“Would anyone like dessert?”
“It’s the holidays.”
Everyone has been faced with the situation above. Staring down the dessert cart at a restaurant with small beads of anxiety on their foreheads (all the while not wanting to seem like the Grinch of the group). One of the biggest issues during the holidays for the body conscious is trying to stay lean. With eggnog fountains flowing and all of those cookies and milk by the fire, it can feel like Christmas is a mine field of temptation.
Just a simple search through Google and muscular forums can be discouraging for anyone looking to splurge a little. It would seem that the slant of the fitness world leans in two directions. One cautions toward keeping a slim waist while slowly making gains; while the other is an endless stream of promises for methods that “deadlock” unwanted body fat and groom amazing physiques in weeks. While this is a nice image and certainly helps with marketing for flashy programs, it may not be entirely reliable or even feasible for the everyday average elf.
Of course, no one actually wants a jovial bowl full of jelly this time of year, but there ARE ways to use the scrumptious nature of the holidays to make big gains in fitness. What are the pros and cons of consciously gaining weight for sport performance?
Body fat is an essential need of the human body. Multiple medical and journalistic sources site the vitamins, energy, and building blocks stored in these cells; as well as the immunosuppressive effects of weight loss hormones such as Cortisol. This does not prove that being heavy set is good for the body, but it is enough to show that rapidly dropping body fat with crash diets can quickly put the body into a bad spot. Keeping in mind the high stress atmosphere surrounding the holidays (as well as the germ season), it would appear that slowly losing weight AFTER the holidays is a much better approach than losing weight for that New Years outfit. With conscious effort to keep the vitamin intake steady while gaining weight, the process of losing weight afterward will release essential vitamins, and can be a boost to the immune system.
Another benefit of keeping a little extra around the middle during the Christmas season is sometimes not as easy to see when trying to get advice from the accomplished athlete crowd. There are times when keeping body fat can be just as essential to dropping fat as a a fat-burning run. Putting aside the well worded sales pitches of many exercise ads, it’s worth mentioning that the models flexing next to the product are often working with extensively more time and resources than just that one bottle or program. They typically have a higher ratio of muscle to body weight than the average adult, and because of that, their bodies burn more energy throughout the day. This is worth mentioning, because it is easy to be convinced that, at entry levels of fitness, the average body will simply know to transform into a chiseled hunk or a slender goddess.
This is simply, most often, not the case. It takes years of work and tireless dedication to get physiques like the ones found in advertisements; and more often than not, the model in the ad is only holding that level of sexy leanness for a short period of time, before starting their new cycle. While, during their maintenance and improvement periods, the model may not look the same as an entry level fitness freak; the same principle follows for both of them: The ebb and flow of muscle maintenance takes long term planning of both retention and release of body fat, along with adjustments to most other training techniques.
For decades, there have been heated discussions about the necessity of fat in the powerlifting world. Some accuse powerlifters as notorious for a lack of drive in their physique, while others vehemently stand behind the idea that these men and women are lifting, torquing, eating machines who sacrifice for their sport. Whatever the beliefs of the individual athlete, there are proven benefits to having extra jolly midsections, when it comes to moving plates. The extra pounds help powerlifters stay stable while performing lifts, simply because losing balance becomes more difficult the heavier they are. A body in motion or rest tends to stay in motion or at rest, and a fatter body tends to stay in either motion or rest that much more. More weight also gives the weightlifter more torque when directing momentum toward whatever object they are attempting to move, simply because they can use their added weight to channel more natural potential energy (more gravity) back into their lift.
A free pass at the cookie dough spoon can make even the most fit feel like a delinquent teenager in front of an illegal drug (a “Gateway” treat, if that makes sense). The fear comes from the inflamed idea that if one were to start down the road of indulgence, the end result would be a crumpled, obese version of one’s former fit self on a dirty mattress in some bad neighborhood, surrounded by Oreo wrappers. Perhaps this is only the reflection of this author, but all the same there are notable pitfalls to operating and maintaining cycles of fitness. One of these is, unfortunately, the inability to stop. Enough said: everyone knows that individuals all have a point of no-return. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger had an after party when he won the Olympia in 1970, but that didn’t stop him from accomplishing his first goals in the film industry several months later. The error comes when the one going onto a recuperation cycle reverts to habits and eating styles that do not have the long term goal of beach season in mind.
What about the biggest driving force of the human race: sex appeal? No one wants to be the only one aware of how hard they work in the gym, which is why the world is filled with loudmouths who can’t stop talking about how much they lifted last night and how sore they are today. All the same, there is a point that working toward a long term goal has always been and always will be a personal and somewhat lonely journey. This is often the case for the professional and the amateur. Another pitfall of gaining weight to gain physique is impatience. When an amateur does not have patience or emotional maturity, the bulking process can backfire. Body image problems aside, those with fitness goals should be aware of how their bodies will react to physically demanding programs. Dr Fred Hatfield from the ISSA says that “scientists now recognize that mood disorders are a result of complex interactions between a variety of biochemicals, including neurotransmitters, hormones, and many dietary cofactors such as the amino acid, L-tryptophan, and vitamins C, B-12 and B-6.” Physical processes that happen inside the body are not unique to those bulking, but are worth considering when deciding to gym-it-up during the holidays.
There is never an easy way to go through the eating holidays, especially when all year has been about improving physical appearance. Whether it is the after dinner board game with the family all together sharing baked goodies, or during the lonely holiday vacation period everyone goes through, it can be hard to have to decide when to relax. Regardless of personal experience, however, there is a mound of science behind the madness that is bulking. Every year, Santa has to lift an enormous bag of goodies over his shoulder and navigate chimneys. Some would say that it is his Christmas magic, or that the spirit of the season moves those toys along, but perhaps it is actually a different source entirely: cookies and milk.
National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer