Thanksgiving just passed, and Christmas is right around the corner. There are large amounts of very delicious foods creeping into every part of life: co-workers are bringing treats into the office; friends are having ugly sweater parties with plenty of cookies and Baileys around; and family won’t let you leave until you’re fully stuffed. Life is good, until you step on the scale and realize where all the comfort food and desserts have ended up…on your waistline!
Is there a way to enjoy the holiday cheer and avoid turning into a blowfish? Actually, yes there are plenty of tools available to avoid fat gain despite large intakes of savory holiday treats. For example, quantified-self guys like Tim Ferriss have shown they can consume over 6,000 calories in 12 hours without gaining weight using supplemental foods and exercise-timing tactics. We'll talk about some of the concepts that can be used here.
One of the key concepts we can use to prevent the storage of calories as fat is to pull the calories into our muscles first. How do we do this? We exercise. But we don’t just haphazard decide to go on a run the next day to “work off the calories.” We need to be smart about the type and the timing of the exercise.
Insulin Sensitivity - Exercise hard within 24 hours before your binge session
The main onsite energy-stores in our skeletal muscle, glycogen, is essentially stored sugar that the body decided to keep in muscle cells rather than converting the sugar to fat. When we deplete this glycogen in a high intensity exercise, our insulin sensitivity is heightened, and our body sends nutrients to the muscle cells to replenish the lost glycogen.
The most effective exercises for increasing insulin sensitivity target the biggest muscles that store the most glycogen. And if done right, studies show that insulin sensitivity can be enhanced significantly for a 24-hour period after a high-intensity resistance training session (1), not unlike the strength-training discussed in our earlier post. So time your high intensity strength exercise the day before or the morning of the day you're planning on eating those holiday foods and desserts.
GLUT4 - Contract your muscles before you indulge
Another tool we can use to transport the sugar into our muscles, instead of being stored as fat, is a glucose transporter protein called GLUT4. It’s been shown that muscle contractions can actually activate GLUT4 to bring glucose into the muscle cells, not directly linked to insulin (2).
So focus on stimulating your major muscle groups just before, and a couple hours after, your ingestion of sweets or a big holiday meal. And just like maximizing glycogen depletion, focus on activating major compound muscle groups to trigger the most GLUT4 proteins. This can be done via some air squats or some push-ups. Do enough to get your muscles burning.
Increase your brain temperature - Eat Less
An added bonus of exercising just before you eat is that you’ll raise your core body temperature and actually eat less. The reason restaurants love to keep their facilities nice and cool, and the reason you naturally want to eat more during the winter months, is that a cooler brain temperature translates to increased hunger (3). So exercise or sit in your sauna long enough to heat up your body a bit and diminish the hunger-related urges.
Alright so we got into some of the ways exercise can be strategically timed to guide some of those holiday calories into muscle instead of fat in Part I. Stay tuned for Part II, where we’ll dive into tricks and foods to incorporate as well. And in the meantime, let us know how you timed your exercise to avoid weight gain during the holidays.
In Excellent Health,
Garrett & Luc