The holiday season can be overwhelming and it can be hard to find a balance between training and enjoying time with your friends and family. Our goal at Wild.AI is to help you understand how your body responds to different training stimuli, and that may be a lack of exercise. In this 3-part article series, we hope to help ease your anxiety around eating, drinking, and exercising during this chaotic race to the end of the year.
First, we should note that you deserve to have a holiday. Enjoy quality time with those in your life, eat that piece of pie, take a break for a little. The holidays should be a time to recover.
In terms of your training, there is good news and bad news when it comes to limiting your exercise program. The bad news is that a decrease in training of any kind will result in some loss of performance. The good news, though,is that in the short-term, this decline is relatively limited. Short term detraining (less than 4 weeks) can result in a decrease in your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise, measured by your VO2 max (i.e., the maximal amount of oxygen your body can take in), by less than 4% (1).
In terms of strength training, you will likely not see any significant declines in your ability to lift a certain amount of weight after a couple of weeks of not training (2). However, you may notice that there is a decline in the amount of reps you can do, primarily due to a decrease in blood flow, which we will get into in more detail below.
The cause for several of the mechanisms seen in detraining is a decrease in the blood delivered to the tissues (2). The extent to which blood volume (i.e., the amount of blood flowing through your body) decreases largely due to your training status. Highly trained endurance athletes may experience blood volume loss upwards of 12%, relative to their trained levels. However, the less intense and frequent you train, the less relative blood volume you will lose.
Another piece of good news is that you can limit how much your athletic performance is affected by training less frequently, but at a relatively high intensity. One study found that exercising at 80% of heart rate max two times per week can maintain your aerobic capacity for up to 15 weeks (2). In essence, how intense your training session is matters more than how frequently you train.
Lastly, even going on a brief walk can help keep you stay active during the chaos of the holidays. Not only can walks be a great way to take a break and get away to improve your mood, but they can also provide a good way to keep up your fitness. Walking can place less stress on joints than a lot of other weight bearing exercises, it can help with blood flow and cardiovascular function, improve endurance, and limit the development of chronic illnesses (i.e., high blood pressure) (3)! We recommend getting outside (or on a treadmill) to help you prolong losing your progress during this hectic time of year! But don’t worry if you do feel like you’re losing your gains, Wild.AI is always here to help you get back into it (including exercise programs)!
In addition to limiting your time for training, the holiday season also comes with a lot of tasty calorie filled foods. This can be overwhelming when you’re focused on a particular athletic goal, but we’re here to tell you that it's more than ok to enjoy that delicious food while it's around!
The holiday season is often partnered with the “off-season” of many athletic disciplines. Feeding yourself extra calories during this downtime can help your body recover from the previous year in a lot of ways. Building muscle costs a lot of calories for the body. Often, it is recommended that those that are looking to gain muscle, take in a surplus of calories (4). When in full training mode, despite your best efforts, it can sometimes be hard to hit your macros all the time. Therefore, by feeding yourself a little extra during the holiday season, you can make up for the calories that you may have lost during heavy training. A little extra fuel in your body can not only help you perform better when it’s time to train, but it can also help boost your immunity, protecting you against winter colds, flus, and germs (5).
We’re often led to believe that our bodies operate on a strict in vs out strategy each day, but the truth is our bodies have no reset that restarts our caloric intake each day. It’s true that if sustained over time, a caloric surplus will likely result in weight gain; however, that large celebratory dinner for Huannaka or Christmas, probably won’t affect you much. In fact, a study from The New England Journal of Medicine found that, although people think they gain 5-10 lbs (2.27-4.54 kg) during the holiday season, it's likely closer to 1 lb (0.45 kg) (6).
While we hope this article encourages you to be kind to yourself regarding your training and nutrition during the holiday season, we do want to encourage you to be mindful of what you’re eating. Including lots of proteins, complex carbohydrates (like quinoa), and nutrient heavy sides (like spinach) is an essential part of a balanced meal (5). With that said, have that cup of hot cocoa, eat that piece of pie, and take this time to rest from all that you have accomplished this year. And as always, #getWILD.
Zheng, J., Pan, T., Jiang, Y., & Shen, Y. (2022). Effects of Short- and Long-Term Detraining on Maximal Oxygen Uptake in Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BioMed Research International, 2022, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/2130993
Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: Loss of Training-Induced Physiological and Performance Adaptations. Part I. Sports Medicine, 30(2), 79–87. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200030020-00002
Steinhilber, B. (2017, September 2). Why walking is the most underrated form of exercise. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise-ncna797271
Slater, G. J., Dieter, B. P., Marsh, D. J., Helms, E. R., Shaw, G., & Iraki, J. (2019). Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2019.00131
MacMillan, A. (2014, December 11). Is It Okay to Gain Weight During the Holidays? Outside Online. https://www.outsideonline.com/health/nutrition/it-okay-gain-weight-during-holidays/
Helander, E. E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight Gain over the Holidays in Three Countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12), 1200–1202. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc1602012