– The twinned issues of overindulgence and reduced training are the perfect storm for fat gain and muscle loss even during a short holiday break
– However, with a few small tweaks and the right mind-set, you can enjoy your holiday while avoiding gaining excessive body fat and having a large detraining effect
– The type of holiday will have a big impact in terms of the amount of activity that you do daily and therefore the calories burned
– Have a general plan for exercise, pick days you want to exercise and stick to it
– Consume 3 main meals a day that have a good source of protein
Whilst on a break abroad recently, it struck me that there are many misconceptions and lack of information in relation to managing nutrition and lifestyle choices while on holiday. A holiday often prompts the notion of a good “blow out”, and many of us will justify the excess eating and drinking as a break from the norm, and something that we can fix when we get back. While change is good and holidays are well-deserved, they can be enjoyed without undoing all of your training and hard work in the lead-up to your holiday, and without sacrificing too much of the things that we all enjoy about the time away.
Consider that while it is important to enjoy yourself, the approach of “anything goes” for a week or two can have a dramatic effect on your metabolic health, and more visibly, on your physique by changes in body fat and muscle mass. My experience with elite athletes even in their peak physical shape will see increases of up to 4% body fat and a loss of muscle of over 3 kg in a 3 week holiday period. This is simply explained by the twinned issues of overindulgence and reduced training and physical exertion. While either on their own can have adverse effects, the two together are the perfect storm for fat gain and muscle loss.
There is some good news: with some minor tweaks and a clear mind-set, you can still indulge on your break with plenty of treats and drinks while not having a dramatic effect on your waistline, physique and health. Three nutrition factors that are most likely to affect your physique and health at any time in your life are alcohol, sugary drinks and deep-fried foods. So the mind-set should be to appreciate a relaxed approach to your food and exercise habits, but to still maintain good core principles as opposed to doing next to no physical activity, drinking litres of alcohol, quenching your thirst with sweet fizzy drinks and eating chips with every meal!
What type of holiday are you having?
Obviously, the nature of your holiday and how you plan to enjoy it is hugely important. We all have different visions for what a holiday should look like in order to relax and enjoy ourselves. Some people love active holidays like skiing, cycling, hiking and golfing while others prefer lounging around on beach holidays, or exploring through city breaks.
In terms of physical activity, these are distinctive types of holidays with vastly different levels of energy expenditure, which in simple terms means calories burned. If you are going on an active holiday, then you will expend a greater amount of calories and thus have greater flexibility in the food choices you make and quantities that you can eat – an extra beer or ice cream is really not an issue.
However, if you are largely inactive, say lying on the beach for a week with little time even spent walking, then the metabolic response and consequences to the food you eat are quite different. Apart from the fact that it is much easier to consume more calories than you burn, compared to a holiday involving mountain hikes or long bike rides, this inactivity means that the body is more likely to partition these extra calories for fat storage. Worse still, the inactivity effectively switches on pathways of muscle loss due to the lack of muscle stimulation and movement compared to when you train regularly.
Eating food regularly is still important, and three main meals remains a good rule of thumb. Portion sizes at main meals should be smaller than usual in order to accommodate the extra calories that come from energy-dense treats and alcohol. Because of the typical holiday pattern of large dinner and alcohol consumed in the evening and into the night, calories consumed tend to be greatest at this time. Therefore, one approach is to having smaller intakes during the earlier part of the day in order to have calories to spare later in the day.
Having a high protein breakfast is a great way to start your day. Protein will help to curb your appetite throughout the morning. The other nutrient that has a major effect on appetite is fibre, for which we are usually talking about fruits and vegetables, which tend to be among the food highlights of holidays in sunnier climes. Basing your breakfast and lunch around protein and fibre is a simple way to control calorie intake early in the day. A protein-based breakfast like a vegetable-based omelette and cold meats complimented by some fresh fruit is a solid start to the day. A large salad at lunch that contains a source of meat or fish will also provide the desired protein and fibre combination.
Staying active doesn’t mean going for a run or to the gym every day. On a beach holiday, this can mean simply making sure that you accumulate at least an hour of walking throughout the day. Additionally, whether an active or lazy holiday, you might want to do something every other day to avoid a detraining effect, maintain some healthy muscle tone while burning some extra calories. A quick high intensity session such as 20 minutes of circuit training-style work, or interval work on bike or treadmill and you will feel like you have earned that extra treat. If you have no access to a gym, or would rather leave the gym gear at home for the trip, then some bodyweight exercises like press-ups, bodyweight squats, lunges, mountain climbers and hammer raises are a great option for a hotel room or even outdoor workout.
Nutrition tips on holiday
→ Have a source of protein with each meal
→ If taking a hike or excursion on holiday, plan and make snacks for your journey
→ Research suitable places to eat where you are staying
→ Have a high protein meal before drinking alcohol
→ Eat chips, bread or other fried food with every meal
→ Drink sugary drinks instead of water to stay hydrated
→ Go without protein based foods like eggs, meat and fish
→ Have sugary mixers with your alcohol
What you eat and drink on holiday is a question of your own choice, but you can choose to implement some simple strategies around your activity and food choices that will allow you to fully enjoy your break while also softening your post-holiday blues. Below are some meals ideas that you can choose to help maintain that beach body for as long as you are away.