some nutritional deviation will be extremely minimal!
If you still do everything right and you train hard, do your cardio, get your rest, hydrate, and keep stress to a minimum, the holidays should have no negative effect whatsoever; in fact, they should do exactly what they’re meant to do and benefit you!