With the holidays fast approaching, food is on our minds. Office parties, family meals and hanging out with friends finds us looming around a table stacked with every food we love to eat.

Add in the “Hey, it’s the holidays” frame of mind and suddenly, the looming turns to partaking. Before long, we’re tripling our normal caloric intake with repeated laps around the holiday sugar cookies and fudge bars.

We could spend some time talking about how to avoid this annual, guilt-inducinging feasting, but the more reasonable approach may be to discuss how we’ll deal with it. The first therapy that comes to mind is exercise, and it should. After all, our weight is the result of calories in and calories out. Every food we eat is supposed to be used for either body maintenance or a specific activity. How many of us actually think about each food we eat and how we’re going to use that particular food for energy? Not many, I imagine. And, in the case of the holidays, even fewer of us.

So, if we’re going to exercise to offset the extra calories, what’s the best strategy? Should we run or lift weights? Should we workout before the turkey and dressing or after? We can’t justify overeating, but with the right plan, we can reduce the damage done.

Exercise burns calories, regardless of whether it’s cardiovascular or resistance training (working with weights). Our participation in these two exercises dictates their effectiveness. For instance, if we would rather run, jog, bike or walk (very briskly), it’s best for us to choose an easier pace that we can sustain for a long time (45 minutes to an hour and half). Lesser-fit exercisers are best to walk.

Also, most of this type of exercise is best performed before the feasting or about three hours after the last bite. Eating causes blood to leave the skeletal muscles and migrate to the organs where digestion is occurring. Pulling the blood back to the muscles is likely to create cramps and GI stress.

The same exercise-meal timing exists for a resistance training routine. To maximize calorie burn and lean muscle development, choose large muscle group exercises (like squats, chest press and rows) with medium-light resistance and higher duration (3-5 sets, 15 reps) just before eating or 3 hours afterward.

If we obey the exercise timing around meals, it doesn’t matter if we get activity before or after- as long as we get it.

Jeff Howerton, ACSM-CPT is a trainer and owner of LEAN Personal Training at Hill Center of Green Hills, where he and his trainers work with clients to lose fat, develop lean muscle and implement strategies for healthier living.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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