Diets can be made or broken on weekends
It’s really pretty easy.
Follow this three-step process and you’re gold.
- Never go out.
- Don’t drink.
- And don’t even think about ordering pizza while you Netflix and chill.
By now, if you were sane, you’d be thinking, “Yeah, screw Andrew. What’s the point of being ripped if you’re a hermit.”
And you’d be right.
Screwing up your weekend is the biggest problem in dieting
That’s a horrible solution to a big problem and yet it’s one I see people making every single day.
In my time in financial services – you know, the real world where people have no idea what the heck carb cycling or IIFYM is – here’s typically how it plays out.
People go cold turkey and totally eliminate drinking or they get creative with “Irish Lent,” where you don’t drink from New Years until St. Patrick’s Day. It goes well because people are generally pretty good at committing to a psychotic plan for awhile. Think fad diets.
Then shit hits the fan. Eventually, they say “fuck it,” get drunk with their buddies on a mini-bender and realize that the fun they had was way more enjoyable than any stupid restrictive diet.
End of diet.
There’s a better way
Weekends don’t have to destroy your diet anymore. And the best part is you don’t even need to “science the shit out of it” like Matt Damon in the Martian.
You need a system that works.
One that’ll let you work hard and play harder all while getting lean and keeping you from falling victim to become a boring, Type A recluse.
My clients, many of whom work high-stress 80-90 hour work weeks while still managing to get lean and enjoy themselves on the weekend, are a testament to this notion.
What follows is what I typically prescribe to clients and utilize myself:
Note: these results are typical.
This Isn’t Tim Ferris 4 Hour Body Fantasy Land
Full disclosure: I can’t help you if you drink and/or eat like an asshole 4-5 nights a week and plan to continue doing so.
Tim Ferris has greater magical powers than I and I simply can’t hack your life through a computer screen. Sure, if you worked with me 1 on 1, there’s a chance I could “science the shit out of it” and make it happen but for the purposes of this article, ya just can’t do it.
This system is all about optimization with THE assumption that you have yourself together during the rest of the week.
That means putting in the work regardless of whether or not it’s perfect or optimal. As I’ve mentioned before, bad science has gotten thousands of people ripped. A poor work ethic has not.
With that being said, let’s get to the goods.
Priority #1: Create A Deficit
It’s Saturday night and this week’s been an absolute ball-buster. A string of 12-hour days, 4-5 hard workouts, and a diet that’s been immaculate.
You’ve put in the work and now it’s time to get loose and enjoy yourself.
We both know that Newton’s 4th Law is that you need to create a deficit to lose fat.
Where many people go wrong is in thinking that you can go ham on the weekend, drink like a fish and eat like a cow and come Monday morning, everything will be all fine and dandy and the scale will give you the goods.
Unfortunately, math doesn’t cease to exist on the weekends and calories are still calories.
To create an enjoyable, diet friendly Saturday night, it’s imperative to impose a deficit for some wiggle room.
To create a deficit, we want to drain some muscle glycogen so all that pizza later will be stored in our muscles and not our love handles.
Our best bet is interval training.
Lifting, contrary to popular opinion, doesn’t deplete glycogen a whole heck of a lot.
From Bayesian Bodybuilding:
A full-body workout consisting of 9 exercises for 3 sets each at 80% 1RM (something only a beginner can do) only depletes about a third of the body’s glycogen and 9 sets for a specific muscle result in 36% depletion in that muscle (Roy & Tarnopolsky, 1998). After performing sets of 6 leg extensions at 70% 1RM until absolute failure occurred (weird protocol I know) and not consuming anything afterwards, 75% of glycogen was restored after 6h (Pascoe et al. 1993).
So much for the notion that you “need” carbs to strength train but that’s a topic for another time.
Compare that to 2 30s sprints on an ergometer and you get 44% glycogen depletion.
Here’s a sample interval session that I like to implement with clients on such days:
- 10 minutes
- 10 seconds as hard as possible
- 50 seconds at an easy pace
If after trying that, you still have more in the tank, you didn’t try hard enough.
As much as people probably hate when their boss tells them to earn their weekend, earn your drinks.
Training Days and Drinking Don’t Mix
Any movement is better than no movement BUT if results matter to you, I’d highly recommend you schedule lifting days away from when you drink.
Intelligent, purposeful training is performance-centric. It isn’t an exercise in fuckarounditis.
To progress forward, you must recover from an imposed stress.
That means adequate sleep along with ample calories to provide enough substrate to fuel recovery.
Let’s call a spade a spade and acknowledge that your night out on the town will likely include too much alcohol and too little sleep to ensure proper recovery.
Thus, it makes no logical sense to train on a day you plan on going out and drinking. While not optimal, it’s better advised you chug some caffeine the morning after and train hungover than eviscerating your chest the day of a drinking session.
Nutrition Priority #1: Limit Fat Intake with Alcohol
Don’t worry, this article isn’t going to evolve into some if it fits your macro pedantic diatribe extolling the benefits and necessities of counting calories on days you hit the bottle.
With that being said, for general health purposes, you should be aware of what fat is, what foods are predominately fat, that fat is NOT the devil, and it WON’T make you fat by looking at it.
General thesis: keep fat low on days you drink.
After a meal, insulin levels rise, fat burning (oxidation) stops, and you use said energy for fuel.
Because energy from your meal is being utilized for fuel, fat oxidation is blunted meaning that any fat intake is stored for future use.
That DOES NOT mean any fat you consume ever is confine to the shallows of your love handles never to be seen again. As hours pass and insulin and blood sugar levels return to baseline, fat oxidation begins again.
This process happens all day, every day. Little stored, little burned. Whether or not you store fat is ultimately based on your level of calorie intake.
Except when you drink.
Alcohol is fanfuckingtastic but it’s by-product in your body, acetate, is not. Acetate is toxic to your body so it takes numero uno priority in the energy hierarchy.
Alcohol and consequently acetate must be burned off before your body will touch another source of fuel.
If you’re still following, that means the yin and yang cycle of fat burning stops. You’re in full grizzly hibernation mode storing all the fat you eat.
Hence the problem.
That nice, fatty, delicious, deep-dish pizza you throw back after having a dozen or so beers will cause you to gain (store) significantly more fat than if you had it stone cold sober.
Does that mean you can eat 1000 g of carbs that day and not gain fat if you limit the fat?
In the short-term probably, but the bro-science school of thought where you can crush carbs and limit the fat and not gain fat is exactly that: a myth.
What To Do On Days You Drink:
- Limit fat intake. If you’re looking for hard macros, I always tell my clients .3 g/kg/bw.
This is per Martin Berkhan’s recommendations that I’ve implemented with my clients ever since and it’s worked fantastically. If you’re looking for a more in-depth science to alcohol and fat loss, check here. No need to reinvent the wheel on my end.
- Protein and veggies are your best friend.
Until you go out, your meals should be predominately protein and veggies. This will keep you calories low and keep you satiated. The more satiated you are, the better the chances you won’t eat like an asshole after drinking.
- Avoid the post-drinking nuclear bomb of a pizza or something equally as fatty.
But shit happens, food tastes better drunk, so I would err on the side of try and keep it more carby than fatty. It’d be beneficial to keep the dinner before the drinks lean as well to preserve calories.
Own Your Sundays – Protein Sparing Modified Fasts
I’m going to assume you weren’t the best padawan and failed to follow the above protocol to a T.
Not ideal but understandable and expected. I wouldn’t be writing the guide to not fucking up your diet on the weekend if we were all innocent angels without any food or alcohol vices.
One night doesn’t ruin a diet. Mini-benders from Friday to Sunday absolutely can though so it’s imperative you right the ship on Sunday.
Enter the protein sparing modified fast.
I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in the Bayesian Bodybuilding Online PT course and it’s been nothing but phenomenal. In it, I learned about the PSMF and have had great success implementing it with my clients on rest days and in particular on weekends.
Essentially, a PSMF is exactly as it sounds.
A day of low calories, high protein, alongside minimal residual fat and carbohydrate intake.
The rationale for inclusion is as follows:
You likely gained fat on Friday or Saturday night. It happens. We’re not robots and dieting would suck even worse if we were forced to be recluses to be successful.
A PSMF is designed to all but eliminate any and all fat gain from the previous day’s shenanigans.
- Protein is kept high to preserve lean body mass.
A good general target is 1.82 g/kg/bw as your minimum. Going above this number is perfectly acceptable.
- Fiber intake is imperative for health, satiety, and because it makes you a better human.
Fiber One bars don’t count either. Eat some greens and make your mom proud. Better yet, add resistant starch to your diet.
Aside from that, keep fat and carbohydrates low (less than 10 g per meal) to keep hunger at bay.
Further, it is important to keep the mealtime and frequency as close to what is habitual as possible for optimal nutrient partitioning and insulin sensitivity. For the “why” I urge you to invest in the course and get your nerd on.
In terms of training, I generally recommend clients stay away from a hardcore training session. I typically recommend a nice easy 20-25 minute restorative aerobic session to get some blood flow and prep for a big day of training the following day.
With that being said, some of my most memorable and enjoyable training sessions have come post-hangover with some caffeine jet fuel. It’s ok to grind through sometimes. If not, all the time.
Note: A PSMF is not recommended if you plan on lifting. Nutrients are needed during the anabolic window. Regular training day nutrition or macros are advised.
An Alternative to Alcohol: Phenibut
Note: I’m not a doctor. This isn’t medical advice and it’d be smart to consult with a physician before embarking on any supplement regimen.
What if I told you there was something that you give you the same euphora, mood, and relaxant as alcohol without the rubber necking, the hangover, the texts sent to ex-girlfriends, and the unwanted fat gain?
You’d probably ask me if I believed in unicorns too.
Touche, but your aggression would be misplaced, as such things do exist.
Enter phenibut, the best legal supplement/drug you’ve never heard of.
Alcohol and phenibut both act via GABA receptors in your brain.
GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. Alcohol’s action as a GABA agonist are what causes you to relax, “quiet” the inner voice in your head, and in all likelihood feel like Superman because of your lack of inhibition.
It’s important to note that alcohol primarily acts via the GABA A receptor while phenibut targets the B receptor, which may explain phenibut’s effects without the motor function loss as seen in alcohol.
In many ways, phenibut gives you all the advantages of alcohol without everything that is deleterious for body composition: namely blunting of fat oxidation and impaired sleep quality resulting in reduced androgen levels and protein synthesis.
It’s a tool that you can use. Nothing more, nothing less.
But the lack of hangovers doesn’t suck.
Eliminate (Uncontrolled) Cheat Days
If you have cheat days, stop.
There is and shouldn’t be any reason for planned all day glutinous binges like Dwight Goodman at the end of dodgeball.
If you feel you “need” it, I’d highly suggest you look into why you feel that way.
Important questions to consider are:
- What does your diet look like during the week?
- Is it too restrictive? Think bodybuilder diet of chicken and broccoli.
- Are you eating enough calories? There’s a difference between a deficit and starvation. The latter will set you up for a nice gigantic rebound.
An ideal diet and a concept that I implement with my clients is that there should be no guilt or shame in going out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night and getting some good, delicious, less than nutritious food to eat with some drinks.
Heck, I’d even advise it for quality of life and maintaining sanity on a diet.
The idea of a cheat day is destructive and offers little physiological or psychological utility.
Refeeds are overrated and seem to be heavily popularized by bro-science. Elevations in metabolic rate, leptin, and any other physiological reason touted in support are typically transient and their inclusion doesn’t appear to be supported in the literature.
What cheat days can do is destroy your diet. You may want to be the Rock but you’re not.
It’s helpful to think in terms of weekly caloric energy balance.
While nutrient timing and calorie cycling can get fancy to maximize the anabolic window to further body recomposition (lose fat, build muscle), thinking simplistically it’s important to maintain a weekly deficit.
A 4-5000 calorie uncontrolled binge is all but guaranteed to abolish the weekly deficit you had created through 5 or 6 days of hard work and meticulous preparation.
Though I’m against the idea because of it’s connotation with regards to dieting, if you want to “cheat,” it’s important to control it through calorie control.
For example, if you’re running a moderate 500 calorie per day deficit and you want to go buckwild on Saturday, increase your deficit per day throughout the week to increase your error margin on Saturday.
A better strategy is to give yourself one cheat meal as recommended by Jason Helmes at Anyman fitness, a man who is consistently putting out diesel work.
Enjoy yourself, get the demons out, and move on.
I’m all for a good time and that may seem hard to believe given all the fancy science I just gave you so you don’t f*** up your weekend.
It’s not rocket science, I promise. I don’t even consciously think about this stuff anymore and neither do my clients. It’s become intuitive and a skill that you can easily learn if you take the time to implement.
Start small. Get an interval session in the day you plan on going out. Fast the next day if you’re up for it.
Don’t sacrifice all your hard work during the week because you turn into Van Wilder on the weekends.
Fat loss and fun can go hand in hand. Sometimes you do have to embrace the suck but if your diet keeps you in on Friday night because you think you “have” to, you’re doing it wrong.
P.S. Want to get shredded for summer? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get the ball rolling.