*This is an article I wrote for a motorcycle magazine. It is applicable to you- rider or not. I continue to get feedback on this info even a year later. Lean out this winter, and if you need help- Train with Danny.
Did you pack on a couple lbs. over Thanksgiving? If you could stand to drop some body-fat, or you want to avoid the notorious winter weight gain, I’ve got just the thing. This month I’ll give you some nutrition tips to get lean throughout the cold months and a high-powered cardio routine to trim some fat.
Bucking winter weight gain
Winter presents unique fitness challenges. Perhaps it is just our nature to want to be a little lazy and indulge when winter arrives. It’s cold, and the couch and TV start to look mighty inviting. Heck, let’s order a pizza and watch the Steelers. There’s an inclination to slow down, and for some folks the holidays represent constant feasting that ends up adding a bunch of unwanted pudge.
There are countless studies quoted by trainers regarding holiday weight gain. What’s the average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Years? 10 lbs? 15 lbs? No one knows for sure. My goal is to help you avoid the classic winter fat gain that detracts from our appearance and Trials performance.
Understand that fat gain always accompanies muscle gain and muscle gain is always accompanied by fat gain. You can not purely add 100% muscle or lose 100% fat, they are always trading places with one another in some proportion. Sad but true, I know. Obese people carry a lot of muscle. Now you know why.
Neglecting your diet over the winter will get you a ten pound unwanted anchor that does nothing to help your Trials riding. Let’s go the other way and use the winter lean out. And let’s do everything we can to lose the least amount of muscle. It will never be zero muscle loss, but if we are clever, we can optimize the ratio.
Commit to Your Goals
First, let’s decide here and now that this winter we will cut some body fat and harden up. Let’s buck the notion that adding body fat is just an inevitable part of this season. Instead, let’s flip this tradition on its head and make a goal to come into the spring Trials season leaner and ready to rock. And don’t worry, you can still overindulge a bit at the holiday dinner table and enjoy yourself.
There are lots of ways to check body-fat levels. I recommend you either get a some calipers and pinch away, or you can simply measure your waist and use that as your barometer. I prefer the waist measuring technique as it is quick and consistent. Unless a caliper operator is skilled, the readings can be all over the place. Get a starting point and make some specific goals. Perhaps your waist is now a 39” and you want a 36”. For every 5-7 lbs. of fat you lose you’ll hack about an inch off your waist.
Goals need to be specific to be effective. The more detailed they are the more likely you are to carry them out. Put a deadline on them and use hard numbers. Instead of, “I want to lose some weight.” Say “I will lose 20 lbs of fat by February 15th.”
Carve it in stone and make it real by writing it down. Own it. Put it on your calendar. Commit to it and follow through and you’ll hit your first Trial in the Spring with confidence. Make the decision to succeed, and don’t change your mind.
To lose fat, up your protein and reduce or eliminate sugar and simple carbs. This is the tried and true method for losing body fat. I have several clients that have done nothing else but cut out sugary drinks and have immediately lost a quick 5 lbs. Your body is unwilling to burn body fat when insulin is high. Insulin is raised in the presence of most foods, but sugar makes the biggest impact on insulin levels. Lower your sugar and lower your waist size. It’s that simple.
Of course, food is a great joy and especially during the Holidays we want to indulge a little. Actually, I want to indulge a lot. Nobody wants to be dieting and obsessive about food when ringing in the Yuletide. I have a strategy that allows you to gourmandize once in awhile while still trimming the fat. Interested?
Consider fasting. On days where you know Grandma is cooking a big feast, try fasting for the day up until the meal. I know, fasting is a tough sell. At first glance fasting seems to clash against everything we have ever learned about eating for health and fitness. Won’t we lose muscle? Won’t we go into starvation mode? Won’t I be miserable? Let’s explore.
Years ago I admit that the option of fasting was completely off my radar. To me fasting was for spiritual gurus meditating in sweat lodges. But after some study and application, I discovered that it’s a great way to increase nutritional compliance and keep your body burning its own fat.
Fasting has been practiced by millions of people for thousands of years for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps Ori Hofmekler with his excellent book, “The Warrior Diet” can be credited with bringing fasting out of the darkness and into the athletic world.
His plan was simple- Don’t eat all day, then feast at night. People thought he was either crazy or a genius. Whichever, the results spoke volumes. Athletes hardened up and loved the mental clarity that fasting brought. They reported being more focused and alert.
I can personally attest to this. I feel much more productive and mentally sharper (I can use all the help I can get) when I’m fasting. I used fasting to help me get rid of a bunch of heft I was carrying when I was lifting more than Trials riding. I’ll never be described as svelte, but I came down from 252 lb. to around 215 lb. It was easy.
You can use fasting to get leaner. A couple of times a week, start with just two fasts. Eat dinner normally then fast overnight until lunch time. Start small, fasting takes practice, like Trials. Just pick two non-riding days and don’t eat until lunch time. One day you’ll extend it to dinner.
Keep an open mind and the results might just surprise you. During a fast insulin is low and your body is burning fat. You won’t lose muscle as is often the fear, because your body doesn’t want to consume its own muscle when it is happy chugging along burning its own fat.
What about hunger? First, you’ll get less hungry the more often you practice. And the longer you fast the more the hunger subsides. Some athletes actually embrace the hunger, and they get motivated by thinking about the wonderful things that are happening. Burning fat. Preserving muscle. Keeping insulin low. All good things.
The “starvation mode” fear is mostly nonsense. This idea propagated by Trainers and protein supplement makers had us convinced that missing a meal would mean a halt to all of our progress. Your body is tougher than that. Studies have demonstrated that muscle wasting is minimal during fasts. A few hours without eating won’t make muscle fall off.
Frequent eating is still a strategy I employ often with my trainees and it always will be. But fasting a few times a week provides a fresh approach that can really give your fat loss efforts a big boost. Think of these opposing ideas as different paths to the same good result- more muscle and less fat. Make sure you get checked out by your Doc first.
Start slow, 2x times a week to start
Fast from dinner to next day lunch, practice longer fasts by adding a few more hours
Start with non riding days, competition day is not the time for fasting
Quell hunger with sparkling water like Perrier or San Pellegrino
Enjoy your night time eating, don’t stuff yourself, but eat to satisfaction
How about an exercise that will help trim fat and give you serious cardio power? I like Burpees. More accurately I like results of doing Burpees. Used by elite athletes around the world, it’s a essentially a squat thrust combined with a push up and ends with a squat jump. Diet is King for fat loss, but this devilish exercise will really help accelerate your progress.
Burpees are tough, so start slow. They’re effective and can be done anywhere. Since it’s winter, you might like training indoors. All you need is a floor. As a top strength coach said, “Everyone has some floor!”
Stand up normally with your feet about shoulder width apart. Drop down into a push-up position by shoving your feet behind you. Go ahead and make it more sinister and add a push-up or two. Or make it easier and skip the push-up and quickly bring your feet back under you and stand back up quickly. This move doesn’t require tons of athleticism, and soon you’ll be a pro.
Add a jump at the end. Spring up in the air at the end of each Burpee and land softly with bending knees. This jump really adds the demand on your cardio system. After a few rounds you’ll agree.
How many to do? Start slow and easy and just get the feel of knocking out a couple. Even 3 or 4 burpees at first is fine. Work up to 10 or 15. Or 50. A good start is 4 sets of 8-12 burpees.
You don’t need to schedule a workout to workout. Knock off a few burpees as you go through your day. You could knock out a couple of sets in the morning and a few at night. Watching TV? Knock some out during the commercials. Sounds a little strange, I know. But get in the habit of doing some. You can do these every day, a couple times a day if you wish.
Ladders are good too. This means you do one burpee. Stop. Then do 2 burpees. Stop. Now do 3. Keep going all the way up to 8 or 10. And if you dare, all the way back down again. The important thing is to just do them.
There you have it. A couple ways to beat the winter fat gain. Fasting and burpees cost nothing, but pay you back big in results. While everyone else is packing on weight and getting slower, you’re leaning out and maximizing your Trials potential.
There are top athletes in many sports that use these tools to get lean and pump up their cardio power. Burpees will be a nice carryover to Trials riding. Losing body-fat and increasing your cardio capacity will improve your scores. I can’t wait to hear about your results and thank you for all the kind words. I wish you all a happy and safe Holiday Season. Drop me a line anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org