It is dark, everyone is loading up with Vitamin C in a bid to ward off the office cold and the incessant M and S adverts have begun; The festive season is upon us.
Late nights, rich and fatty food plus too much alcohol can all contribute to compromised immunity and the onset of cumulative fatigue. The net result is that in January you can feel weary and bloated then either 'going nuclear' with an all-out assault on fat loss or just avoid change entirely.
Firstly, let's look at why people can feel despondent at this time of year. Vitamin D (particularly the active form Vitamin D3) is very important in terms of detoxification, immunity, cell health and mood. Too little, from food or sunlight, can leave us feeling depressed, apathetic and lethargic. For Vitamin D3 to work its magic, we need to take it in supplement form (let's face it, it wasn't a great summer). Aim for two mega doses per week. Use 20-25 IU per lb bodyweight per day as a safe starting point.
Step one is getting it into the system, step two is ensuring an alkaline system for it to work. Protein, alcohol, stress, smoking, toxins, coffee and exercise all make our system acidic. Too much acid means that magnesium/calcium/potassium balances are all affected. To keep your system balanced, increase your intake of dark green veg, nuts and seeds. Also take 300 - 500 mg of magnesium before bed as it helps sleep, blood sugar management and detoxification. The only caveat is to avoid the oxide version (applies to all supplements).
Another key way to stay lean and healthy when you change your diet is maintaining gut health. People understand how important the heart, brain and liver are but many underestimate the key role our stomach plays in keeping us fit and happy. It is the main producer of immune cells in the body. Too many of the aforementioned indulgences can limit how many immune cells we produce. A good solution is to take a pro biotic/fish oil/glutamine. These help to keep our gut healthy, reduce inflammation and have other beneficial roles in terms of digestion and hormone balance.
Secondly, 95% of serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter) is produced in the stomach (GI tract). Ever wonder why comfort food is all dense, stodgy and carbohydrate based? If we eat or drink substances that cause inflammation in the gut (coffee and wheat are two key offenders) we limit the amount of serotonin in the body. As we cannot produce enough, our body knows that we will derive a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure from eating carbohydrate (another source of serotonin). This can then lead to further inflammation and the cycle continues. When you factor in hormones like cortisol and insulin, it all gets rather messy rather quickly in terms of body composition, energy levels, sleep and cravings.
Alcohol is ubiquitous at this time of year. Abstinence may make you feel virtuous but can also be dull. If you do drink, I'd advocate men avoiding beer. Beer increases levels of an enzyme called aromatase. This converts testosterone into oestrogen and leads to fat deposition around the pectoral - the dreaded man boobs. Stick to a few glasses of good quality red wine instead.
Finally, we need to ensure adequate levels of hydration. A safe guide is 0.75-1 litre of water per 25kg of bodyweight. Many of my clients will change their nutrition, take supplements, go to bed earlier and push themselves in the gym. Despite this it is an ongoing battle to get them to drink more water than coffee! One incentive is that the fastest and easiest way to reduce fat deposition around the belly button is to drink more water.
Hopefully these tips will help you feel healthier and happier over the festive period.
Iain Mahony is a personal trainer who specialises in fat loss. Located in Mayfair, London, Iain designs bespoke six-week training and nutrition programmes for all clients - based on individual body fat deposition and biomechanics. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org