Should You Still Eat “Healthy” During the Holidays?

In a matter of less than 2 weeks, we’ll be going to parties and gatherings that involve some tasty and interesting food options; eggnog (alcohol anyone?), ham, cookies, cakes, you name it. It’s there.

Now, since we’re all into fitness and such (I’m assuming that’s why you’re all here right?), it can be difficult to navigate through these times. We want to keep on progressing in the gym because we’ve worked so hard to get there, but at the same time, we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl” who makes everyone else feel bad by not indulging in the holiday goodies. So, what should you do?

Well, the simple answer to that question is…

It Depends…

The most annoying answer you’ve ever seen in your life, I’m sure. Usually comes without a valid or applicable explanation too, which makes it worse. But don’t worry, I’m Zach, and I explain things…thoroughly.  

What Are YOUR Goals?

This is probably the most important question when it comes to dietary success during the holidays. Why do you train? Why do you track your nutrition and watch what you’re eating?

Is it for:

  • Enhancing your physique?
  • Gaining strength?
  • Having an overall greater sense of well-being?
  • Impressing chicks? (nothing wrong with that)

There is no wrong answer here. Everybody has different reasons for training. It doesn’t matter why you do it. My goal here is to help you stay aligned with whatever goal it is that you have. 

Let’s go over a couple of the most common goals that fall into broader categories that will most likely be applicable for most of you. If I happen to miss any of you, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments or DM on social media!

Bulking Phase

Hell yeah. This is the holy grail of goals to have during the holidays, which many people do. Being in a caloric surplus to gain mass during the holidays is a simple feat. And don’t worry, one day of more extreme overfeeding of a less than ideal ratio of nutrients is not going to make any sort of significant impact on your long-term progress. 

In one study of 31 young (mid-twenties) and healthy (non-obese and not overweight) people, subjects were overfed 1,250 extra calories per day above their normal levels. That equals out to a 3,750 calorie surplus over the course of 3 days for these people (1). Most people during the holidays (even if they are bulking) don’t even get to this number. But yet, we have to be realistic, some do. 

Even still, this study showed us that even though health markers such as body weight and fasting glucose and insulin increased, there was no significant increase in peripheral insulin sensitivity (the failure of tissues to increase the release of glucose in response to the release of insulin) or any biomarkers that are associated with insulin resistance, such as angiopoietin-like 6, insulin-like growth factor 1, selenoprotein-P, and C-reactive protein. 

So no need to worry here. You’ll see a greater increase in weight (a lot of it from water/sodium retention, so don’t get too excited) which will go away after a few days of eating on your normal diet. Plus, you’ll most likely get a good training session the next day due to the even higher acute increase in calories. 

Cutting Phase

This is the tricky one. To be quite honest, this one all depends on your view point.

Now, if your goal is to lose around 5-20 lbs, that’s what I’d unofficially call a light or mild weight loss cycle. In this type of cut, you’re allowed to be a little more lenient, since you don’t have nearly as much to lose as somebody who is carrying a lot more body fat on them. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go hog-wild and stuff your face with sweets and treats until you vomit. 

I can only give you my recommendations and insights as to what I would do. I wouldn’t go all out if I were in a phase like this, but if you’re one of those people with the “all or nothing” mentality, then go for it. I admit it can be fun sometimes. As long as it doesn’t promote an unhealthy relationship with food, then yes, stuff that face of yours. You’ll be able to catch back up to your set point sooner than you might think (depending on how hard you go). But if you feel like it’s messing with you psychologically and causing you more stress than its worth, then you got to learn to cope healthily. We’ll get into that into a future article.

No matter how big your weight loss goal is and you still want some treats to eat for the holidays, this is the approach that I’d reccomend:

  • Intermittent Fasting: No, this is no holy grail diet or solution to all of your weight loss problems. However, it’s been shown for many to reduce appetite in people more so than regular calorie-restricted diets (2). Because of this, I’d recommend following a diet like this for a few days previous to a party or gathering you plan on attending. If you’d like to find out more on how to perform this kind of diet and find out more about the diet in general, please read my other article on intermittent fasting here: https://scholarlymuscle.com/2018/08/07/intermittent-fasting-is-it-really-the-weight-loss-miracle-its-advertised-to-be/
  • Whey Protein: It’s also been shown that whey protein, when taken consistently, can blunt both short and long-term hunger responses (3). I’d recommend taking it an hour or two before you head out to ensure that you’re not overeating during the event. 
  • Carbonated Beverages: Diet soda, sparkling water, whatever you’re into. It doesn’t take a scientific study to tell you that these types of beverages can fill you up and pretty quickly as a matter of fact. Just make sure you’re not adding a significant amount of calories to them such as through juice, alcohol, or other calorically-dense drinks. 
  • Variety: Get a little bit of everything. Anything that you see that you want to eat or drink, make yourself a sample platter of it. Do this in order to make you feel like you haven’t missed out on anything but also keep the portions modest, which can add up quickly particularly with typical holiday foods. 

Just Enjoy Yourself

Cliche statement alert. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance and moderation. The holiday season only comes once a year, so enjoy it to the extent that you want to. Don’t worry about what Joe Schmoe or Jane Doe is doing. Their goals are different. Their genetics are different. Their beliefs are different. 

This is all about you. Nobody else. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about eating a particular way; holiday season or otherwise. Your the one who’ll be receiving the results of your actions, not them. So just freakin enjoy yourself!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever else you celebrate!  

References

  1. Chen, M., Liu, B., Thompson, C. H., Wittert, G. A., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2016). Acute Overfeeding Does Not Alter Liver or Adipose Tissue-Derived Cytokines in Healthy Humans. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 69(3-4), 165-170. doi:10.1159/000452678
  2. Seimon, R. V., Roekenes, J. A., Zibellini, J., Zhu, B., Gibson, A. A., Hills, A. P., . . . Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology,418, 153-172. doi:10.1016/j.mce.2015.09.014
  3. Mollahosseini, M., Shab-Bidar, S., Rahimi, M. H., & Djafarian, K. (2017). Effect of whey protein supplementation on long and short term appetite: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN,20, 34-40. doi:10.1016/j.clnesp.2017.04.002

The Winter Bulk: What You Can Learn From My 1+ Year Long Bulk So You Don’t Get Fat!

It’s that time of the year again; the winter bulk is upon us! This is that amazing time when most of us are putting on the good ole’ sweats and going to the gym to train heavy, only to return home and stuff ourselves in hopes of packing on as much size as possible before the shredding season comes.

But First, My Story (It’ll help you later on I promise)

I worked so hard to get to where I was during my NPC Classic Physique competition in 2017. I dieted hard for 16 grueling weeks. I thought I looked pretty damn good…

Edited Side Chest

Could I have come in more conditioned? Absolutely. But for my first NPC show, I thought I did pretty well; not even having a coach and acting as my own coach. But then decision time came, it really hit me…

Before we get to that, let me give you a little background. I signed up for two classes; both the open class, which anybody can participate in, and the novice class, which you can only enter if you have never placed in the top 3 in a competition before. Given that I’ve never placed before, I thought this would give me a much better chance of victory competing in this category.

I was DEAD wrong. I did absolutely terrible. I got 9th out of 13 in the novice class and LAST in the open class. I was shocked. “Why did I do so bad?” I asked myself.

I compared myself to the other competitors. They were all so much bigger than I was. Exactly why they were bigger than I didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to get bigger. A lot bigger.

I came in at 147 lbs soaking freakin wet, and I expected to win? What was I thinking? And with a weight cap of all the way up to 165 lbs for my height of 5’5″ to boot. I had a lot more work to do. I did not gain enough size in my previous offseason to constitute competing at that time.

I was so determined to win the next time I competed that I was going on a bulk indefinitely. I was not going to stop until I packed on as much muscle as possible and stayed below my personal body fat cap that I set for myself at 16%. Once I reached this mark, then I’d stop.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

Because it’ll help provide you with context as to why and how it can be possible to bulk for either too long or not long enough. There’s a happy middle ground here. And I’ll help you find it with this sappy story of mine.

I Bulked…FOR A Long Time

Starting right after my competition, I bulked all the way till September of 2018. At first, I was scared to add one more pound to my already deteriorating physique. I wasn’t as lean anymore due to excessive water weight gain. It was a huge psychological (“mind fuck”) in my head. I was having negative self-esteem issues because of my loss of leanness. And I still looked small in my eyes.

However, after a few months, things started to come together. I started to gain weight steadily. The pounds started to pack on (in a good way). I was getting stronger in the gym. I finally sucked it up and forced myself into a caloric surplus, despite my fears of getting fat.

And I didn’t get fat. I added a respectful amount of muscle, going from 147-166 lbs over the course of half of a year.

And this trend continued up until the summer time of 2018. During this time, I started to get lazy. Not with my workouts, but mostly with my nutrition. I started not to track macros anymore, just eating whenever I felt like it. I noticed I was starting to get weaker in the gym as well. Most likely because my protein intake dropped because I just wasn’t tracking anymore.

September came around. And I wasn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror. I wasn’t getting any stronger either. I’d been in a stalemate for months. Did I get bigger? Of course. People were even telling me so. But I hated how fat I looked. I hated that I was able to so easily grab on to my “love handles” (does that sound weird coming from a dude?). I was curious to see what my body fat percentage was at this point.

20180927_004609

I was at 16.2% body fat! Perfect timing! Just slightly above the cap I set for myself. I was finally happy with how big I was in terms of weight (183 lbs) and I was now ready for the next phase.

TRUTH: Adding on Muscle Mass Takes A LONG time!

Do I need to repeat myself? This takes a long freakin ass time people! It’s not easy. It can get super boring and repetitive sometimes. But if you’re serious about it, you’ll make it happen.

It took me 16 months to get where I wanted to be. Most people want instant gratification. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out like that. So don’t go spinning your wheels in the dirt going on short bulking and cutting cycles of a few months each. Sure, you can lose a considerable amount of fat in a matter of 3, 4, or 5 months. But you CANNOT add a significant amount of muscle to your body in just a few months. Unless you’re just starting out in the fitness world, you can gain muscle and strength doing virtually any training program (1), which is an entirely different story altogether.

Each Bulk Has an Expiration Date

What do I mean by this?

Everybody’s different. Different genetics. Different background. Different training experience. But everybody has a point in time in which they reach a sticking point in their bulk. They simply can’t gain any more muscle (or a significant amount anyway). It seems as if there’s a certain point where all the extra weight gained just goes to fat and not muscle. This happened to me as well…

For those last few months of my bulk where I was lazy and more unmotivated when it came to my nutrition, I started to gain a good amount of fat without adding much muscle mass. I went from 14% body fat in June up to 16% in September, while only gaining approximately 20% muscle mass and the rest coming from fat! Now, why did this happen?

It’s hard to say with absolute certainty, as there is a huge lack of scientific literature on the topic. This is because this would require an exorbitant amount of time to study this phenomenon in multiple individuals, as most would not want to commit to such a long study. Studies of that magnitude are mostly saved for those in a clinical setting, such as pharmaceutical studies.

Because of this, much of what we can go on is anecdotal. However, one theory that can be speculated is that it has to do with something called insulin resistance. This is when the body cannot effectively store glucose (sugar) into the tissues of the body effectively, which raises one’s blood sugar, leading to a myriad of health complications. This can occur in up to 25% of nonobese individuals with what appears to be normal glucose levels via an oral glucose tolerance test (2). Now, this doesn’t cause weight gain directly per se. But, it can possibly shift our body composition adaptations from primarily gaining muscle to gaining fat, while still gaining the same amount of total weight. However, this is just a theory, as there haven’t been any adequate studies conducted on resistance trained populations. If you’ve been overconsuming calories for a while now (usually via carbohydrates) this is something to think about.

insulin
Hopefully, you won’t need this

The Bottom Line

As it looks right now, the mechanism as to why bulks start to fail after prolonged periods of time is still unclear. More studies are definitely going to need to be conducted in order to analyze this phenomenon further.

So, how should you bulk? With patience. This is a must. As the cliche saying goes “This is a marathon, not a sprint!” And it holds very true. Don’t rush it. The results that you get from it will be worth it. Trust me.

But also, don’t prolong it for too long either. Be your own guinea pig and constantly gauge your progress. Do this by utilizing:

  • Progress Pictures
  • Weight
  • Body Fat Analysis (skinfold calipers, BodPod, DEXA, etc.)
  • Progressive Overload (are you getting stronger?)
  • If others comment on your physique (seriously!)

These are just a few ways in which you can see if you’re headed in the right direction. Also, everybody has different images of what they want their physique to look like and why they want it to look like that. So if somebody is at 18% body fat and they like the way they look, then that’s great, don’t criticize them for that. Getting upwards of 20%, however, is when we start to run into health and performance problems, which is a story for another day.

If you guys have any questions, feel free to reach out either in the comments or on social media! Have a great week!

References

  1. Cunha, P. M., Nunes, J. P., Tomeleri, C. M., Nascimento, M. A., Schoenfeld, B. J., Antunes, M., . . . Cyrino, E. S. (2018). Resistance Training Performed With Single and Multiple Sets Induces Similar Improvements in Muscular Strength, Muscle Mass, Muscle Quality, and IGF-1 in Older Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002847
  2. Reaven, G. M. (1997). Role of insulin resistance in human disease. Nutrition, 13(1), 64. doi:10.1016/s0899-9007(96)00380-2

Wanna Grow But Can’t Fit In All That Food? Check Out These 3 Weight-Gaining Methods

It’s a common problem amongst those “cursed” with a fast metabolism (myself included). Ectomorphs, forever-skinnies (I just made that up now), whatever you want to call them. You really want to build muscle, but unfortunately, it’s just too difficult to eat all that food required for you to gain weight. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Well, you could do it the old fashioned way and just suck it up. Eat all the food you need to and lie in bed at night feeling like you just ate a boulder along with feeling like it’s gonna come back up any second now. But c’mon now, there’s gotta be an easier way, right?

The “GOMAD” Diet

Those of you who have been into lifting may have heard of this before. “GOMAD” stands for “Gallon Of Milk A Day”. It’s just like it sounds, you drink 1 whole gallon of milk per day, split up amongst various meals throughout your day. Doesn’t sound too expensive either, right?

milk

Well, let’s think about it for a second. A significant amount of people are lactose intolerant in the United States alone, about 30-50 millionand even more throughout the Eastern world, as Western countries consume much more dairy than those on the Eastern side of this planet [1].

And secondly, that just sounds disgusting. Don’t get me wrong, I love myself a good glass of milk. But even for somebody who isn’t lactose intolerant, too much milk in one day and I’ll be sittin in that good ole’ water closet for an hour at least.

Lastly, it’s not the “leanest” way to gain size either. Given that one is drinking whole milk during this diet, as it is the most dense (8g of fat, 12g of carbs, 8g of protein, and 150 calories in a 1 cup serving) type of milk there is. Simply multiply these numbers by 16 (1 gallon), and you’re already at 128g of fat, 192g of carbs, and 128g of protein without adding in your other food for the day. Now this is great for hitting your protein targets for the day, however, having all that fat in your system during the day will certainly slow down digestion to a great degree, affecting your workout performance for sure if you work out later in the day.

However, if you like milk, are on a tight budget, and don’t mind using this $3 per day method, then go for it. There’s nothing really “unhealthy” about milk, given that you don’t do this for a long period of time, over a month long or so [2]. After that point, your gastrointestinal tract may take a turn for the worst, but individual results do vary.

Apetamin

What the hell is apetamin? Well, it’s actually an antihistamine (for allergies symptoms such as sore throat and itchy/watery eyes). So why would you use it to gain weight? It contains an ingredient called cyproheptadine, which produces a side effect of increased hunger. Because of this, it is often used in the treatment of anorexia and malnutrition [3]. A simple Google search will show many people’s stories (particularly women) who have gained “healthy” weight by just using this “weight gain syrup.” One of the most common plans using this product being the “Slim Thick Plan”.

apetamin

In a 2016 cross-sectional study (meaning that the subjects were observed/answered questions at only one particular point in time, i.e. questionnaires, etc.) that observed a Kinshasa population (a society near the Congo River in Africa), a whopping 72.9% of them (364 out of 499 participants) had used apetamin as an appetite stimulant [4]. This is a surprising amount due to the fact that this purpose of use is considered “off-label”, therefore, unethical and unlawful usage.  When used in access, it can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and sudden cardiac arrest.

Weight Gainer Supplements

These types of supplements have become very popular throughout the years. High in carbs and protein while containing good amounts of “healthy fats:, what’s not to love?

Well, unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal, and weight gainer supplements are no different. For example, let’s look at one of the most popular weight gainer supplements on the market; Serious Mass by Optimum Nutrition.

Serious mass

Now, on the surface, it looks decent; high amount of protein from common sources (50g from whey and egg proteins, among others, and fats coming from MCT’s (Medium Chain Triglycerides), which have the ability to positively influence fat mass [5].

However, the issue here is that most of the carbs come from something called Maltodextrin, which simply put, is a type of fast-digesting sugar. Now, as we all know, we need high-quality nutrients in order to see the body adaptations that we want to (decreased body fat and increased muscle mass), right? Well, having most of your carbs coming from sugar really isn’t the best route to take, now is it? Not that sugar is necessarily “good or “bad” as the media makes it out to be, [6,7]it’s just that it is very easy to over-consume it due to its low satiety rating (ability of a food to make you full) and it often takes people away from the consumption of essential nutrients and minerals such as fiber, particular B-vitamins, and iron, just to name a few. May companies add this as an ingredient as it is a very cheap filler.

Now, not all of these supplements are bad. Let’s look at another brand of weight gainer supplement:

 

This supplement is called Mass Tech by the popular sports nutrition company Muscletech. Now, the ingredient profile in this supplement is of higher quality, as we take a look at what they call the “Multi-Phase Carb Complex”. It does contain a notable amount of sugars to start, but gets much of its carbohydrates from oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and other high-quality carb sources.

It’s not that all of these supplements are simply “good” or “bad”, just as with sugar, it is less of a black-and-white answer. Some are just of a higher quality than others. People are better off simply consuming whole foods for their caloric needs. However it’s more convenient to supplement the calories that one needs to gain weight, as getting all of them through whole foods is quite difficult. I mean, that the purpose of supplements. To SUPPLEMENT, not REPLACE, an adequate diet.

Conclusion

Now the methods I have presented here are few of many methods out there that are available to you. I don’t endorse any of the companies presented or recommend the off-label use of Apetamin. However, the choice is yours to make. None of these methods are perfect, but they do work. I’ve been through this predicament before on the weight gain journey, in fact, I still am. So I know what it feels like. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments or DM. Thanks 🙂

References

  1. Lang, S. S. (n.d.). Lactose intolerance seems linked to ancestral struggles with harsh climate and cattle diseases, Cornell study finds | Cornell Chronicle. Retrieved from http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/06/lactose-intolerance-linked-ancestral-struggles-climate-diseases
  2. P., C., & P. (2016, December 08). Daily milk consumption and all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease and stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational cohort studies. Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-3889-9
  3. Apetamin is a New Trend in Unapproved Drugs. (2018, July 27). Retrieved from https://www.legitscript.com/blog/2018/05/apetamin-unapproved-drug/
  4. Lulebo, A. M., Bavuidibo, C. D., Mafuta, E. M., Ndelo, J. D., Mputu, L. C., Kabundji, D. M., & Mutombo, P. B. (2016). The misuse of Cyproheptadine: A non-communicable disease risk behaviour in Kinshasa population, Democratic Republic of Congo. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 11(1). doi:10.1186/s13011-016-0051-8
  5. Marten, B., Pfeuffer, M., & Schrezenmeir, J. (2006). Medium Chain Triglycerides. International Dairy Journal, 16(11), 1374-1382. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2006.06.015′
  6. Saris, W. H., Astrup, A., Prentice, A. M., Zunft, H. J., Formiguera, X., Verboeket-van de Venne, W. P. H. G., … & Vasilaras, T. H. (2000). Randomized controlled trial of changes in dietary carbohydrate/fat ratio and simple vs complex carbohydrates on body weight and blood lipids: the CARMEN study. International Journal of Obesity, 24(10), 1310-1318.
  7. Surwit, R. S., Feinglos, M. N., McCaskill, C. C., Clay, S. L., Babyak, M. A., Brownlow, B. S., … & Lin, P. H. (1997). Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 65(4), 908-915.