Well, it's the holiday season again...a time for family, friends, and...FOOD! Unfortunately the holiday season falls - for many athletes - in the midst of the off-season and impressively cold outdoor temperatures. So what's an athlete to do during the holidays to emerge still on track for his/her next race when January 2nd rolls around? Here are my performance-protecting holiday tips. Note: these are in order of importance!
1. Re-assess your goals.
While I understand you may have a March or April competition planned, the holidays may not be the best time to "kick your butt into gear" or "take your training to the next level". December can be a very stressful month - and remember that stress can wreak havoc on your metabolism, digestion and sleeping patterns. If trying to continue a hard-core training plan in the midst of everything is only adding undue stress, perhaps cut back a bit, take a deep breath, and try to enjoy time spent with family and friends.
2. Re-assess your thinking.
I have never attended a holiday party that didn't include food. Any gathering - holiday-themed or not - is typically filled with plenty of time spent eating. Instead of parking yourself by the food table, try re-locating to the family room and plant yourself next to that brother-in-law, cousin, or grandparent with whom you haven't yet had a conversation. Remember that while I love me a good Christmas cookie, holidays should really be more about quality time spent with family and friends. If appreciate the ones you love is your focus, I guarantee stress surrounding what you should or should not eat or will be much lower.
3. Focus on the little changes.
I would be re-miss to think that I could just "pep talk" you through the holidays. While #1 and #2 are the most important, I'm guessing you would also appreciate some realistic ideas for the holidays. So, here you go:
- Cut back, don't cut OUT your training during the holidays. Commit to being active as part of your holiday regimen.
- If you know you have a holiday party that night, be smart with your food choices during the rest of the day. Stick to the fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. Skip that morning grande caramel macchiato and go for a black coffee instead - save the sugar and fat for grandma's homemade strudel that night.
- Stay hydrated. This is important every day, but especially when you're prepping your body for a large amount of energy intake. A properly hydrated body more efficiently and effectively metabolizes food, which could mean better a body composition for you.
- Don't arrive to the party starving. Just like I mentioned in my Thanksgiving blog, fasting all day before your holiday hoe-down is a bad idea. Eat normally - ideally at least every 3-4 hours prior to the party.
- Practice mindful eating. How hungry are you really? Could you stop after 3 shortbread cookies instead of 6? Are chocolate chip cookies necessary since you can have those any day? Are you hungry or just thirsty? What foods are you REALLY excited about eating or drinking? Ask questions like these to keep close attention to your appetite and feelings about what you're eating. This will keep you from wondering how you ate an entire bag of green and white M&Ms before moving on to chocolate creme pie.
- Watch what you drink. Calories from alcohol add up fast. Try to alternate between alcoholic drinks and water to keep those calories down a bit.
If you haven't yet, write down your performance goals for 2012. Keep those goals with you at all times during the holiday season. 99% of the time, YOU are your best health coach.