The following guide is my personal strategy for navigating vacations, holidays and special times of the year. I’ll focus specifically on Mardi Gras, which involves a lot of eating, drinking and other activities that are, in general, terrible for my health. Legally, I have to issue this disclaimer: I am not an expert nor claim to have any degree or certification for making diet, nutrition or fitness recommendations. So, basically, you can’t blame me if you wake up in the muck on Bourbon Street. That’s your own fault, and you know it.
As anyone from New Orleans will tell you, we know how to celebrate. Mardi Gras, for those who don’t know, is a religious holiday ending at the beginning of lent. The idea is to purge your system of all sin, and then return to your natural state of purity. (We know you’re always like this, though.)
You can see how this could create some problems concerning your fitness goals. I’m constantly thinking about how to stay fit while simultaneously living my life to the fullest; however, nobody is perfect, and I also let too loose sometimes. (See below.)
What’s the typical morning (or afternoon) like during Mardi Gras? You wake up, hungover, and slowly realize where you are. You made it home last night! You’re off to a good start. What happens next is where a lot of people go wrong.
There are four tiers, ranging from strict to lax, for minimizing fat gain and muscle loss during Mardi Gras. I’ll cover two. Tier 1 is very particular about diet but still allow alcohol. Tier 2 follows those same guidelines but is a bit more relaxed (You should be enjoying yourself after all.). There are two lower tiers, but you’re not trying to end up in the Bourbon Street muck, right?
When deciding which tier to adhere to, ask yourself, “How many weeks am I ok with being set back?” If you completely indulge for the week, you could set yourself back about two to three weeks, and maybe more for you hedonists. It’s very a discouraging process to lose the same fat all over again. Try to achieve the optimal balance.
Even as the strictest tier, Tier 1 won’t prevent you from enjoying the Mardi Gras festivities. First off, you’ll need base knowledge of calories and macros, which you can find in my previous posts. This Mardi Gras diet is essentially low carb, low fat and high protein.
For Tier 1, I’ll give you some specific macronutrient ranges to stay within.
- Limit carbs to around 0.75 grams per pound of bodyweight. At my weight, 170 pounds, that’s about 128 grams of carbs – pretty low but will be worth it.
- Limit fats to around 0.15 grams per pound of bodyweight. At 170 pounds, that’s about 26 grams of fat – kind of ridiculous, especially for people weighing much less. Still, try to get as close to that number as possible.
- Eat as much protein until you are full. As we know, the next macro of concern is protein. You’re in luck because this guideline for protein is much less strict. But the protein source you choose matters: Due to such low fats, protein must be from lean sources.
What we’ve all been waiting for: alcohol. Unfortunately, I do have some rules and recommendations here as well.
- Avoid beer. A lot of people pound beer after beer on the parade route, but try not to be that guy (For more reasons than just your fitness.). Beers have carbs, and in the interest of abiding by the above guidelines, you should pick another poison.
- You can have wine, preferably ones on the dryer side (lower carbs).
- Gin, whiskey, tequila, vodka and rum all are good choices. Practically all standard liquors are carb-free. You can drink them straight or cut them with water or a diet soda.
- Avoid Fireball and any other sweetened liquor. I can list off a thousand reasons here, so I’ll just leave it up to your imagination.
Why Are You Doing This?
During Mardi Gras, keeping a caloric deficit and fully enjoying yourself at the same time will be extremely difficult. This methodology is backed by science. Let’s look at each macro individually.
- Alcohol (Technically, alcohol can be considered a macronutrient and is about seven calories per gram.) gets priority in the metabolic process. Everything else is essentially on hold to be stored.
- Fats are kept very low, so there won’t be much to store in the first place.
- Carbs are also kept very low, so there is less excess to be stored as fat.
- Protein is much harder to convert to fat, so keep that intake higher to stay full.
Introducing alcohol to any diet puts everything else, including burning fat or creating muscle, on hold. The body senses the toxin and starts to break it down. Alcohol itself doesn’t directly turn into fat; it temporarily stops the fat burning process. We get around this by lowering our dietary fat and carbs, so that when our bodies do get around to burning them, there’s not much left.
The main reason why people gain fat after drinking is the lowered inhibition. You see the cheese fries and just HAVE to have them! This part is tough, but if you can resist, you will be rewarded the next day. Who knows – you could wake up feeling even leaner since you’ll most likely be dehydrated. However, I recommend chugging water before bed as the temporary leanness is not worth a splitting headache.
Tier 2 is for those who aren’t willing to precisely track their macros while out and about during Mardi Gras. Just stick to the general guidelines below:
- Focus on foods that are higher in protein if you can.
- Drink drinks that are lower in carbs. Try to stay away from beer and cocktails. My favorite drink while watching carb intake is tequila mixed with club soda and lime. I find this drink seriously helps the next day’s hangover as well.
- While drinking, minimize the food intake. Inhibitions are lower, and it’s much easier to screw up and go HAM on some fries or king cake. Don’t starve yourself though. I’ve definitely come home after a night of drinking and made a plate of vegetables.
- Use the street closures to your advantage. One thing about Mardi Gras that is actually good for your health is the amount of walking you are required to do. You burn some of the excess calories being consumed.
- Drink water whenever you can. This allows you to stay functional longer and minimizes the terrible hangovers.
- Have fun. Mardi Gras is a truly amazing time, and with the above restrictions, you should be able to get through it without losing any progress on your fitness goals.
Getting yourself to the gym won’t be easy. It’ll be a logistical nightmare and physically painful. Try and hydrate before bed to mitigate the hangover. If you get yourself together and go to the gym, you’re doing better than probably 99 percent of New Orleanians at this point.
When you can’t get to the gym as often as you normally do, there is a little tweak you can make to the routine that will help in the long run: Condense your workouts. This strategy can be directly implemented while traveling or on vacation as well.
For example, I normally split each body group into its own day at the gym. Now I’ll combine all three days and body parts into one workout. We call this a full-body workout. The idea is that you give all of your muscles a stimulus and therefore maintain strength. Focus on the key lifts from each day. That’s deadlifts, any kind of press, chin ups and any kind of squat. I wouldn’t recommend doing too much volume on these full body days. The goal is to get in, push hard and get out.
If you want more information on full-body workouts, leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
When it’s all said and done, the main objective of Mardi Gras, and everyday life, is to enjoy yourself. Don’t get obsessed with the end goal. Enjoy the process. I hope you liked this guide and try to implement some of the strategies I’ve laid out. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram at @Markholmanfitness and Facebook for daily posts ranging from food to workouts and other fitness-related content!