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So, what can you do to maintain your muscle during the holiday season? As usual, I’m here to tell you…
  • Theresa Christensen

Maintaining Muscle Mass During the Holidays

It seems that every year, the holiday “push” starts earlier and earlier. This year, I’ve seen fully decorated Christmas trees up before the squirrels even started eating my jack-o-lanterns! The holiday season always began the day after Thanksgiving when I was growing up. Now, it appears to begin unofficially on November 1st. That is a full nine weeks before the new year. While that may seem like a nice, long time to get your holiday shopping, planning, and wrapping done, taking a nine-week break from your fitness routine can be absolutely detrimental to your health. 

We all know how easy it is to put on weight versus losing it, but have you ever thought about how quickly your body can lose muscle? It’s just as important to be aware of, if not more important. Generally, an active person who stops exercising will begin to lose muscle mass in as little as two to three weeks. You read that right. It’s not a very long time at all. 

The Science

Let me drop a little science before I get into some tips for maintaining muscle during the holiday season. Muscle is considered to be metabolically active. Simply said, the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism. The faster your metabolism, the more efficiently your body burns calories. When your body loses muscle mass, your metabolism slows down, thus burning fat and calories at a slower rate. 

The average American gains 1-2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It may not seem like much, but most people never lose that. Year after year, it can add up pretty quickly. An active person who exercises regularly can generally lose that added holiday weight fairly quickly. However, if the active individual takes a break from their exercise routine between holidays, they also risk losing 1-2 lbs of muscle during that time. With the holiday season unofficially stretched to nine weeks, you could be looking at even more damage! 

So, what can you do to maintain your muscle during the holiday season? As usual, I’m here to tell you…

1. Eat lots of protein! Active people generally need about .7 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass. For example, if you weigh 175 pounds, you are looking at a protein goal of 123 grams per day. This breaks down to around 40 grams per meal, or about 35 grams per meal if you’re incorporating a daily protein shake into your routine. Turkey has 8g of protein per ounce. A 4oz serving of turkey will supply 32 grams of protein! Well done! Just remember that the gravy adds a lot of fat, sodium, and calories, as do the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. Baked sweet potato, grilled asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and roasted carrots are smarter choices, and they make for delicious and beautifully colorful sides. 

2. Keep up with your resistance training. Listen, I know how busy the holiday season can be. The gym can sometimes be the easiest thing to cut from your schedule. At 30 to 45 minutes 3-4 days per week, the benefit of having a couple of extra hours in your week is simply not worth it. Resistance or strength training is absolutely imperative to maintaining and increasing muscle mass. Using free weights, weight machines, bodyweight exercises, and resistance bands are all examples of resistance training. Keep up with your training routine and take advantage of the many strength and HIIT-based classes that we offer at Fitness Incentive. With classes as early as 5am and well into the evening, you’ll find something that fits your busy schedule. What’s better than a great endorphin-releasing workout during the stressful holiday season?

3. Eat! The hustle and bustle of the holidays can often cause people to miss meals. Those missed meals can help people justify a few snickerdoodles as a meal replacement. That’s no good. To maintain muscle, you need to eat close to what’s referred to as your “maintenance calories.” This is the number of calories your body burns on average based on your basal metabolic rate or how many calories your body burns at rest, with your activity level factored in. You can meet with a nutritionist to get a better idea of your maintenance calories or get guidance from your trainer. The Inbody scanner is also a helpful tool for determining your maintenance calories. Keep in mind that those calories cannot be made up entirely of gingerbread, latkes, and sugar plums. You need to eat a high-protein diet balanced with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. These are your macronutrients, or what I’m sure you’ve heard referred to as “macros.” Again, your nutritionist or trainer can help you determine what’s right for you.

It’s that simple…

Get enough protein, exercise with weights, and eat good food. Simple, right? I know you can do it. I’m not saying not to enjoy yourself this season. I’m just saying to stay off of your trainer’s naughty list! 

Good luck, and enjoy the holidays! 

About the Author

Theresa Christensen

Theresa Christensen is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and the Director of FI’s Cycle Program. She stars in the film.

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