Fitness & Nutrition

Christmas survival guide: how to strike the cycling and social balance over the festive season

How to keep on top of your training through December

So you’ve already put in a great autumn and winter of training as you build towards next year’s goals. But there’s is a problem – the festive excess is about to put a road block in your way.

Never fear, Dig Deep Coaching’s Stephen Gallagher is on hand with a survival guide on how to strike the cycling and social balance over the festive season.

Work parties, family gatherings and the usual “I’ll meet my mates for a pint” scenario will soon be played out over Christmas and towards New Year.  All of this puts a strain on our routine and how we approach training.

How can you strike the cycling and social balance over the festive season? (Pic: Anna & Michal via Creative Commons)

In our normal day-to-day life we all have the occasional bad day when we eat a takeaway, have three glasses of wine with dinner instead of one or raiding the kids sweetie cupboards to get a sugar fix.

We’ve all done it and it’s something our bodies and training can accommodate. But what we can’t handle is three or four weeks of excess where we over-indulge at every given opportunity with the philosophy of ‘I’ll go back to the routine in the New Year’. This attitude will do you no favours in January and February as you start to undo all the damage of Christmas excess.

Don’t worry, we’re not all party poopers  at Dig Deep Coaching, which is the reason we have given you an essential survival guide which should be your saviour over the festive period.

First up, it’s important to be flexible with your training…


December can mean a miss-mash of late nights, change in work times and holidays, all of which can affect your set training routine.

There’s no point in fighting the change in routine to an extent, so just accept that there will be interruptions to your training. But what can you do to ensure you training schedule isn’t too badly interrupted?

Be adaptable

Refrain from the all or nothing approach to training. If you had 90 minutes planned on your turbo this evening but can’t fit in the particular session, don’t just bin the training, adapt.

Can’t fit in a full training ride? Why not swap in 45 minutes on the turbo? (Pic: Zwift)

Make it into a 45-minute session, perhaps make it a more intense workout so as to maintain the training stimulus, or if you can’t get on the bike how about a core/strength routine you can do at home. Something is better than nothing.

Plan ahead

Organise your diary as well as possible. Forward planning will never be as critical when finding that spare hour or two than it is over the festive the period. Be prepared to adapt the type of training you had planned to different sessions. For example, perhaps you had a three-hour group ride planned at the weekend but now you can’t find the time. Have a back-up plan of one-hour intense sessions on the road or turbo set out. You might not build your base aerobic fitness that day but you have just worked on your sprint power or hill repeats. It’s all progress.

Don’t beat yourself up

Don’t beat yourself up because you failed to complete the planned session set out in your training.  You made the most of the time you had available to train and still enjoyed the party/dinner with friends and family all in the knowledge you burned a few calories so you can enjoy that extra bit of cake!

The trouble is, the Christmas period often means more than a slice of cake. So what can you do to beat the bulge?

Beat the bulge

Christmas is known for its ability to add a few kilos to the body if you’re not careful.

Some people just accept the fact that it will happen, while others try their best to avoid it at all costs. Our philosophy is ‘damage limitation’. You have to remember that it’s a long season, you have been working hard over the past months and we all need a break now and again.

It’s easy to over-indulge at Christmas (Pic: Ben Salter via Creative Commons)

Let’s not forget it is about having a good time and making the most of the festive period, but you still don’t want to undo all your hard work nor add to your workload come the new year to lose that extra few kilos gained.

‘Good’ days

Make your ‘good’ days really good. What I mean by this is when you are in control of your food choices and not in the party/festive mode try your best to make the right choices at every given opportunity.

Perhaps in the past your normal day is made up of 70-80 per cent good food choices, with the odd ‘treat’ here and there. What I want you to do is make sure you increase the quality of nutrition intake to 90 per cent per day.

Make your good days super-nutritious days (Pic:

This means we start to balance out good nutrition days to really good nutrition days, so once we come to the office party or Christmas dinner we are safe in the knowledge we have eaten as well as possible prior to this.

When hunger strikes!

Never go hungry to a party – ever! We’ve all done it: the mind-set that we will reduce our calorie intake during the day thinking we will keep those calories banked for the evening feast.

What actually happens is that you arrive at the party/diner starving with little ability to resist poor nutrition choices and then consume the calories you avoided in the day with low quality food choices.

So not only have you consumed more calories but you have not had quality essential nutrients.  Stop the grazing on crisps, chocolate, sweets and pies by snacking on good food during the day. Nuts, fruit, natural yogurt, olives etc. are all personal favourites and this quality grazing will stem off the hunger pangs come party time.


We probably consume more alcohol over the Christmas week than what we do in the previous months put together – or that’s the case for some people anyway!

Not only can this be a shock to the body and how it deals with toxins but it also can lead to a great reduction in the immune system and how we fend off cold and flu viruses, which are notorious over the festive period as we come into contact with more people than normal.

Stay hydrated to keep your alcohol intake manageable (Pic: Sirotti)

How our bodies flush out the toxins given to us from alcohol is something we can help control by one simple process: drinking water. To help maintain a good body function, stay hydrated and maintain a balance in our ability to flush out toxins given to us by excess alcohol, try consuming water between drinks.

This will not only help you resist reaching for that extra glass of wine or beer (that is full of empty calories) but it will also help you balance your body’s function. Increased alcohol intake also lowers our ability in making proper food choices and raises our appetite, all this leads to a circle of grazing on poor food choices and consuming empty calories via excess alcohol.

How to maximise free time

For some people, the Christmas period – and the time off work that comes with it – can give you the opportunity to squeeze in more training than normal. So how can you  make the most of the extra time available?

For those of you that have more free time over the Christmas period it can be a great opportunity to maximise that extra time available as you build towards the new year.

Within this free time available there is the added challenge of how best to use it to make it beneficial.

Build slowly

Avoid the temptation to use every spare hour each day to add on to your training schedule. This can have a detrimental effect on overall progress rather than positive.

Why? Well, for example, if you have been consistently completing eight to ten hours of training a week with weekend rides of three hours and suddenly you add on another eight to ten hours on top of this during the week, you can see that it will be a bit of a shock to the body.

Build slowly – you don’t need to use your free days to cram in extra training (Pic: Russell Burton)

We have seen athletes in the past who really pile on the volume excessively over a period of ten days to two weeks where they train to a higher level than what their body is fit enough to handle. That’s not to say you should avoid increasing volume but do so in a manner that you maintain the quality of the ride and it doesn’t lead to a long-term fatigue post-Christmas that prohibits you from training constructively in the early-January period.

Increasing the length of individual rides but having an extra rest day in between might help avoid fatigue or avoiding three days of back-to-back training of excessive volume. It really depends on your adaptions and fitness before the festive period but avoid ‘cramming’ in training.

Stay sharp

Another observation we have noticed in athletes who have the time to increase their training volume is the tendency to lose a bit of the sharpness or the top-end fitness built in the previous months.

If you are limited in time during your regular routine and do shorter sessions (i.e. turbo workouts) then these will often consist of high intensity intervals, but these will be greatly reduced once you focus on overall volume.

You may want to utilise the extra hours to the max before the regular routine kicks in again come New Year, but we’d advise to maintain your top-end work rather than progressing it. That means maintaining small but regular levels of intensity that can keep the progress you have made in these areas over the past months but also make sure you have enough energy and ability to increase the volume.

Maintain small but regular levels of intensity, rather than progressing it too quickly (Pic: dhb)

Doing this may not build your top-end fitness but just help keep it at a level you had pre-Christmas before building again come January, while making the most of the extra time you have available on work on volume and base training.

With all that in mind, we hope this helps you enjoy and progress over the festive period by enhancing your cycling along with spending time with family and friends without losing the progress made to date.

Cycling is about enjoyment and the festive period is about enjoyment. I hope you have the best of both worlds.

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