15 Ways to Not Let a Party Derail Your Fitness Goals

A drawing of some people having a healthy time at a party

Parties, get togethers, or special events are a great chance to catch up with friends, cut loose, and have some fun, especially if they arrive during off training season. But, they also bring with them unscheduled overindulging.  And for us fit folks with lofty race goals and big fitness plans, parties can also be a cause for fear of losing all that fitness or backsliding on our goals.

The problem is that partying (especially if it involves alcohol) can be pretty hard on the body.

So here, my friends, is a blow-by-blow plan to arm yourself with the tools you need to ensure you get through each party without any added guilt, shame, lost gains, or unwanted added pounds.

1. Two Days Before The Party

Log as much extra sleep or naps as possible. Being well rested before the party will mean you can have more fun, stay out later (without yawning embarrassingly), and limit the oxidative stress of staying out late. Yes, good quality sleep is important all year round but a good night’s sleep will help make sure that being exhausted doesn’t cause you to have lapses in judgment when it comes to food, alcohol, and exercise.

Be sure to get all your workouts done leading up to the party. Or perhaps even add in a couple extra! Exercise increases endogenous (that is, your own) antioxidant production and can also reduce liver damage from the alcohol you may (or may not) enjoy.

2. The Morning of the Party

Once you have hit the bathroom and put the coffee or tea on, it is time to set some intentions and decide ahead of time what behaviors you will and won’t compromise on later tonight. You have your fitness, weight loss, or performance goals and they are as important tonight as they are any other night. So make a plan.

If your good intentions aren’t crystal clear, you’ll have trouble sticking them. Don’t walk into the party and base your decisions on whims.

If your good intentions aren’t crystal clear, you’ll have trouble sticking them. Don’t walk into the party and base your decisions on whims. Base them on your specific goals and your specific priorities. Write them down while you drink your black coffee or tea (no sugar or milk or you will break your fast and we don’t want to do that—yet). Now put your notes somewhere that you can easily peek at later in the day.

Next, if you live in a cold climate, go outside to exercise. A heated indoor gym is certainly comfy, but you will actually burn more calories by going outside. Of course, you need to be mentally prepared to be cold when you start your bike ride, run, or brisk “shiver walk” but remember that you will feel warmer after about 10 minutes so hang in there. Be sure to protect body parts that are sensitive to the cold, such as your head, fingers, and feet, with a toque (wool hat), gloves, and warm socks.

After 30-45 minutes of cold exposure and exercise, it is now time to break your fast!

Although having the perfect breakfast doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stick to your plan for the rest of the day, it can certainly help. Adding some protein often helps to keep you feeling full, it can boost your metabolism, and it can help you hold onto muscle even if you are losing weight in general. Avoid sugar and add some antioxidant rich vegetables and healthy fats.

If you are planning to drink more alcohol than usual tonight, I recommend you eat a few eggs, some liver, or take a few choline supplements. Your liver processes choline quickly when you drink alcohol and if you metabolize alcohol while you have a little extra choline in your system, you may feel better the next morning.

3. On the Way to Work

Try adopting a carless mindset and find a more active way to get to work. Can you walk? Ride your bike? Take the bus? Take the subway? Or any combo of those?

The great thing about not sitting on your butt in traffic is that the alternatives involve physically moving your body. Even taking the bus or the subway involves walking, standing, and balancing (proprioception) that we don’t use when we are sitting in a car seat. Keeping the blood flowing will not only burn some extra calories and keep your metabolism moving but it will give you more energy, focus, spring in your steps, and a glimmer in your eye.

4. At Work

All day today, set an alarm on your SmartPhone to go off every hour, on the hour, and do some pushups, or calf raises, or squats, or jumping jacks, or burpees.

You may know this as the Greasing the Groove technique from the martial arts weight training book called The Naked Warrior. This is how it works: instead of doing a long workout at the gym, you simply spread your exercises throughout the day. This not only allows you to become more proficient at certain movements (like pushups, if that is the movement you choose for the day) but it also elevates and re-elevates your metabolism throughout the day.

Lately I have been doing this to improve my squat range of motion. I want to get better at squatting so I have a rule that every time I go to the bathroom during the day, I have to do 20 squats.

Other examples of Greasing the Groove include:

  • Doing 25 jumping jacks for every hour that you’re sitting at your desk.
  • Doing 10 push-ups during every commercial break of a television program.
  • Doing 20 calf raises every time you take a phone call.
  • Doing 30 seconds of isometric hand squeezes every time you get an email from your boss.

Aside from all the other benefits I mentioned, this can make you more productive, clear your head, and get you refocused and energized. Yes, getting up from your desk is good for your brain as well as body.

5. Before Lunch

Studies have shown that alcohol can mess with your hormone levels and even boost estrogen levels (which can have negative health effects on both men and women) so to give yourself a fighting chance, before you eat lunch, head out and do any of these testosterone-elevating workouts:

  • Run 5-10 short 15 second sprints with a full recovery after each sprint (generally 3-4 times longer than you sprinted).
  • Do some full body, heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses at 85-95% of your 1RM (one rep max).
  • Try some forced reps. For this you’ll need a partner. Choose a weight that allows you to do 5-6 repetitions on your own, but then requires an assistant to get another 3-4 reps done after that, for a total of 8-10 reps. Repeat this for anywhere from 2-6 sets.
  • Or a full body workout like this: Warm-up well, then do 4 sets of 8 repetitions bench press, paired with 4 sets of 8 repetitions squats. Then 4 sets of 8 repetitions deadlifts paired with 4 sets of 8 repetitions pull-ups. Then 6 sets of maximum 10 second sprints. End with a good cool-down.

6. At Lunch

Stabilize your blood sugar and stay satiated by eating a healthy lunch. Try eating a nice portion of lean protein with some leafy greens to keep yourself full and satisfied until party time.

I probably don’t have to twist your arm but you can consider eating a few squares of high-cacao dark chocolate after your lunch. Some fats, including cocoa fat and the avocado that could add to your salad, protect against alcohol-induced liver injury, and the cocoa polyphenols increase your antioxidant capacity.

If you are planning to really get carried away you can also take 200-400 mg magnesium with your lunch because alcohol depletes your magnesium stores.

7. Back at Work

Before you get busy with work stuff again, find that little piece of paper where you wrote your intentions for the day and give it a onceover.

Take a big deep cleansing breath and remind yourself that you are not going to give into peer pressure at the party. When you are having a good time with your friends, family, food, and booze, you can easily forget all your good intentions. Use this time to remind yourself that you will not succumb to the mentality that you “deserve to go nuts” just because it’s a party. Remind yourself that you can have fun without derailing your goals because how fun can it be when you are regretful in the morning?

I once heard it put this way: don’t borrow from tomorrow’s happiness. This can apply to food, exercise, and of course to alcohol. A little bit is fun, a little bit more is a little more fun, but more than that starts to borrow more and more from tomorrow’s happiness. You owe it to your future self to set good intentions and stick to them.

8. Mid Afternoon

Check in with your hydration. If you haven’t had any water since lunch, it is time to get hydrated! Don’t go crazy but also remember that you don’t want to walk up to the bar already down a quart.

Even if you have been Greasing the Groove diligently, go and find a quiet spot and get your heart rate up for a few minutes. What used to be an afternoon coffee break  can easily become an afternoon “rev break” with any of the following:

  • 50 “Air” Deadlifts: The deadlift is a traditional full-body weight training exercise. But yeah, you probably do not have a barbell hanging around your office so just pretend you’re holding the barbell. As always, the greater the range of motion, the more calories you will burn.
  • 50 Mountain Climbers: This quick exercise will boost your heart rate while also working your upper body and core. Do them as fast as you can while maintaining good form.
  • 25 Lunge Jumps: These will keep your legs burning and heart rate elevated for quite a while. Make sure to jump as high as you can and if you really want to make things tough, hold a couple reams of paper or a large book in each hand for some added weight!

9. Heading to the Party

Getting to the party in a satisfied and hydrated state, with stable blood sugar, will help you stay in control of your eating and drinking.

It can be a good idea to eat a healthy snack before you leave for the party so you don’t show up ravenous which could lead to some immediate and mindless overeating. Also drink some more water. Getting to the party in a satisfied and hydrated state, with stable blood sugar, will help you stay in control of your eating and drinking. Reviewing your intentions one more time will also help.

10. At the Party

Dining in a large group often causes the average person to eat more than they normally would eat alone or with a smaller group. Keep that in mind and don’t let mindless group feeding get the best of you.

It is a good idea to avoid the random trays of finger foods and appetizers because they can be a real trap. The combination of their deceivingly small serving size coupled with mindlessly munching while chatting can make it hard to keep track of exactly how many of those tiny quiches you have actually had.

If you think you can handle it, take control and fill a small plate with all the appetizers of your choice—but here’s the catch: you have to limit yourself to only one plate. And keep in mind how embarrassing it would be to drop a pile of shrimp cocktail on the carpet. Keep that plate reasonable. My mom has a good rule: “One trip, one plate, no piggies.”

11. Dinner Time

Here is a tip: be the last person in the line-up for the dinner buffet. Buffet food looks yummy before everyone and his dog has touched it and that can make your eyes bigger than your tummy. But if you are the last chump in the line, not only will you have fewer choices but you will likely be more judicious in your choosing. Once again: “One trip, one plate, no piggies.”

If it is not buffet style, count yourself lucky! But remember, by finishing everything on your plate you are not saving any starving children in far away countries. Your mother’s voice in the back of your head is not saving lives, it is just derailing your well-laid plans. Eat until you are satisfied and leave the rest. You may actually get some accolades on your willpower rather than accusations of being wasteful.

12. After Dinner

Take a break from the food and stand up to enjoy the party. After all, family, friends, and fun is what parties are all about. Play a game, go dance, go for a walk, or (if it’s not a dancing kind of party) sneak off into a quiet room or the basement (or the bathroom in a pinch) and continue to Grease the Groove by doing some air squats, lunges, jumping jacks, or some other heart rate-raising activity.

A study on whether movement before or after a meal is more effective for weight loss recently showed that because blood glucose increases to its maximum at 30–60 minutes after a meal, movement (even something as easy as walking) must be started before the glucose level reaches a maximum. Once insulin is secreted it will begin to play its role as the dastardly obesity hormone. So start your movement as soon as possible to optimally control your blood sugar levels.

Researchers found that a post-meal walk (even just 15 minutes) can help with digestion and improve blood sugar levels.

Researchers have also found that a post-meal walk (even just 15 minutes) can help with digestion and improve blood sugar levels. In one study on postprandial walking, German researchers looked at what happened when people ate a large meal and then consumed either an espresso or an alcoholic digestif or walked at a slow pace on a treadmill. Walking, they found, increased the rate at which food moved through the stomach. Sadly, the beverages had no effect. Not even the espresso.

13. As the Party Dies Down

Stay active and be a helpful guest who lends a hand during the clean up. Not only will you be a party hero but it will keep your hands (and mind) occupied and away from more food or from having just “one more for the road.”

When you are leaving, don’t take any leftovers home if you can help it. But if they insist on sending you home with something, be certain to slip it directly into the back of the freezer where you will be likely to forget it. Or, at very least, not be tempted to have it as a midnight snack.

14. Before Bed

If you are like me, you probably need a shower after a night of partying, so why not double the effect and take a cool shower. A recent study on body temperature and circadian rhythm showed that body temperature helps keep your internal clock in sync. Researchers found that a light sensitive area of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus acts as a sort of master clock and when night approaches, it sends out signals to your body to lower your core temperature. Taking a cool shower will help your body temperature drop which prepares the body for all those physiological changes that prepare you for sleep.

I am not a fan of the old tylenol before bed because it is hard on your liver (and hasn’t it been through enough tonight?) but I am a fan of a huge glass of water with electrolytes or trace minerals. Even if you have been sipping occasionally all night, you can’t go wrong with one more glass.

You can also take what is called an inhibitory neurotransmitter (sleep aid) such as melatonin. Alcohol can reduce your own melatonin secretion, which can contribute to waking up in the middle of the night.

15. The Morning After

When you wake up, don’t think or hesitate – just get out into the fresh air and do some light exercise!

When you wake up, don’t think or hesitate—just get out into the fresh air and do some light exercise or, if you prefer, hit the sauna. Just get out there and do anything that gets you sweating, and do it in a fasted state, preferably.

Next, have my favorite 5 minute shower protocol that involves 20 seconds cold water, 10 seconds warm water, back and forth 10 times through. Woo!

Finally, eat a breakfast high in choline (remember how alcohol depletes it) and fats, such as eggs (with yolk) cooked in butter with avocado and turmeric or cayenne, along with a handful of polyphenol rich blueberries.

Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory that can limit the severity or propensity for headaches and can be mixed into a smoothie or some eggs.

And there you have it. If you follow these steps exactly, or modify them to fit your reality, you will wake up the morning after a party feeling good and looking great instead of doing the walk of shame while being filled with regret and 4:00 am All You Can Eat Waffle House fare.