Eggnog, shortbread cookies, gingerbread, fruitcake, turkey, so good, but so fattening and it’s everywhere during the holiday season. And although we all know a little extra exercise could blast away a few of the extra calories, few of us can spare the time to exercise more, given our family commitments.
I’m no exception, in fact this year my wife and I will be travelling to London England to spend Christmas and New Years with our daughter who lives there permanently. And she’s already begun baking all my favourite holiday treats, and I fully intend to enjoy the fruits of her labour. Given my ambitious 2013 training plans to race in Haute Route, the hardest cycling sportive in the world, watching my weight from now until August 2013 will be a full time job and I don’t intend to get behind the eight ball before 2013 even begins.
It’s no mystery why the average person puts on about a pound or two of permanent weight gain every year between Christmas and New Year’s, according to research. And come spring, when that third serving of bread pudding is a distant memory you’ve still got that extra holiday weight on your butt or gut. Now, one to two pounds may not sound like that much to worry about, but when you consider it happens year after year for decades, those extra pounds rapidly accumulate over time.
That’s why what I’m about to tell you could make the difference between adding to your waistline, or maintaining your current weight even as you enjoy the extra calories, fat and sugar associated with holiday feasting. And the best part is it won’t even take up any extra time. You only need to rearrange your daily schedule so you exercise when your body naturally burns more fat.
And that magic time is…just before breakfast.
This very valuable advice comes from a study that was conducted in Belgium. For six weeks, all of the healthy participants were put on a high-calorie, high-fat diet that included 30% more calories than they usually ate, with half of those calories coming from fat. The study contained three control groups
- Group one: exercised vigorously (biking and running) for 60 to 90 minutes four times each week after consuming a carbohydrate-rich breakfast…and they drank a carbohydrate beverage during their workouts.
- Group two: followed the identical exercise regimen, but they worked out before breakfast and they drank only water while exercising. (To keep calorie counts identical between both groups, the before-breakfast exercisers ate that same carb-rich meal and consumed that same carbohydrate drink later in the day.)
- Group three: followed the same diet but did not exercise at all.
Results: After six weeks, the non-exercising control group members gained an average of nearly seven pounds, while the group that exercised after breakfast gained about three pounds. However, there was no significant weight gain among those who did their exercise before breakfast.
The before-breakfast workout also had other important health benefits. At the start and end of the study, the researchers tested participants’ levels of glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity —indicators of how well the body is able to use insulin to pull glucose from the bloodstream into the cells for use as energy. Poor glucose tolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Again, at the end of the study, the before-breakfast exercisers showed significantly better results on these tests than the non-exercisers and after-breakfast exercisers—and they also had less fat stored in their muscle cells.
FAST TO BURN MORE FAT
Karen Van Proeyen, PhD, the study’s lead author, explained why the pre-breakfast exercise group did so much better than the post-breakfast exercisers even though everyone was following the same poor diet.
She said that during exercise, the body responds to the physical stress by changing the levels of hormones involved in the use of energy, including adrenaline and insulin. Adrenaline stimulates fat-burning, while insulin has the opposite effect. According to Dr. Van Proeyen, when exercise is performed during fasting—e.g., before you’ve eaten anything for the day—adrenaline levels are about two times higher and insulin concentrations are about 10 times lower, as compared with the same exercise performed after eating. This improved ratio between adrenaline and insulin allows the body to burn more fat during the workout.
THE BOTTOM LINE
During holiday feasting season, set your alarm clock a little earlier and hit the gym before breakfast, or on days when that’s not possible, I suggest, you let about six hours pass between your last meal and your workout—for instance, by eating lunch at noon and then exercising at 6 pm. By making a few simple changes to your schedule, you will be able to enjoy the holiday treats without fighting the battle of the bulge for the remainder of the year.
Enjoy the Ride....Rob