As the holiday season approaches, runners face the challenge of enjoying festive delights while staying committed to their fitness and health goals. This time of year, characterised by its leisurely pace and irresistible treats, tests the willpower of even the most disciplined athletes. However, it's not just about resisting temptation. It's an opportunity to utilise the mental and physical benefits of running to skillfully navigate the holiday season. In this blog, we will examine how to strike a balance between indulging in holiday treats and maintaining your running routine. We'll delve into the effects of holiday indulgences on a runner's health and offer strategies to align festive eating with athletic pursuits.
The impact of the holiday season on weight management
Research has consistently shown that the period from November through New Year's is a critical time for weight management. Globally, individuals experience an average weight increase of about 0.4% to 0.6%. While this might seem insignificant, much of this weight gain often remains well after the holiday season. In fact, it can account for more than 50% of the total weight gained throughout the year. When holiday weight gain is not reversed, it can contribute to a cycle of gradually putting on extra kilograms over a person’s lifetime and increase the risk of various health issues. For runners, this time is pivotal as it can impact the important balance between calorie intake and expenditure, key to their training efficacy and overall fitness.
Understanding holiday weight gain triggers
The dining table, often the focal point of holiday gatherings, is a common setting for overeating. The abundance of food, coupled with larger portion sizes and a convivial atmosphere, encourages eating beyond our body's needs. This is often exacerbated by the Doelboeuf illusion, where larger plates can make us underestimate our food intake. On Christmas day, for instance, individuals may consume up to 6000 calories, which is double-triple the daily calorie intake most runners need. Additionally, social eating can distract us from our body's hunger cues. Stress, often overlooked during the festive season, can further influence eating patterns, leading to either decreased appetite or stress-induced snacking.
Harnessing running benefits for holiday balance
Runners have an advantage due to their regular cardiovascular workouts. Running not only increases the metabolic rate during activity but also maintains it post-exercise through the 'afterburn' effect. This heightened metabolic state is helpful in offsetting the extra calories from occasional holiday feasting.
Furthermore, the discipline and mindfulness developed through regular running can be pivotal in dietary choices, assisting runners in adhering to their health and fitness goals even amidst seasonal festivities.
Strategies for navigating festive eating
Portion control for performance: Choose smaller portions and lighter meals. Opt for a fibrous salad to start, which can help reduce cravings for sweets later on. During the holidays, listen to your body's needs—opt for nutrient-dense foods that fuel your runs and help repair muscle. Balance your plate with lean proteins, complex carbs, and a bounty of vegetables.
Mindful indulgences: Savour the flavours of the season, but do so mindfully. Choose your indulgences as you would your races—strategically and with purpose. Enjoy the holiday treats, but remember the satisfaction of achieving your running goals.
Hydration and alcohol moderation: Stay hydrated with water, especially important for runners who need to maintain optimal fluid balance. When it comes to alcohol, enjoy in moderation, considering its effects on recovery and hydration.
Maintaining the mileage: The holiday season is no time to hang up your running shoes. Keep up with your running routine, perhaps adjusting the intensity or duration to accommodate the season’s activities. Remember, every mile counts.
Cross-training for fun: Mix in some cross-training for overall fitness and to keep things fresh. Activities like bush walking, swimming, or beach cricket with family can be great for maintaining fitness and can serve as a festive twist to your regular regimen.
Healthy snacking: Keep your snacking aligned with your running nutrition. Substitute high-calorie holiday snacks with options like almonds, yoghurt, or fruits that keep your energy levels stable.
Festive runs and races: Participate in holiday-themed runs or virtual races. These can motivate you to train and also provide a community feeling even if you're running solo.
Rest and recovery: Sleep is crucial for recovery, especially for athletes. Ensure you get enough rest to support your body's healing processes, control appetite and maintain peak performance.
The buddy system: Team up with a fellow runner or a group. This camaraderie can keep you accountable, and sharing your running and health goals can make sticking to them over the holidays more enjoyable.
Ultimately, the holiday season is a time for rest and rejuvenation, and this includes giving ourselves permission to take a break. Remember that rest days and quality time with loved ones are as crucial to our health as any workout. By planning and balancing festive activities with self-care, we can enjoy the season’s pleasures without compromising our health goals.
The holiday season need not be a source of stress for runners concerned about weight and fitness. By leveraging the benefits of running, such as increased metabolism and improved energy regulation, and by adopting strategic approaches to diet and lifestyle, runners can navigate the holidays effectively. With mindfulness and planning, the festivities can be enjoyed without derailing health and performance goals, allowing runners to step into the New Year ready for the roads and races ahead.
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Abdulan et al 2023, 'Winter holidays and their impact on eating behaviour - A systematic review', Nutrients, vol. 15, no. 19:4201. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15194201