A Guide to Cheating on Your Fitness Goals and Achieving Them Anyway
Ah. America’s favorite holiday is here. The 4th of July is a day of celebration that almost all of us partake in. Whether it’s barbecuing with friends or having a few drinks at the pool, this is a day of guilt-free consumption for many.
Because the 4th falls on a Thursday this year, this is a guide to not letting the beloved holiday interfere with your goals. Whether it’s your fitness goals, or you have to go back into work on the 5th, today you will learn how to roll with the binge and the booze - and end up on top (and feel great the next day if you do need to work).
Note: This guide is not specific to the 4th of July but can be used on any occasion where you plan on going ham on the good things in life. Of course, the best way to achieve your fitness and productivity goals is to limit these days, but we all cave from time to time.
Another note: Be sure to stay tuned for the portion of this article on alcohol metabolism later. The inner nerd in me really enjoyed writing that part, and it provides some great tips and insights.
In The Morning
The start of your day is what determines what the rest of your day looks like. It sets the tone for the day (and not just on this day, but all days).
Because our behavior is going to involve sinful burgers, potato chips, and beer, there are a few things we’ll need to do first thing in the AM.
First, we’ll need to chug water. At least 20 oz. This really is something you should be doing every morning since you slowly become dehydrated throughout the night. That, and it has been proven to wake you up faster, kickstart your metabolism, boost your energy levels, and make your brain happy (and other cool things, too).
Side note: Water is going to be your friend all day on this day (again, it really should be every day as well — but today, it serves a dual purpose). A lot of times, dehydration and hunger are experienced as the same sensation. Meaning that when you feel hungry, you could really just be dehydrated. Also, if you’re chugging water throughout the day, your stomach will naturally be full, thus further preventing you from going crazy on those potato chips more so than you normally would.
Alright, so we chugged our water. Next, we’re going to eat a healthy breakfast. (We’re also going to work out. The order you do these is totally up to your preference. For example, I prefer to workout fasted in the AM, but I know others who can’t exercise at all on an empty stomach. More on the workout portion in a bit.)
Here’s a fun psychology fact for you. We’re not only eating a healthy breakfast because we’re going to spend our afternoon being unhealthy. We’re also eating a healthy breakfast because it will trigger the commitment and consistency bias that lives deep in our subconscious.
What does this mean? The commitment and consistency bias is a tendency that we all have where we modify our behavior to remain consistent with what we say, do, and believe. So by eating a healthy breakfast, we subconsciously associate ourselves with being a healthy person (and are committed to it), and we will adjust our behavior to remain consistent with that belief that we’re a healthy person. AKA — we may subconsciously go out of our way to eat and drink less or exercise more than otherwise. Pretty cool, right?
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, onto the details of our breakfast. Since we’re going to eat junk food and drink beer later, we’re going to have a nice keto-friendly (low-carb — or high-fat and moderate-protein) meal here. And preferably continue to eat this way up until it’s holiday time.
Why would we do this to ourselves? Well, it’s actually not that bad. You can have some steak and eggs. You can have a nice skillet with some sauteed vegetables, meat, cheese, and egg. You can also have some eggs and bacon or sausage (if you’re vegan, I’m so sorry, this section is not for you). Be sure to add a bunch of spinach to this meal to get the healthy part across to your brain, if the no carbs part doesn’t cut it (the nutrients are a plus).
But back to the why. We want to limit our carbs, because we’re going to get plenty of those from the junk food we’re going to eat and the beer we’re going to drink. Rather than have an excess of carbs and blood sugar run around our digestive tract and bloodstream, we’re aiming to replenish our glycogen (stored carbs) that was depleted during our sleep. You see, carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. But guess what? Once these stores are full, all the extra carbs get converted to fat. That’s what we’re trying to avoid today.
As of now, this is mostly our liver glycogen, which is depleted by simple everyday tasks like walking around and living your life. Since you’re not eating carbs, it won’t replenish, and those carbs you eat later will be able to replenish these stores.
Just as we want to deplete our liver of glycogen so our holiday carbs can replace it later, we are going to work out this morning to deplete our muscles of glycogen. To do that, we must work out hard. And it will be worth it since our glucose sensitivity will ramp up — meaning that the carbs we eat later will go straight to our muscles to repair them, and then to our depleted liver after.
To deplete our muscles, we’re going to either perform strength training or HIIT. But preferably both. I would recommend lifting upper body and following that with HIIT that involves your legs, that way you can deplete most of your body. For example, you can hit your back, chest, and shoulders, and then do sprints on the bike for 8 sets. If you only lift one body part at a time, go with back on this day since your back is the largest muscle group on your upper body, thus holding the most amount of glycogen.
After this workout, pat yourself on the back for being this committed to your goals. Now continue to drink water and eat low carb until it’s holiday time.
Now that all the prep work is done, it’s time to actually enjoy ourselves.
Now, these next two points go without saying, but I’m going to cover them anyway. At the end of the day, we’re all human. But to really maximize our goals:
- Eat healthy snacks/food
- Avoid alcohol
Now, maybe you have more willpower than I do when it comes to burgers and IPAs, but next, I’ll be covering what to do if you’re going to enjoy yourself to the fullest anyway.
Having healthier alternatives on the 4th of July is easier than you’d think. For example, you can snack on fruit and veggies with hummus or spinach dip and replace your beef burger with a turkey burger, and can also omit the cheese and/or buns if you really wanted to. Even if there is other food, you can avoid it and settle for these options.
Now for the booze.
If you decide to drink anyway, there are a few things you can do to take in fewer calories. For example, cocktails have much fewer calories than beer if you use club soda as your mixer (or you can go with no mixer at all). You can also go with red wine. I would advise against diet mixers or artificial sweeteners as aspartame may be correlated with negative health effects.
Now. If you end up slipping and go with a few beers or higher caloric beverages, then this is where our low carb meals and workout from earlier will come to our rescue. Since your body is depleted of glycogen, those carbs from the beer or sugar from the mixer should mostly go straight to your liver and muscle to replenish the glycogen that is not there. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
A Word on Alcohol Metabolism
Did you know that, although alcohol does contain calories (7 kcal/gram), the calories ingested from alcohol don’t count the same as calories from food?
This is because your body cannot store calories from alcohol. This is because alcohol is a poison that your body immediately begins to get rid of. So, your liver converts the alcohol into acetate, which it then begins to further metabolize and use up as energy or excrete.
Don’t get your hopes up, however. Although this sounds like good news, your metabolism nearly shuts down its normal course of fat oxidation (or burning fat). But the good news is that this doesn’t have that significant of an effect on the amount of weight you lose or gain.
Now for the bad news.
Because your body is focusing all of its resources on getting rid of this toxin, everything that we eat afterward gets stored for later (stored as fat) since the body is occupied and can’t digest or metabolize it.
Yep, it’s the drunchies that are the culprit.
So, needless to say, if you want to stay the course on your fitness goals, you’ll need to really try not to eat anything once you’ve started drinking.
Later That Night
After the festivities have come to an end, it’s time to chug some more water. Your body will thank you in the morning, as dehydration is one of the main causes of a hangover.
If you have a multivitamin, take one before bed as well. The alcohol has depleted your body of key nutrients. Plus, it’s good to be healthy and get your vitamins in on a regular basis as well.
If you can, try not to stay out too late and make sure you get a good night’s sleep. If possible, get to bed at the same time you do every night in order to remain aligned with your circadian rhythm, which will keep you focused and energized the next day.
Now pat yourself on the back for making it through the day without being a complete slob and sticking to your goals!
The Next Morning
As soon as you wake up, chug some more water again. Although we had a lot of water last night, we still failed to hydrate throughout the whole night (and if you drank a lot of alcohol, it even kept dehydrating you throughout the night).
Now get over to the gym (or work out at home)! Move. Intensely. Sweat. Release some endorphins, which, if you have a hangover, will help. You’ll also release other happy brain chemicals and energize yourself throughout the day, fighting the fatigue you may be facing from binging on things you don’t normally binge on. If you have the option to sit in a sauna, do so for about 15 minutes. This will help you detox and also has many other health benefits.
Now it’s time for a healthy breakfast again! And this time you may have your beloved carbs. However, I would recommend these carbs come from fruits and vegetables. Although your body may be craving an In-n-Out burger at 7am, it’s best to avoid it. Go with a green smoothie with a protein source so you can both feel better and take advantage of that commitment and consistency bias we talked about earlier.
Last but not least, smile. Reminisce on a fun day with family and friends, and don’t feel guilty. You’ve earned it! And now, today is a new day. And since you’ve prepared yourself so well for the holiday and are taking action to get back on track after, you have nothing to fret.
Oh, and literally smile. Boost your serotonin levels just by moving these face smiles and increase your confidence that today is going to be a great day!
I hope this guide has helped you plan for not just this week’s holiday, but also for any future holidays or special occasions that pop up from time to time. Let me know in the comments what you thought!