What REALLY Happens When We Go on Holiday?

What REALLY Happens When We Go on Holiday?

It’s holiday season and we’ve all been there, right? We train hard AF leading into a holiday, turn up on day one looking on point. And then gradually your physique fades right in front of your eyes. Each day slipping, and getting worse and worse. You’re almost starting to look ‘skinny fat’.

This time round though, you haven’t smashed the all inclusive buffet. You haven’t binged. Sure, you’re more relaxed than usual, but not this relaxed.

The part that makes it even more confusing? Is that within 5-7 days of being back home – you look pretty much identical to before the holiday. Things have magically turned themselves back around. You look fuller, leaner and tighter again.

What’s causing this?

Well, first off I should point out that the effects of this are more pronounced in males, and typically amplified the more muscle somebody carries.

This is due to it being directly related to muscle tissue, and its carbohydrate storage capacity.

Let me explain.

My own clients have likely heard me say this to them, and it’s an analogy that’s been around for years, but it works so I’ll stick with it:

Think of your muscles as like balloons.

On top of water, proteins and IMTG (Intra-Muscular Triglycerides) we also store glycogen within them. If you’re reading RNT’s material, then you’re probably relatively clued up by now with certain terminology, and you’ll know that glycogen = stored carbohydrate.

When your muscles are full of glycogen, they are ‘full’. Like a balloon filled with air.

When we reduce the amount of stored glycogen, we ‘flatten’. Like a balloon being delated.

This leads to a softer look visually, coupled with being less vascular too.

Although on the extreme end, it’s the same principle as when a bodybuilder says that they are ‘flat’ toward the end of a competition diet (glycogen depleted). And suddenly come show day they are full as a house (carbohydrate/glycogen loaded).

So why does this effect, albeit on a smaller scale, happen when we’re on holiday? Especially when we’re presumably still eating a decent amount of carbohydrates?

I put the biggest cause of it to be nutrient partitioning. When we are primed to handle nutrients (especially carbohydrates) well, we become very efficient at shuttling them from the bloodstream straight into the cell (muscle tissue).

When we are not partitioning nutrients well, we become inefficient at shuttling nutrients from the bloodstream. Think, insulin resistance/diabetes. Glucose tends to sit in the blood stream for longer, rather than being stored within the cell and utilised.

The reason that this happens is two pronged:

1) When we train, we have a process called Glut-4 Translocation taking place. Glut-4 standing for Glucose Transporter 4 (specific to muscle tissue). Muscle contraction is the single biggest thing we can do (naturally) to improve pulling glucose from the bloodstream and into the muscle/cell.

This occurs from these transporter proteins rising to the cell surface when we train. The more of these sitting at the cell surface, the better our ability to move the glucose to where we want it.

(The top image represents glucose sat in the bloodstream, while the bottom image shows the glut-4 transporters at the cell surface, pulling glucose into the cell).

2) We also know that the rate limiting step for glucose converting into glycogen is via an enzyme called glycogen synthase. Although it’s regulation isn’t 100% understood, it is strongly accepted that training is a big driver of it.

Thus it would make sense that when we back off of training, the conversion of glucose>glycogen may also be impaired.

Now that we’ve got the ‘technical’ bit out of the way, we can sum this up in 1-2 sentences in English below:

When we train intensely and consistently (as we typically do leading into the holiday) we not only are efficient at converting glucose into glycogen, but we also become very efficient at storing it. We go on holiday and both training frequency and intensity drop; we don’t store carbohydrate at well, leading to that ‘flat’ look I discuss.

The reason for it turning around quickly once we’re back is simple: We start training properly again! The amount of carbohydrate we eat hasn’t necessarily changed, but how we store/utilise it has.

One last factor to consider is that the foods we eat when we’re away are often cooked using different methods and ingredients to usual. Our body loves consistency, and has our fluid dynamics tightly regulated. When we change the food types within our diet drastically, we usually throw this off – leading to increased water retention.

So not only do we have muscles that are lacking fullness from glycogen storage, we now have a nice layer of water in between the sub-cutaneous layer and our muscle tissue – blurring things further.

In a round about way, the take home message of this piece is that it’s normal to look ‘skinny fat’ on holiday. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost muscle overnight from skipping a few days of training, and it also doesn’t mean you’ve gained a tonne of body fat.

Don’t let it demotivate or throw you.

Simply enjoy the down time, understand the above processes, and when you get back absolutely kill it in the gym!

Now, where’s the waiter with my Pina Colada as I finish typing this?