Football season is here, and football fans have begun their annual fight against CTE: Chronic Traumatic Eating. Combining football with power-gorging is an American tradition. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Superbowl Sunday is the second-highest day of food consumption behind Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the caloric damage of a season of the NFL is not limited to a single day. One study found that one in four football fans gains an average of 10 pounds over a football season, and 16 percent gain 20 pounds or more.
Why are gluttony and the gridiron so closely related? It could be because the two most common feelings you experience while watching your team play are stress and celebration, both of which are natural triggers for overeating. It’s also about how you watch. Simply put, television is one of the leading causes of obesity today. Studies show a direct relationship between hours watched and pounds put on. The combination of mindless eating, being completely sedentary, and exposure to food advertisements can turn anyone into a tub of goo.
Since not watching football isn’t an option, we’ve come up with a half dozen rules that can keep your physique looking more Running Back than Offensive Lineman this season.
Rule #1: Pick One Night a Week
Sunday used to be the day of the week that was sacrificed to football. Then it was Sunday and Monday night. Now, Thursday nights are in the mix. Sorry, but no one should be getting a pitcher of beer and a platter of wings three times a week. Choose your football experience wisely and pick one game where you indulge in traditional football foods. You can watch other games, but they can’t all be an orgy of deep-fried appetizers and beer.
Rule #2: Do a Pre-Game Workout
A good, hard workout an hour or two before kick-off can blunt the tip of the calorie spear. By taxing your muscles (damaging them with weightlifting and depleting them of glycogen with some cardio) you ensure that the calories from the pizza and nachos will be mostly conscripted into repairing and refueling your musculature. Some high-intensity interval training will keep your metabolism spiked for hours after the workout, well into the second half of the game. Lastly, slam a whey protein shake immediately after you train. The 110 calories (a scoop of whey and water only) won’t add too much to your daily total, but it will do two things: One, whey protein will curb hunger. It has been shown to reduce food intake when consumed before a meal. Two, when alcohol is imbibed post workout, the rate of protein synthesis (muscle building and repair) drops sharply. But one study found that post-workout whey protein significantly limits alcohol’s negative effect on protein synthesis.
Rule #3: Limit Your Drinks
Don’t worry, we’re not going to forbid you from drinking while you watch football. We are still Americans, after all. Calories add up fast from alcohol, though, and the inevitable loss of inhibition can lead to terrible dietary choices. Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on your body. It disrupts workout recovery, glycogen resynthesis, protein synthesis, and hormone and immune function. Researchers from the School of Sport and Exercise at Massey University in New Zealand found that the threshold for this damage is .5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight. So, if you stay below that level – about two beers for a 150-pound person, and three for someone at 200 pounds – you can escape quite a bit of the damage. Stick to lower-calorie drinks like light beer, white wine, or vodka mixed with soda water and lime.
Rule #4: Choose Your Food Wisely
What you are looking to avoid is posting up in front of a huge bowl of chips and mindlessly moving your hand from the bowl to your mouth until they are gone. While it is impossible to practice mindful eating when the television is on, crunchy salty carbs tend to be completely devoid of nutrients, while also addictive and easy to overeat. If possible, focus on proteins and healthy fats, such as vegetables dipped into salsa or guacamole, chicken wings (baked, not fried), chili, or shrimp cocktail. If you miss the salty crunch of snacks, grab a handful of almonds or other nuts. This way, you’ll get some nutrition with your calories.
Rule #5: Take a Halftime Break
Instead of spending that middle 30 minutes on the couch in front of the food, make sure you get out of your chair and move during halftime. Take a walk, throw a ball with your friends, do anything except sit in front of the screen. Any activity is better than no activity.
Rule #6: Take Your Multi
After the game, do yourself a favor and pop some multivitamins. This way, you’ll give your body some nutrients while you sleep off those fried Mozzarella sticks. Multivitamins are a good nightcap if you’ve been drinking. Alcohol depletes the body of B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. Additionally, a good dose of Vitamin C has been shown to protect the liver from alcohol damage.