Whether your weekend means hours at the gym or partying to forget the daily grind, Tanya Sweeney has tips for getting a better balance in your life, seven days a week
It's likely you spend most of your working week with your nose to the grindstone. With weekdays marked by discipline, stress and hard work, it's little wonder that when Friday finally rolls around we're ready to take the weekend by storm. If you get carried away with the intoxicating joy of the weekend, you're not alone. Letting your hair down may make life worth living, but are the mixed messages you're sending your body playing havoc with your health?
You can see why people leap off the well-being wagon on the weekend. With most people sticking to a timetable, it's easy to form good habits from Monday to Friday. Yet, at the weekend, the change in routine can put people off course.
Here's the bad news: your hard work during the week might be for nothing if you party with reckless abandon come Saturday. Binge drinking flatlines the body's hormones; many experts contend that if you go drinking on a Saturday night there is no point going to the gym until at least Wednesday.
Research hints that exercisers won't get any benefit from the gym if they have alcohol in their system. Essentially, the benefits of any workout, no matter how tough, would be negligible.
"A workout won't negate the effects of a binge-drinking session, unfortunately," says Stephen Ward, a trainer with the Irish Strength Institute. "After a night out, sleep is the best way to recover. By contrast, if you go to the gym, you interfere with the muscle repair and could injure yourself.
"After a big drinking session, there is lots of sugar in your body from the alcohol. It spikes the insulin production in the system, and stimulates the release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that makes the body store fat on the abdomen. This is where love handles come from."
Other folk, exhausted by the daily grind, opt for another plan of action. Known in the fitness industry as 'Weekend Warriors', these are gym-goers who attempt a gruelling three- or four-hour workout one day a week. But here's more bad news: experts note that this sort of punishing regime is also pointless. Very simply, one big push in the gym isn't enough to increase fitness levels, and is more likely to lead to injury.
"During the week most people are prone to just vegging on the couch, and then make up for this with a big gym session on the weekend," agrees Stephen. "People feel really good about a lengthy workout but, in reality, you're putting your body in a state of shock. The cortisol hormone gets ramped up more than ever."
A much more effective alternative is to squeeze in a daily routine, even if it is just 15 minutes.
"Very simply, get up 30 minutes earlier than usual, beat the traffic and get your workout out of the way first thing in the morning," he advises. "Cortisol gets ramped up in the morning when we put our bodies to work. When you work out late at night the hormones released during a workout make it harder to unwind and sleep."
Among the most effective yet brief workouts is weight or resistance training. Minute for minute, it burns more calories than many other cardio regimes.
"It also increases muscle mass and even burns calories while the body is at rest," notes Stephen.
Yet it needn't be doom and gloom, and living like a Spartan for the entire week. Rather, trainers recommend that we eat a 'cheat' meal, to reward ourselves for being disciplined during the week. For one day a week, let the rules fly out the window; not only will it keep you more focused on a strict regime and kill your cravings, but a cheeky weekend burger will also do something quite unlikely; it will boost your metabolism. Very simply, your body can get too used to healthy food during the week.
"If you're being disciplined for the most part and exercise regularly, a 5:2 ratio between good and 'bad' foods is perfectly acceptable," says Stephen.
"If you eat clean, control your carbs and have a good balance of vegetables and healthy fat, a cheat meal is a really good addition to your workout.
"It's obviously not ideal to drink or eat yourself into oblivion every weekend, but the good news is that if you're disciplined during the week you will recover from a blowout more effectively."
Chief among the easiest ways to keep on an even keel during the weekend is to have a healthy breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. Eat within an hour of rising, and take advantage of those extra few hours by grilling some tomatoes, steaming some mushrooms, scrambling some eggs and serving up a homemade smoothie.
And, perhaps most significantly, once we also get into the healthy habit of sched-You-ling -- actively blocking off a half hour each day to relax or exercise -- life at the grindstone doesn't seem so gruelling after all.