As a nutrition coach my life is a constant battle.
A battle between understanding human physiology and body composition manipulation, and absolutely loving food.
You see, you could say I walk in two worlds
I won't call myself a 'foodie' because, well, that word has always reeked of pretentiousness to me.
Lets just say I have an inner fat kid waiting to leap out at any minute.
The struggle my friends, is very real.
I do however happen to think that this makes me extremely relatable as a coach. The image put out by most fitness professionals of ' eating clean ' has always seemed insincere to me.
This often alienates those unfamiliar with fitness who may find the idea of behavior change daunting.
Never does my inner fat kid scream louder than when away on holiday.
The good news is that over the years I've built up a few simple techniques I'm going to share with you to allow you to enjoy yourself on holiday without losing all your gains.
Last year I went on an epic 3 week trip across America. As you can imagine this involved incredible food with portion sizes that would make even the most devoted fat kid break into a cold sweat.
However, I came back exactly the same weight I left, dead on.
How is this possible?
Before I go into anything, let me explain what I'm not going to tell you :
I'm not going to tell you to bring 50 different supplements with you, train 7 days a week and only eat at restaurants with macro's on the menu.
Understand this is a guide for those who want to enjoy their holiday, sample some amazing food, and minimize damage.
If you're looking for a guide on how to lead the perfect fitness lifestyle when on holiday, stop reading immediately.
You won't be making any progress, you'll be perfecting the art of fucking up, in the best way possible.
Sound good? Lets begin.
How to win the energy balance game.
The rules of minimizing fat gain don't change when you're in a foreign country. Your decision's need to be centered around one thing and one thing only - getting the energy balance equation correct.
What does this mean?
Calories in vs calories out.
As long as you (roughly) consume the same amount of calories as you burn, you won't gain any body fat.
But how is that even possible when you're eating like a fat kid?
First, lets focus on the calories in part of the equation.
Trick 1 - Decrease meal frequency.
My first tip is to decrease your meal frequency. It's simple but ridiculously effective. Its much harder to eat too many calories if you only plan to eat 2 meals in a day compared to 3 meals and few snacks.
The amount of meals you decide to eat in a day is directly proportionate to the amount of debauchery you want to engage in at each meal.
For me, that was a fair bit, so i decided to eat twice only each day, one meal for breakfast, and one meal in the evening.
I knew that I could consume roughly 3000 calories ( with movement factored in ) to maintain my weight, therefore allotting 1500 calories to each meal.
You will of course have to scale this to your own body size.
There are plenty of online calculators available to calculate your daily energy requirements.
First, find out your Basal Metabolic Rate. This is the minimum amount of calories you need to maintain basic metabolic function, with no movement factored in.
I like the Katch-Mcardle formula as its based on body composition not just body weight. You will need to know your current body fat % to use this one.
If you don't know your body fat %, a simple weight based BMR calculator can be found here.
Once you know this, you can add on your daily calories burnt through movement, and finally land on your TDEE - Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
( Find out how to track movement calories later on )
Now, lets work out a meal strategy.
Here's a picture of a steak bigger than your head. Just because.
If you're struggling to work out which meals you should cut out, consider two things, your individual hunger levels throughout the day and how active you plan on being during the day.
For me, I'm simply not a breakfast person, so i usually eat fairly light or not at all during the morning. This works well for me at home because I'm also fairly sedentary in the morning, doing the bulk of my program designing and not much else.
On holiday however, I planned on being very active ( more on this later ) so decided to eat a large breakfast to fuel me for the day.
Meal frequency has large implications on energy balance in the big picture. I've worked with many clients before who have been confused as to why they are putting on weight, adamant they eat healthy meals.
And they do, just too many of them.
A calorie surplus is still a calorie surplus even if it comes from salad. Too much is too much.
So, technique number one, plan to eat much less frequently than you currently do, allowing you room for greater portions at meal time.
Side note - Don't worry, going from eating 6 small meals a day to 2 large ones will not slow down your metabolism. Total calories have the biggest bearing on metabolic rate, not how often those calories are consumed during the day.
Trick 2 - Protein Power.
Okay, so we've established you need to eat less frequently to allow for bigger portions, now what should you actually be eating?
Well, get the calorie equation correct and the simple answer is whatever the hell you want.
But what self respecting nutrition coach would I be if i gave advice like that?
So another simple tip to ensure your appetite doesn't get out of control is to always include a large protein source at every meal.
One morning in New York I had a large plate of pancakes for breakfast with no protein element to the meal. Result? Even though the portion was massive, i was hungry within hours.
The next morning, I had the same pancakes with eggs and bacon, which kept me full right though to the evening.
Side Note - If you're ever in New York, go to Clinton Street Baking Company for their world renowned pancakes. Thank me later.
Do you even pancake, bro?
Make the protein source the largest element to the meal, and this will also allow you to stay within a decent calorie range.
Protein has a large thermic effect, meaning you burn off calories digesting it. Roughly 20% of total protein calories are burnt though digestion, so eating plenty means you can get away with eating larger portions and still win the energy balance equation.
For example, if you eat 3000 calories in a day, but 200g of that was protein, your net total calories will actually be closer to 2840.
That, my friends, is it.
Drastically cut down the number of meals you eat, and load up on protein.
Nothing groundbreaking, nothing technical, but ridiculously effective.
Its still not enough to go total fat kid mode however.
For that, we need to make sure we tackle the calories out part of the energy balance equation.
Exercise on holiday.
No workout routines will be included in this article.
Nor will I be telling you that you need to schedule gym time.
As stated, this is an article for those who want to enjoy their holiday. If allowing time to train helps you enjoy things more, thats cool, If it doesn't, thats also cool.
I want this article to be an example of worst case scenario. What happens if you don't train?
You don't need to ' train ', you just need to make sure you MOVE, and move lots.
I'm going to be blunt with you here, if your holiday consists of nothing but lounging by the pool, with your only cardio coming from the walk to the bar and a few drunken dance moves later in the evening, your going to have to scale your food back.
I mean, A LOT.
There's just no getting round it I'm afraid,
So with that said, how do you burn up lots of calories without spending any time in the gym?
Simply put, you should be walking everywhere.
Anywhere you need to get to, if its possible to do it on foot, then do it.
One day in Las Vegas my only 2 meals of the day were eaten at all-you-can-eat buffet's, and a LOT of calories were consumed.
This was however, all consciously planned, as the time in between breakfast and dinner was spent walking almost all day during a trip to the grand canyon.
If I had a slightly less active day planned, I made sure I got a quick bodyweight circuit done in the hotel room.
A quick google search for 'hotel room workouts' will give you plenty of ideas on that one.
If you are planning a beach holiday but want more wiggle room with your diet, get out and see the city. Stay on your feet and stay active.
Now, in order to complete our ball park figure of how many calories a day we need to consume, we need a way to reliably track our calories burnt.
This is where stuff can start getting a little hazy I'm afraid.
Even though technology has improved in this area, the margin of error in tracking accuracy can still be huge. It will never be perfect, but the good news is that it doesn't have to be.
All I used was a simple pedometer app on my mobile phone. All app stores have one.
A quick point here is that these pedometer apps just turn your phone into an accelerometer, meaning they track movement, not steps. Its a good idea in times of complete inactivity such as sitting for long periods of time, to turn it off so that fidgeting doesn't get tracked as steps.
If you want to be slightly more fancy, you can use an activity monitor like the FitBit.
By far and above the most important point to realize - no matter how sophisticated your method of calorie tracking is, it will probably still vastly over-estimate your calories burnt. So a simple tip is to take whatever number you get and deduct 20% as the actual number of calories burnt.
Don't want to do any tracking or maths whatsoever?
Then go by feel.
If you know you moved a lot, eat more, if you know you didn't, eat less.
Monitor your weight each morning, if you start getting a little fluffy round the edges, reign it in.
Let's wrap this up.
For most, holidays are seen as the time when all sense of dietary control goes out the window.
If you employ some simple planning however, you really can enjoy yourself and not loose all your progress.
" Well I'm going on holiday next week, so obviously my diet will need to be put on hold until i get back "
I hear this all the time from clients, and i wanted to give an example of just how bad you can be while still not going backwards.
I hate to be the ultimate fitness cliche, but there really are no excuses.
Make a plan before you go and stick to your guns.
If you plan to be active, then be active. If you plan to do nothing but lie in the sun, then consider scaling your food intake back.
Pick the meals you want to go big on, and move lots in between them.
Match your energy input with your energy output and you'll easily stay in gains city.
No getting supplements through airport security, no navigating dodgy hotel gyms, just common sense.
No go fourth and get your eat on.
- Matt, Team Apex.