If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
Last time, I discussed some things you can do during the week to prepare for the potential calorie excess of your Saturday and Sunday. I like to consider this approach “not fighting it”, in other words, we know that we’re going to over-do it on the calories at the weekend, rather than hating ourselves for “failing” every Monday morning, we can look to set up an approach that allows it to happen.
To re-cap, some options I discussed last week to prepare for the weekend:
1) Calorie smoothing: take up to 25% off your weekdays and adding it to the weekend.
2) Protein only days: using the same logic as calorie smoothing but applying it to 1-2 days per week where we consume only protein, take a larger amount off the daily calorie intake for that day and add to the weekend’s intake
3) Intermittent fasting: Using periods of 16 to 36 hours to abstain from food and hence reduce your weekly calorie intake
4) Increased activity: adding 3-4 cardio sessions during the week to favourably affect the calorie balance during the week
So, we have some tactics to prepare. These ideas are centred around the notion that during the week, we follow a fairly predictable “on” and “off” schedule.
Monday to Friday our lives follow a routine that is predictable and repeatable. We can undergo longer periods of hunger due to the distraction of work, we have less social pressures to indulge and we can plan our meals on a regular pattern.
The weekend, by contrast, tends to be the inverse of this.
The above strategies work very well for those with an already decent calorie target (men, for example), those who don’t mind the extra hunger during the week and those who can pre-plan their week in advance.
However, with clients in the past, we’ve noticed a few issues with the above approaches:
1) Women who already have a low calorie target in a fat-loss phase
If someone is dieting on 1,400kcal (for example), taking 25% off this calorie target is not a sensible or sustainable approach to use for an entire week.
While protein only/fasting days would be the go-to alternative here, sometimes women can experience negative hunger and stress adaptations to very low calorie periods.
2) Changes in plan
Sometimes clients believe that they have nothing planned for the weekend but something crops up at the last minute. At this stage, we can’t really “prepare” for something that is already happening.
3) Weeknight events
Occasionally, social events will crop up during the week. Where these would normally be manageable with the regular calorie target, they are a challenge with reduced calorie targets.
In summary. The preparatory options work well for some and if they are an option for you, I’d advise these as an initial starting point used in conjunction with the below when needed. However, for those who cannot (for any of the above reasons) drop their calories during the week, we need some more reactive options to use on the day/event.
1) Calorie sink
There’s nothing new or innovative about this, it’s been written about ad nausea in various articles. The main premise is the following:
During the day you want to minimise your calorie intake to allow for the majority of your calories to be consumed in the evening.
We like to encourage clients to skip breakfast and eat their first meal around midday and then use a meal combination that will maximise satiety and food volume.
Assuming someone is planning an evening which involves a meal and maybe alcohol (more on that later) we use the following meal set:
Coffee/tea with milk, plenty of water. Push back the first meal for as long as is comfortable
Protein shake (blended): ice, frozen spinach, xantham gum, 2 scoops whey, water/skimmed milk
Soup: something on the lower calorie end of the spectrum
Repeat protein shake + 1-2 pieces of fruit
This tends to comprise less than 750kcal, leaving typically at least 50% of the calorie balance for the evening meal.
When you’re actually at the restaurant, it will typically be very difficult to track accurately. Almost impossible usually. So, we need to try and limit the amount of “error” we have.
Some of this comes down to being as accurate as you NEED to be. If for example, you’re prepping for a bodybuilding show, meals out need to be very carefully managed.
You should be opting for simple, single ingredient options where possible. Think chicken and vegetables.
If you’re in a fat-loss phase, this is the next rung down the ladder. I still advise tracking your intake as closely as possible and where you don’t fancy going for chicken and veg, adding in a buffer to account for the extra fats and carbs.
So, when ordering a pasta dish, I may add an extra 10g fats or 25g carbs if I feel the entry on MyFitnessPal are a little off. These entries can either be created as new foods or added using the premium feature on MyFitnessPal.
If you’re simply pursuing strength or muscle mass, there is less pressure here. I advise taking the approach of tracking as accurately possible and not stressing about it.
In general, a pizza will have more room for error than a chicken breast and you need to acknowledge this. In addition, the combination of carbs, fats and salts tends to lead to a greater propensity to subsequent over-eating than a plain meal.
Some general rules I like to implement when eating out:
1) Prioritise protein:
No matter what the meal that your choosing is, I always suggest choosing something that prioritises protein. Whether it be a meat dish (where a leaner cut would be a better option as a greater % of calories come from protein rather than fats) or a pasta dish (where one containing lean meat is a better option).
2) Limit options:
Try to avoid sharing platters or tasting menus. When presented with an increased element of choice, we’re hard wired to want to try it all.
Limiting these options and picking 1-3 meal choices will usually lead to a more enjoyable dining experience and also reduce your chances of going overboard.
3) Use shakes:
We suggest a blend of whey and fibre to be consumed immediately prior to eating out. 2-3 scoop of protein powder mixed with your choice of fibre powder and consumed 10-15 mins prior to eating will go long way in reducing and managing hunger.
3) Alcohol management
There are two sides to alcohol.
It’s important to recognise that alcohol, for our purposes, is just calories. We can account and track for it (albeit less accurately) just as we can with other foods.
So, there is nothing special with alcohol in that regard.
Some have hypothesised that alcohol carries a different calorie value due to its thermic affect and while this is likely true, its overly complicated for our purposes. We should still be looking to count and track the calories from alcohol.
I have discussed this more here.
The best way to approach this is as follows:
1) Create a calorie sink as above and if possible, track the evening meal (as best you can) with some calories for drinks in advance. This will allow a clear and defined target for what you can consume during the day
2) Track your alcohol intake via MyFitnesspal. Most commonly consumed drinks will already be available on the public database, just be conscious of the entries you use.
3) On a day that you do drink, aim for a protein goal and a calorie goal. Because alcohol is a macro in itself but isn’t listed in MyFitnesspal, the calories and macros won’t add up on that particular day.
Alcohol can obviously increase the likelihood of overeating on the day you drink and the day after. It can mean you miss a training session, don’t get enough sleep across the week and generally fail to recover from the physical demands you place on yourself.
If you consider training and diet to be one of your top priorities, it’s worth considering being moderate with your alcohol intake. Drink as though you’re planning a big gym session first thing in the morning and in a way that means you can barely tell you drank the next morning.
However, if the gym and nutrition is not one of your top priorities, as long as you’re still hitting the above minimums, drink to your own personal levels of enjoyment. Bare in mind however that you should still seek to maintain total weekly training, sleep and calorie targets.
4) Simple rules
I think its important to remember that while social occasions that crop up last minute can be stressful for the diet conscious among us, the reason most of us got into training in the first place is to improve our life in general.
Going out and socialising is part of living a balanced and enjoyable life and I never advise someone place training and diet in higher regard unless there is a measurable and defined reason to do so (a competition for example).
Follow the below simple rules, set the correct boundaries in place and then focus on enjoyment:
1) Where possible, plan for a night out in advance
2) When this isn’t possible, try to plan within the day by creating a calorie sink and allow some room for the meal and alcohol at the end of the day
3) Manage your choices while eating out, limit the number of foods you choose from and prioritise protein. Drink a shake prior to the meal if possible.
4) Use the guidelines here to manage alcohol intake. Remember, there is no reason to not drink, just be conscious that if you drink to the detriment of sleep, training and calorie balance, you’re taking one step in the wrong direction. See here for more info.
5) Chill! Remember even the best laid plans can go wrong. If you do go over-board and find yourself in McDonalds and 4am, all is not lost. Next time, I’ll discuss some ways that you can re-adjust if and when things go wrong.