You’ve survived the month of October…that means that you’ve waded through the piles of garbage calories from all the Halloween candy, dodged the pumpkin-f**king spice everything and managed to stay cut up for looking like a beast or goddess in the Halloween costume you planned on rocking for the last 5 months. Now that you have urge of painting yourself green to be the Hulk or donning the Hot Topic shopping spree for your Harley Quinn costume (c’mon, we all know you did), it’s time to shift focus.
Aside from the stores gently beginning to slip Christmas down our throats by having a section for decorations already in place mid-October, the next big thing on our radar, especially for those diet minded is the Thanksgiving mega-meal. While Christmas sure can pack on some pounds, especially with the sweets added in, Thanksgiving is hands down the one day of the year that can really throw a wrench in your diet. I mean, what other holiday is celebrated with the MEAL being the sole focus of the day? That’s what we thought.
Now, for those who are looking to add some mass and turn those chicken legs into turkey legs, the calories can be a welcome addition and beneficial. However, if you’re cutting up or just looking to negate holiday damage and maintain weight, this can be a potential landmine. Those bulking aren’t’ off the hook either as just because it’s bulking season, that’s no excuse to get sloppy and more fat than necessary that you’ll have to cut off later. You can and definitely should enjoy Thanksgiving and the delicious food that it brings, but the key is to have a little strategy going in.
One bad meal isn’t going to make you fat, nor will one healthy meal make you lean. Keep this in mind and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal with some common sense. By planning for the meal in advance and eating with a good strategy, not only can you maximize the benefits of some quality calories but you’ll keep the damage control in place from gaining extra poundage.
First and foremost, Thanksgiving is a planned meal. It’s not like you have a sporadic or ‘accidental’ cheat meal that can happen on occasion. It’s literally the same day every single year, so when you know that big meal Thursday is coming, get your strategy in place. Since weight gain isn’t determined by a day to day fluctuation here or there, but rather calorie balance over time (more than a few days), if you create a calorie deficit (for cutting) or a reasonable surplus (for bulking), you can destroy that meal and still stay in the ballpark of staying on track and not blow your diet entirely.
For example, if you’re cutting and remove an extra 200 calories from your diet for a day leading up to the meal, that gives you an additional 1400 calories in theory for the week that you can have in the tank and at your disposal for that thanksgiving goodness. No, don’t make this strategy a normal thing as consuming large chunks of calories at once while cutting too low calorie wise for periods of time as it isn’t optimal, but it is a useful strategy for such an occasion.
- Use It As A Refeed – Carbs Are King
This strategy is especially useful for those that are cutting. When you diet utilizes the response of the leptin boost that results from the short-term boost in calories. Leptin is a hormone that regulates satiety and energy intake and when calories and body fat drop, leptin also decreases. The result is the natural hunger response, which as you know can be the biggest b**ch in dieting is increased and your satiety (feeling satisfied after food) is reduced. The goal of a refeed day is to promote a rise in leptin levels to spike the metabolism and help stave off some of the hunger and satiety.
Now, to make your Thanksgiving meal work to your advantage, think lean protein and carbs. This is because a refeed day should primarily focus on increasing carbohydrate intake. While this may sound like a bit of a downer as there is a lot of Thanksgiving goodies that have a higher fat content, but it has been demonstrated that high-carbohydrate meals can boost leptin, particularly when compared to a high-fat meal. This short-term boost in carbohydrates can also help fill muscle carbohydrate stores, promoting hard training in the days to come.
The perfect scenario would be hitting a hard training session before the big meal if you can. This will further deplete your body, and insulin sensitivity is heightened following training, creating the ideal time to smash all of those lean proteins and carbs. Aim for the skinless, white turkey meat for protein and carb wise, think sweet/mashed potatoes (without the butter), stuffing (not made inside the turkey or with butter), breads and low fat desserts (enjoy some sugar without the fat here).
Training has a profound effect on muscle insulin sensitivity as well as increases the movement of GLUT4 receptors (the cellular gateways that allow glucose into your muscles) to the surface of your muscle cells. This means that your response to carbohydrates as we just touched on in the refeed section will be optimal and be utilized for training recovery, muscle gain and minimally stored as fat. This is why you always have been told to get in those carbs post training as this effect is so profound that it can temporarily improve insulin resistance with just one training session, and repeatedly doing this practice will lead to some great gains.
With this in mind, make your Thanksgiving meal work for you and have it as your post-workout meal. Furthermore, to maximize the impact of the improved post-workout insulin sensitivity, ensure that your body has burned off some glycogen (not as hard if you’re already cutting) to ensure it has something to refill. To start, skip the pre- and intra-workout carbs. This may sound counterintuitive, but if your muscles are topped off with glycogen already, there’s nothing to refill, plus your body has at least 1500 kcal of glycogen stored. It’s a nice strategy to prime the anabolic pump though by taking some BCAA during the training session to promote protein synthesis and get the ball rolling for your recovery before following up with the Thanksgiving feast throw down.
Lastly, in order to maximize the effect the meal has, the more depleted your muscle glycogen stores are going into the meal, the more calories they will be able to store, reducing the chances that some calories get sent to the body fat stores. So, sorry Curl-Bros but to get the most out of this, hit the largest muscle groups in the body since these will require the most muscle glycogen for storage purposes. A hard legs workout along with some touch up work on other body parts will do the trick.
- Dessert Damage Control
One important strategy that can be useful, refeed day or not is to keep in mind the desserts. There’s so many out there and nothing adds in calories quicker than a plethora of sweets by way of Holiday desserts. This is typically where you’ll pack in the most calories, not to mention fat depending on the variety, so by limiting this you’ll go a long way toward decreasing the damage done by the meal.
If you want to get a handle on this, one way to avoid going crazy or letting urges get the best of you is to choose only one dessert and make your selection before even sitting down. If you have it pre-picked before the meal, you’ll eliminate the contemplating or difficulty deciding, reducing the chance that you’ll just say “F**k it” and get multiple items. Yes, high carb and lower fat items are idea and can fit into your refeed, but dietary refeed or not, there’s no need for shoving stupid amounts of sugar down your throat “all for the gains”.
While food is one thing that is to be expected, it’s also tradition for a wide array of alcohol to be available to accompany it. It doesn’t take the sharpest tool in the shed to realize that alcohol has calories in it as well, and it can hit your waist line, especially when paired with a surplus of calories from the Thanksgiving feast. Choosing whether to partake or not in alcohol can be a challenging issue, especially when it comes to keeping your calories and weight in check.
One good rule of thumb is that if you choose to drink, ensure that you’re eating some food along with it. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram and is processed differently in the body than food and can cause a drop in blood glucose. Due to the calories, many try and not eat when they drink, but this can lead to issues such as hypoglycemia and cause other metabolic issues. Instead, choose to partake intelligently by limiting yourself to 2 drinks or less for men and 1 drink for women. Doing so not only cuts back on calories but it allows you to enjoy a drink and stay in control more to make healthy food and beverage choices.
When selecting drinks, be aware that some are higher in calories than others. The liquid calories can add up quickly and before you know it, add several hundred calories that you wouldn’t expect with ease. Opt for lighter beers and lower sugar mixed drinks. Steer clear of calorie bombs like heavy beers, margaritas and other sugary concoctions.
Go Forth For Feasts & Gains
Now that you have some very useful information of how to use Thanksgiving to your advantage, make the most of it. There’s no reason to dread the holiday or skip it for the sake of staying on track with your goals, it just takes a little planning, and with the tips and strategy we outlined above, you can use your Thanksgiving feast to feed your every day beast!