Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. That’s how the song goes anyway! But the thought for many cyclists and triathletes during this time of year is, “oh god how do I not get fat?” That fear is one I’m sure many of us have had, however fleetingly, at this time of year. So how do you manage your weight and training and survive the Christmas season?
The main thing I can stress here is, don’t panic! Christmas can be enjoyed without it being too stressful. Although it’s not just over eating that can be challenging and stressful. Cyclists and triathletes are by their very nature creatures of habit. Success is a habit. Success comes from consistency and consistency comes from habitual planning, organisation and routine.
The festive period can throw that all up in the air. We all know that feeling during the week between Christmas and New Year of not knowing what day it is! It’s great in some ways and disconcerting in others.
The festive period is a time to catch up with family and friends near and far. It can mean long days travelling, meal after meal of rich food and never ending alcohol. Also it can mean more time off from work and the opportunity for a mini ‘training camp’. Many of you may also be eyeing the now annual ‘Rapha Festive 500‘ in conjunction with Strava. The premise is simple. Ride 500kms between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. As with all these things it’s taken a life of its own with people competing to get the 500 done ‘first’ or ride the furthest.
So let’s break these down and think about each in part. I’ll offer advice about the best strategies to maximise your available time but also maintain family balance and help you survive Christmas!
Christmas advice No 1 – prioritise to survive
Christmas comes but once a year, as another song goes (I think). Your training and racing no doubt are your major priority for a vast proportion of the year. So think about prioritising and planning the festive period. See family, catch up with work mates and enjoy the food!
If you are coached, or even if you self coached, discuss and plan early what and when your training days will be over Christmas. The majority of my athletes are on recovery weeks in their training cycles. This means volume will be lower allowing them more free time to enjoy the time of year. Agree with your family what you will do and when and stick to it.
Christmas advice No 2 – be clever with your travel plans
- Are you able to take your bike / turbo or MTB to get out and do some sessions when staying with family?
- Is there a local gym you could use?
- Research routes to ensure you are time efficient and don’t get lost!
- Could you ride to family / friends? This is a trick I often use. It’s efficient in that no real time is lost, gets the session out of the way and then allows you to enjoy the day later.
- Plan, plan plan! Plan the travel, plan the training and don’t forget to plan how tiring and stressful the travelling can be. Festive food can make you lethargic and don’t be over ambitious about how much you can or will cram into a day or the period.
- Be flexible! Be prepared for change and roll with it. Don’t let it stress you.
Christmas advice No 3 – be careful with food but don’t be a scrooge
The traditional ‘Christmas Dinner’ is actually very healthy. Where it all goes wrong is the add ons – the chocolate and bucks fizz for breakfast, that third mince pie, the extra helping of Christmas Cake and Cheese (*this is Yorkshire after all!), the pre-dinner nibbles. It soon adds up.
The other area where it can go wrong is the volume and frequency of festive food. It’s quite possible you could end up with 5+ ‘Christmas Dinners’ with work, friends and multiple family commitments!
So, how do you survive the mass of Christmas food available?
- Plan your meals at home and out in advance where you can. Know approximately what you will be having when and eat accordingly around this.
- Resist the nibbles and second helpings!
- When you know you have a ‘big one’ coming up think about what else you will eat that day. But resist the temptation to get a big ride in first (*unless planned) to ‘work up an appetite’ as you will only likely eat more and more of the wrong stuff!
- Plan your other meals. Stay healthy and nutritious.
- Try not to have back to back ‘big days’. Give your body a rest. Just like training hard you need to give your body time to recover. You won’t be used to so much ‘rich food’ back to back.
- Hit the alcohol too early!
- Fill up on all the nibbles – then miss the nutritious protein, veg and carbs in the meal!
- Beat yourself up for the odd over indulgence.
Christmas advice No 4 – balance that booze!
This is another area where it can all go wrong at Christmas and where some moderation will help you survive!
The temptation can be massive (if you are that way inclined) to over indulge. I am not going to preach to anyone about how much you should and shouldn’t drink. Nor harp on about the amount of calories in different alcoholic drinks. The main advice I can offer here is a word I use a lot – balance.
Enjoy the odd drink, have a few with Christmas dinner, sleep it off after. Be wary of when drinking becomes too much every day, waking up tired, lethargic and with a headache. Or you can’t be bothered to have your ride. And if you do, you feel terrible.
In all honesty the negative effect it will have on your training will be small (unless you are racing at the Tour Down Under straight after the New Year!). So from that point-of-view it’s no real problem. The bigger (potential) problem comes from the mental effect it may have on you. The annoyance and low mood from not achieving what you may have set out to do in training. The temptation is to then ‘beast’ yourself as a punishment or to get it out of your system.
All these points can set you back. So try to maintain the magic word – balance! It’s this balanced approach to Christmas that will ensure you survive into 2019 illness free and without too much excess weight to shift.
It’s worth understanding your body too. What is the ideal nutritional balance for your genetic make up? How should you best fuel your body and what types of foods should you minimise or even avoid? This is where a DNAFit test could come in helpful. Have a read about some of the benefits and guidance it can give here – DNAFit
Christmas advice No 5 – Approach the ‘Festive 500’ with caution
For me the idea behind this is great. It encourages us to get out and ride the bike over the festive period and hit an arbitrary challenge number of 500kms.
But like so many things it can easily take over and become an ‘end’ or a ‘stress’ in itself. Riders and athletes are so competitive! It amazes me the ‘race’ to even get it all done (yes all 500kms!) first on Christmas Eve! Or the riders who will be out for hours and hours on Christmas Day.
I think it can be good, but I caution anyone thinking of it to break it down properly before you commit:
- Does it fit with your winter schedule?
- Are you doing anywhere near this mileage now? If not it could be a big shock to the system.
- If you plan to do it all outdoors – just think of the time in the wet and cold. You are probably talking 25-30hrs plus.
- Combined with (possible) over excess, late nights or rich food it’s a possible recipe to fall ill.
So I don’t want to be a kill joy, but ensure you really think about what it means and the possible pulls on your time and the risk to your training plan.
Christmas is just a short 7-10 day period. There is no reason why it should have to play havoc with your training plans and likewise, why the two can’t be complimentary.
The key to success and to survive Christmas is the little things. Plan, have contingencies, be flexible and don’t stress too much if things don’t work exactly to plan! Enjoy it. That’s what its meant to be about after all!