Running Through Christmas
Christmas is fast approaching and with it comes more eating, drinking, partying and celebrating. Christmas is a time of celebration so it is important to embrace it and have fun.
BUT, it is also a time when many people abandon their healthy eating and exercise routines, which could lead to weight gain, poor energy, sluggishness and ultimately poor running performance.
So, here we give some HINTS and TIPS on 3 key areas of health to help keep you running into and through Christmas.
We give hints and tips on:
Eating Through Christmas:
DID YOU KNOW……..
- Over half of the increase in body weight during adulthood is thought to take place during the Christmas holiday period
- The average weight gain during this period is between 0.5Kg-1Kg (1-2 pounds)
- It would appear that weight gained at this time (for many but not all) is never fully lost
- Small amount gained BUT when looking at it over 10yrs it is a weight gain of 5-10Kg
So, what are the principle reasons for weight gain at this time of year?
The answer to this question is fairly straightforward. It is generally linked to:
- Reduced exercise
- Increased availability of energy dense foods e.g. cake, mince pies, Christmas pudding and of course alcohol
- Bigger food portions
- More social occasions
Research surveys show that the underlying reasons for this include:
- Over-consumption – it is thought that individuals may consume 6000Kcal on Christmas day alone, which is 3 x the recommended daily intake. This intake could be more like 4 x the recommended daily intake for some people for example: people trying to lose weight, older people, post menopausal women
- Sedentary behaviour – people are more relaxed and more sociable leading to reduced physical activity
- Sleep – some studies (but not all) have shown than individuals tend to sleep more during the winter – suggesting there is less physical activity being performed – both incidental and scheduled activity.
- Greater variety of “Christmas only” energy dense foods - such as the mince pies and Christmas pudding we mentioned earlier…. because these foods are available for a limited period only, some people tend to over-indulge
- Family/friend peer pressure to eat/drink - “because it is Christmas” – this is very common
BUT, it is important to note that this is a generalization; some people do not change their eating/exercise habits at all during this period, however they appear to be in the minority
Hints and Tips to keep your NUTRITION on track over the festive period:
- Follow the 80:20 rule: eat healthy 80% of the time and indulge in something you enjoy 20% of the time. Now this could be observed on a daily basis, so having a small amount of a “Christmas food” that you like each day.
- Manage portion size: remember plate balance – ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate CHO, ½ plate vegetables. This is a very simple but essential and effective way of helping manage weight gain over the Christmas period.
- Make your own food – by making your own foods you can manage what ingredients you use. You can also adapt recipes and substitute certain ingredients for healthier option for example replacing white sugar with coconut sugar or honey
- Remain Mindful when making food choices – often food choices and how much people eat is a mindless activity and this is when overeating can occur. Aim to remain mindful by: making time to eat, sitting at the table, thinking about the reason for choosing a particular food. For example is it for pleasure? for taste? for how it will help fuel you for your next run? Also think about how the food/meal makes you feel. For example: does it satisfy you? Does it make you feel energised?
- Don’t skip breakfast – this may lead to you making poor food choices and/or eating too much later in the day because you are so hungry. Or you may get a blood sugar dip, encouraging you to grab for the sweet and sugary foods.
- Have a protein rich breakfast – to keep you fuller for longer, therefore reducing the risk of you snacking and nibbling on the less healthy foods lying around. For example: the tins of streets/chocolates, children’s selection boxes, mince pies and Christmas cake
- Avoid Grazing – try to influence when you will have meals or healthier snacks. This may help manage blood sugar levels and appetite
- Share or give away the foods that you want to avoid – if you find it difficult to ration yourself with chocolates, cakes etc then share them with friends and neighbours. Or if you know of people who are happy to eat these foods on an odd occasion, give them the ones you can’t resist.
- Freeze left over or excess food – generally we always over buy at Christmas time therefore we are left with SO much food once the guests have left. As a result, it is really tempting to eat it because we don’t want to waste it. So, use the freezer…most foods can be frozen and will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Just defrost as you need it.
Drinking Through Christmas:
DID YOU KNOW…….
- Almost two-thirds (61%) of drinkers in the UK claim they over-indulge on alcohol over the festive season
- One in five (18%) of drinkers say they typically experience more hangovers during this period
- On average, men admit to consuming six drinks on Christmas day…….on the basis that those are a common strength pint of beer or medium glass of wine, this is the equivalent of 14 units of alcohol in one day…which is the recommendation for alcohol intake over a week
- Women admit to having on average four and a half drinks on Christmas day
Note: This is the average, so many people may be drinking more!!
- On average women (who drink) drink less alcohol on Christmas day than men
- Alcohol intake guidance is the same for females as it is for men now – i.e. no more than 14 units per week spread over 3 or more days.
- Women have less lean muscle mass than men throughout adulthood and, therefore, are less able to metabolise alcohol throughout their lives, more so as we get older. So women consuming the same amount of alcohol as men may experience the physical and psychological effects of alcohol more quickly and severely than men
- Women may gain weight more readily than men following the same food intake due to hormonal influences….especially women in midlife and transitioning through menopause.
Hints and Tips to keep your DRINKING on track over the festive period:
1) Alternate each drink with a glass of water - this could reduce the amount you drink overall but also reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol. Maybe think about keeping a jug of water close at hand if entertaining at home or if at friends/family. If out at an event ask for a jug of water for the table.
2) Stock up on non-alcoholic alternatives - for you and any other guests who may want to limit their alcohol intake. There is now a wide variety of wines, spirits and beers to take advantage of so it’s really easy. Some examples brands include:
- Clean Co – spirits and cocktails. Retailers include Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s so very easy to get a hold of.
- Seedlip – which many people will have heard of. I think it is generally drunk as a Gin alternative, but also used in non-alcoholic cocktails. It can be sourced in most high street supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose
- Ariel and Fre - produce Non-alcoholic wines; red, white and sparkling. Both are from California and can be bought online via Amazon.
- Athletic Brewing Company – for beers. They have Golden, Pale and IPA. For those who may be interested. Also, as far as we are aware, you have to purchase from them directly online.
3) Always use a measure for spirits or wine – aim not to free-pour because it can make it almost impossible to know exactly how much you are drinking. You can actually order a FREE wine and spirit measure online via Drinkaware – the charity we mentioned earlier…so there is no excuse!!
4) Downsize your drink by serving in a smaller glass - this can make all the difference, especially for wine because as we know wine glasses seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Reverting back to the traditional size white wine glass may be a good idea.
5) Avoid topping up your glass or letting anyone else top up your glass – try to finish one drink before pouring another. This way you can track your intake over the course of the evening more easily.
6) Ensure you EAT before drinking - whether you are entertaining at home or going out. Drinking on an empty stomach is known to hasten the cerebral and physical effects of alcohol
7) Alcohol has a HIGH sugar content - so could contribute significantly to weight gain.
8) Try to avoid alcohol during the day - drink alcohol only in the evening.
9) Plan some alcohol-free days - between Christmas and New Year
REMEMBER the side effects of over consumption of alcohol could impact running performance. The dehydration, headache and poor sleep associated with alcohol could lead to slow pace, increased risk of injury, digestive issues, nausea…and more.
Running Through Christmas:
WHAT CAN GET IN THE WAY OF TRAINING?
Over the Christmas period there is generally a change in most people’s routine including;
- More socialising
- More eating
- More drinking
All of which can result in a change to an individual’s training routine.
BUT, also at this time of year more time is dedicated to Christmas preparations including:
- Purchase of gifts
- Wrapping of gifts
- Writing Christmas cards
There is so much to do at this time of year, which can mean our running suffers
So what can we do to ensure our training doesn’t suffer this Christmas?
Hints and Tips to keep your RUNNING on track over the festive period:
- Consider reducing the amount of endurance runs - include more skill-based training. For example hill drills and interval/tempo sessions, for HIGH effort, LOW time. This could fit in nicely when social commitments are abundant.
- If you are an evening runner, consider moving training sessions to the morning - so you can still meet up with friends and family.
- Adequate sleep – If you know you are going out one or two evenings in a week, ensure you go to bed a little earlier on the nights you are not going out…especially on the nights following an evening out. Accumulating sleep when you can may help you cope better on the days when you have had a lack of sleep. As we know adequate and quality sleep is important for running performance.
- Write out a Festive Training Plan – or find a training plan online. Research suggests that having a training plan during the festive period could be a strategy to avoid weight gain. The research suggests a SUPERVISED training plan, so if you have access to a running coach that would be ideal. If this is not possible you could maybe buddy up with a friend who also runs and outline a training plan you could both follow. That way you would both be accountable to each other and this may help keep you on track.
- If you can’t run…walk – if running is just not possible, for example after a night out or if you have guests staying, go for a walk instead. The important thing is to be physically active in some way. Go for a walk in the morning to clear your head. If you have guests staying…go for a walk together. Try to walk briskly and for a minimum of 30mins to get your heart rate up.
BUT, the important message is: don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve what you would like to any given day. Let yourself off the hook but then get back on track as soon as you can. This goes for running, eating AND drinking. If/when you have an “indulgent moment” be kind to yourself, tell yourself it is ok…and then get back on track.
- Follow the 80:20 rule: ie. eating healthy 80% of the time and indulging in something you enjoy 20% of the time.
- Don’t skip breakfast – this may lead to you making poor food choices and/or eating too much later in the day
- Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water - this could reduce the amount you drink overall but also reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol.
- Downsize your drink by serving it in a smaller glass - this can make all the difference, especially for wine because glasses are so big these days
- Reduce the amount of endurance runs completed and include more hill drills and interval/tempo sessions – high effort, low time.
- But really, I think the most important message is: don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve what you would like to on any given day. Let yourself off the hook but then get back on track as soon as you can.
The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and
advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.
If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact
your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.
Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.
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