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An Athlete’s Holiday Survival Guide

How to avoid holiday weight gain

With the holidays fast approaching, thoughts of cookies and cakes, turkey and trimmings, pumpkin and pecan pies fill our brains. Moreover, with this year’s racing season behind us, it is not difficult to pack on a few off-season pounds. With a survival guide and a plan of action you do not have to forego the traditions and feasts of this time in order to remain at competing weight.

The secret to staying lean through the New Year is to match your nutrition choices to the specific requirements of being in recovery mode. The difference in energy expenditure between a day off and even a moderate training day can be enormous. Holiday survival modifications add up and are helpful in maintaining proper race weight. Making small changes even on a daily basis during this time does help compensate for variance in activity level and caloric expenditure. These tips focus on the best weight management strategies during the holiday season to maintain the optimal weight or body composition for the training season.

Maintain Caloric Balance

Even if you are continuing a strength training regimen, cut out the use of sports nutrition energy bars, drinks and gels, which are formulated for endurance. In place of the bars, opt for the earthy, clean alternatives such as the (non-processed) fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are more nutrient dense as opposed to calorie dense. Dense carbs that were important for glycogen restoration, such as power bagels, can be replaced with lighter, lower-calorie whole grain breads, such as whole grain English muffins or whole wheat pasta and brown rice.
Moderate Your Appetite and Energy Supply
Do not go to seasonal gatherings hungry. Hunger is a strong physiological drive and thus giving in to temptation is highly likely when your brain is not fed. Metabolism is raised when you eat every 2 to 3 hours. Keep up with this philosophy even through the holiday season. Do not save calories for a big festive meal. Have a snack or light meal and drink plenty of water before facing a huge buffet. Having a full stomach aids in appetite suppression.

Eating every few hours also means keeping portion size appropriate. You may have gotten used to eating larger portion sizes while training hard over the summer, and old habits die hard. Remember, cup of cooked pasta, rice or potatoes is a realistic serving size for weight maintenance, whereas these portions may seem extremely tiny when you are faced with festive meals. As few as 100 extra calories per day can amount to 15 lbs of fat gain between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
Remain Accountable to Your Training Weight
Being accountable to weight management during this time may seem un-festive, but that is just the point. Do not use the “holiday season” as an excuse for an “anything goes” attitude toward diet. After all, it’s a holiday, not a holimonth.

Plan ahead. Willpower requires boundaries. Create your own boundaries before you even head out the door to temptation. Be strong; give yourself some tough love. Warm and fuzzy self-talk lines like “I will stop eating when I am full” do not work. Your boundaries have to be precise and measurable. For example: “I will not eat anything fried.” “I will only drink 4 oz of alcohol.”

Use visualization. Remember last year, when you walked away from a party feeling uncomfortably full and regretful, anticipating those extra pounds you then had to burn off in preseason training? Visualize leaving the party feeling proud and liberated about your choices. Visualize preseason training days at your optimal training weight.

Journal. Commit to keeping a food journal and an exercise journal (and for many, a parallel emotional journal is a great bonus). By writing down everything you eat and drink, not only are you self-accountable, but you become aware of the hidden calories and fat grams creeping in. Journaling both food and exercise helps you monitor calories consumed against calories burned. This helps nip over-indulgence in the bud.

Physical Activity. Do not go cold-turkey (so to speak) on training over the holiday season. Taking a week off for physical and mental rejuvenation is fine, but beyond that you should continue to work out at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and ideally more. This is an absolute necessity to maintain basic health, even if you never plan to race again. And if you do plan to race, maintaining a solid base of fitness over the holidays is critical if you hope to improve your performance next year. A side benefit of training consistently over the holidays is that it burns calories and allows you to maintain your weight with a smaller reduction in eating.

Put Alcohol into Perspective. Alcohol goes hand-in-hand with celebrations. Do not forget that alcohol adds calories. In fact, per gram, it has more calories than carbohydrates and protein. A 12 oz. beer contains 150 calories. A 5 oz. glass of wine has 100 calories. One drink a day adds over 1,000 calories per week. During the holiday season alone, this means at least 3 extra pounds of fat.

Furthermore, it is not just the caloric density and sugars of alcohol that need to be accounted for. Although Alcohol is considered a carbohydrate, it metabolizes quite differently than food carbohydrates. It is converted to fatty acids with a higher potential of fat storage rather than conversion to glucose. In simple terminology, alcohol puts efficient fat burning on hold. If your off-season goal is to stay lean, stay off the booze. One way to nip the unwanted fat gain in the bud is to nominate yourself to be a designated driver.

Compromise. Never give up your cultural traditions or social aspirations in lieu of your body composition goals. In other words, do not stay away from the party in fear of giving in to temptation. Plan out the compromise and go to the party regardless. Remember the adage: The party does not have to be in your mouth! Staying away from temptation altogether may cause you to feel intensely deprived later down the line. Emotional eating is more difficult to control than a few slip-ups at holiday parties. As a host, you can always give the tempting leftovers to guests or, better yet, take them to homeless shelters.

Whether you are a host or a guest, you can always bring something to the table that is appetizing, delicious, and a substitute for high-calorie, low-nutrient options. Some cooking or baking substitutes in recipes include: replacing regular butter, cream, sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, cheese, etc., with nonfat or low-fat options, replace cream with evaporated skim milk, replace whole eggs with egg whites (you may need an extra egg white or two), replace ice cream with frozen yogurt, replace heavy whipping cream with a 1:1 ratio of flour whisked into non-fat milk (eg.1 cup of flour + 1 cup of non-fat milk), use apple sauce and/or cinnamon as a topping instead of cream or butter.
No regrets
If you do decide to weigh yourself after a party, even if your overindulgence was minimized, keep your head in the right place. Getting on a scale the morning after you may find that you’ve added as much as 2 to 4 lbs. These numbers could lead you into a whirlwind of regret, minimizing your chances of enjoying the rest of the season appropriately. A few extra pounds show up after you have carbo-loaded your muscles. With each 1 gram of glycogen, 3 grams of water are stored. If you have not been able to resist all temptation, use it to your advantage. Water weight is the first load of poundage to drop off with physical activity. There is no better motivation than this for a post party workout.
It is not uncommon for athletes to get caught up in the temptations of the season, more so because of the hard-core discipline the rest of the year. This mindset may make gearing up for a new season with an optimal weight rather difficult. However, be realistic, enjoy the traditions, embrace the culture, but keep your goals in focus all the time. These basic nutrition tips should provide a realistic view of the season’s offerings and thus aid in weight management post-season.
Article from Pacific Health Labs.

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