Preventing Christmas weight gain for the endurance athlete

Christmas beer

You’ve trained hard all year, and I hope that over the next couple of weeks you might be taking it a bit easier and enjoying some much deserved downtime. OK, maybe you have a short festive race planned or a long ride, but the chances are that your training volume is going to decrease for at least a few days as you spend time over Christmas with family and friends. If you are putting in fewer training hours, you are going to be burning fewer calories, and all at a time when the temptation is to indulge in all that festive food – often packed with sugar and saturated fat. So there is certainly a risk that you might gain a few pounds, and that’s going to be in the form of fat, not muscle.

If you keep the food indulgence to Christmas Day only, I doubt it’s going to make much difference to your waistline, and I’d encourage you to just enjoy it. The problem comes when you are socialising day after day over the Christmas and New Year period, as well as cutting back on physical activity. Before you know it, January 1 has arrived and you are 4-5lbs heavier than 10 days ago. So here are my tips for avoiding Christmas season weight gain:

  • Watch your alcohol intake. A pint of beer has around 200 kcals, a 175ml glass of wine around 125 kcals, a glass of vodka and tonic is about the same as wine. Then there are the extra calories that come from the snacks like crisps which are so tempting when you’ve had a couple of drinks. Alcohol has no nutritional value, and when your body is processing alcohol, it prioritises this over absorbing nutrients and burning fat. It also uses up nutrients such as protein and B vitamins which could be put to better use metabolically.
    • My suggestion: alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water, try tomato juice (packed with nutrients) – no one will know it doesn’t contain vodka, set yourself a daily or weekly limit for units of alcohol over the Christmas period (eg upper end of safe limits: 4 units a day for men, 3 for women) and stop drinking when you reach it.
  • Cut down on starchy carbohydrates like bread, potato, rice and pasta. These are great foods to fuel your workouts and recovery but you won’t need that amount of energy over Christmas.
    • My suggestion: put half your normal portion size of starchy foods on your plate and double the amount of colourful vegetables. Not only will you reduce your calorie intake, you’ll get the benefit of all the extra vitamins and minerals from the veg.
  • Be aware of how much sugar you are consuming. Enjoy a few sweet treats, but don’t overdo it. Personally, my dark chocolate and dried fruit consumption (never that low) will probably double for a few days, and there might be some fudge in there too, but by 27 December I’ll be making conscious effort to cut back or even cut out these treats before I start develop sugar cravings.
    • My suggestion: allow yourself your favourite sweet treats over Christmas itself, but set a date to stop indulging after 3-4 days.
  • Watch how many nuts you eat. Normally I encourage athletes to include a handful or two of raw nuts or some nut butter in their diet, as they are great sources of protein, healthy fats and minerals. But they do also contain a large amount of calories, for example 300 kcal in a large handful (about 50g) of cashew nuts, and it’s only too easy to eat more than you intend to at parties or in the pub. But nuts certainly a better nutritional choice than sausage rolls, crisps, mini burgers, etc.
    • My suggestion: go for vegetable crudités with guacamole or hummus in place of too many nuts if they are available. Try not to go out when you are hungry by having a healthy snack, eg a bowl of soup, before leaving home.

I hope these ideas are of some use in helping to prevent weight gain over the next couple of weeks. Have a happy Christmas, and look out for more nutrition blog posts from me in the New Year to support your training, racing and recovery.

 

Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) is a BANT Registered Nutritionist, writing and giving talks about nutrition for endurance sportBased in London, she also works as a Registered Nutritional Therapist, conducting onetoone consultations with triathletes, distance runners and cyclists to help them eat well, be healthy and perform better through the creation of an individual nutritional plan. To learn more about these consultations, please visit www.nutritionforendurancesports.co.uk

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