Two experts on nutrition and fitness offered advice for navigating caloric minefields and maximizing your metabolism on a typical day of the holiday season, when co-workers go on baking sprees and exercise takes a back seat to cocktail parties.
Ben Greenfield is a Seattle-based nutritionist and physical trainer. Paula Owens is a holistic nutritionist and fitness expert based in Phoenix.
Drink a glass of water upon waking; it's not only important for hydration but it also cuts daily food intake by 13 percent, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Add lemon juice to the water to nourish your liver, Owens said.
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Starting your day with exercise helps your body store what you eat subsequently as muscle energy, known as glycogen, instead of as fat, Greenfield said. That's why, as a general rule, it's good to exercise an hour or two before large meals, he said.
Ideally, your exercise routine should look like this, Greenfield said: Cardio interval training for 20 minutes to an hour three times a week, weight training for 20 minutes to an hour three times a week, and long, slow cardio one or two times a week. Owens recommends 30 to 45 minutes of strength training to best boost your metabolism. Try push-ups, dead lifts, lunges and chin-ups, she said.
Though it may be tempting to reserve calories for an impending party, never skimp on breakfast, the experts say. If you eat a complete meal in the morning you'll end up eating a lot less later in the day.
Owens says to make it a well-balanced meal with protein, fibrous carbohydrates and some fats to give you a feeling of fullness. Try eggs with spinach and avocado, plus a side of blueberries. Greenfield recommends oatmeal, a handful of almonds, a handful of raisins and an egg.
Arrive at work
This is where people often encounter the day's first hurdle: A festive co-worker has brought in some kind of holiday deliciousness. With luck you're full from your big breakfast, but if not, take one treat and don't look back.
"I don't encourage people to completely skip cheats because you'll go crazy," Greenfield said. If you time your cheat sessions for shortly after you exercise, it's even better because your body is more likely to store the calories as glycogen rather than fat.
Midmorning coffee run
Pass on the white chocolate peppermint mocha (holding the whip does not make it OK). Instead, opt for drip coffee. Add a bit of heavy cream and cinnamon for holiday flavor and to help stabilize the insulin spike you might experience from the coffee, Owens said.
Get up from your desk
To help stimulate your metabolism, get up every hour and do something active, Greenfield said. At the end of each hour, take a walk or go somewhere private and do 100 jumping jacks or 100 squats, he suggests. Even just standing up burns more calories than sitting.
Avoid complex carbs like bread, pasta or rice, which don't have a lot of nutritional value and make you tired, Owens said. Instead, fill up on protein and fiber with a large, dark green salad with chicken breast or salmon, using lemon, olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette as dressing.
From lunch forward, you should avoid starchy carbs, which are a dense energy source that gets turned into fat easily when you're not exercising, Greenfield said. Instead, focus on fat- and protein-based foods. An ideal afternoon snack is a protein smoothie, a handful of olives or an avocado with some cheese. Owens suggests having some celery with almond butter or hummus with chopped bell peppers or baby carrots.
Don't arrive at a holiday party hungry. It's tempting to starve all day so you can stuff your face with free food, but think of it as getting fat for free, which sounds less appealing, Greenfield said. Have a fiber- or protein-based snack before you go.
Arrive at the party
Survey the food buffet and have a plan. Look for nuts, deli meats, vegetables and sandwiches served on wraps instead of bread, Greenfield said. Stay away from foods that are calorie based but not nutrient dense, like cookies. If you're itching for something sweet, go for strawberries dipped in chocolate rather than pies or cakes, which have more unknown ingredients, Owens said. If you want to indulge in a treat, break off half or take a few bites and throw the rest away.
Go for cocktails made from fresh ingredients, and beware the bottled margarita, eggnog or mudslide mixes, because those are some of the biggest calorie and sugar bombs, Greenfield said. Choose drinks that you'll sip slowly — something stronger or more bitter and savory — like a dirty vodka or gin martini instead of a chocolate martini, Greenfield said. Greenfield's favorite drink is a shot of vodka with sparkling water and a splash or pineapple, cranberry or pomegranate juice. Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, which will accomplish the social goal of having a glass in your hand but cuts down on the calories and the boozing.
If you can take a walk after the party or do anything physically active, that'll help store the calories as glycogen in the muscles rather than fat, Greenfield said. Drink plenty of water and, if you've partied hard, dissolve mineral tablets in the water to get electrolytes in your system so you don't wake up hung over. After all, you've got to work out in the morning.