Surviving the Holidays – with your waistline in tact
By Robin Swanson
As a political consultant who is guilty of many a late-night Chinese take-out session in the thick of campaign season, not to mention the mindless chocolate and sugar binges while cranking out “urgent” press releases and talking points, I’ve worked hard to find balance in 2009. Though I’ve been a “runner” (air-quotes here for my swifter friends who might consider me more of a “jogger” or “scooter” of sorts) for more than 15 years, with four marathons under my belt – it’s just not enough anymore – and this year I decided to enlist an expert – someone who could help me work smarter with the limited time and resources I have available.
That expert is South African native T.J. Watkins – a no-nonsense, no-whining, no-excuses, body and mind trainer now living and transforming lives here in Sacramento. So, in this season of sharing and goodwill, T.J. has kindly agreed to answer some questions to help us all get through the next few weeks of holiday party gluttony and Yule Tide temptations…
Robin: TJ – we always start weight training sessions with at least five minutes of cardio. Sometimes we end with cardio too. What’s the philosophy behind this, and is there a set amount of cardio time you recommend before and after weight training?
TJ: I will speak about general pre-exercise warm-up: the philosophy behind it is to prepare your heart, muscles and mind for exercise. I suggest low-intensity exercise such as walking, riding a stationary bike or jogging for about 5 minutes, or up to 10 minutes if it’s really cold. This will do the following: warm up the muscles by increasing blood flow to the tissue thus making the muscles more elastic, increases oxygen and nutrients to the muscle, signals to your mind that exercise activity is about to begin so it places you in the mental space for it and it creates a neuro-pathway to the muscle to maximize effectiveness. Cooling down signals your body to “switch off” out of the aroused state of exercise. I suggest 3-6 minutes of low intensity exercise followed by a 5 minute stretching routine.
Robin: OK – I realize that if I cut out the wine-consumption, both of our jobs would be a lot easier and my lofty dreams of having a Giselle Bundchen-like waistline would be more attainable – but since we both know that isn’t going to happen – what can we get away with this holiday season? Yes – I know, I said “get away with…” And why-oh-why is a glass of wine so much more counter-productive than, say, a big handful of nuts for the same amount of calories?
TJ: Now that I’ve rid myself of the imagery of Giselle’s waistline, let me explain that this is a loaded question. Let’s try an explanation by making a few assumptions; if you are 30+ years old, female, active (exercise at least 4 times per week), drink at least two measuring cups of wine three times a week and have a waist that measures above 35 inches, then I would go a little lighter on the wine. The simple reason is that the wine is not just impacting your caloric intake but is probably altering (albeit slowly) your hormonal balance and making you more estrogen “soaked.” This can add inches to your stomach and hips, areas women often express concerns about.
Robin: You’re not a big proponent of energy bars, or “nutrition” bars of any sort, really. Why? And what else can we replace it with when we’re in a hurry?
TJ: Correct, because I know protein and energy bars for the most part have no real nutritional value but tons of mental soothing value. Nutrition bars are the ultimate nutritional “compromise” because they ultimately cannot combine a good quality protein with low carbohydrates and fat. I suggest just enjoying your Snickers bar if you want one, because I know you will not make it part of your regular eating plan. Instead, I suggest always having one cup of trail mix in your bag — if you ever need to restore sugar and energy levels, it’s an easy fix – plus it could be combined with a whey protein shake or Branch Chain Amino Acid enriched water. This is by far a better option on a busy schedule that you can plan for daily.
Robin: Say it was campaign season, and I only had 30 minutes to squeeze in a work-out at the crack of dawn – what would be the most productive exercise I could do in that amount of time?
TJ: Any type of high intensity exercise (heart rate above 70%) like running, spinning, fast walking, rollerblading, cycling. This will release some great chemicals like endorphins that produce a sense of well-being and phenylethylamine, a remarkable chemical to boost one’s mood and energy level.
Robin: In the perfect world according to TJ – what would be the ideal amount of time average Janes should spend working out per week to maintain a healthy weight? How much of it cardio vs. weight training?
TJ: Let’s assume average Jane is already in shape and does not need to lose 20 or more pounds — 3 times per week doing 40 minutes of cardio and three sessions of 40 minutes weight training will be enough.
Robin: You know I’m not the hugest fan of the post-workout stretching. I’d rather spend my time burning calories or building muscles. What are the most important stretches people need to do after they work out and what is this going to accomplish?
TJ: The most important body parts to stretch are hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back, hips and neck. The stretching will lengthen the muscles, reduce muscle soreness, increase range of motion, energy levels and overall performance.
Robin: OK – any advice for the holiday party season? Things to avoid? Foods that are OK to indulge in? Strategies before we arrive at the parties?
TJ: My best strategies for the holiday season: Eat before you go to parties – no guilt-talks or confessionals when you end up eating what you want. Decide beforehand if you are going to eat whatever you like or follow a calorie-restricted plan. My philosophy is simple: if you want to eat cheesecake, sushi or anything in vast quantities, give yourself permission to do so, but you are not allowed to feel guilty or talk about it at anytime in the future. If you cannot do that, then decide to follow a plan, because the guilt-factor will sabotage one binge into many binges. What’s done is done – let it go.
TJ: Things to avoid: nothing. Indulge in the things you really want – do not settle for an almost-as-good alternative and waste calories on something you don’t truly enjoy. I suggest you make a list of your favorite foods and eat all of them twice over the holiday season. This means you really have to be creative. Enjoy food – it’s not the enemy.
If you have other questions for TJ – he can be reached at tjwatkins1 AT mac DOT com. Other information is available on his web site at http://yournextlevelcoach.com.