Nutrition: eight tips to get back on track after Christmas
Too many mince pies over Christmas? Here's how to start the new year with a bang
The festive period can be filled with temptation and indulgence, and for many cyclists it can be a struggle to stay on track with training and nutrition.
Of course, it's okay to enjoy yourself over Christmas and the New Year, and enjoy a well-earned break, but how can you quickly get back on track now we're into January?
Here are some top tips for the post-Christmas period to get you back on course with your training and nutrition to help you meet your goals.
Cut back on indulgence
The festive period is filled with sugary treats, large portions and sometimes lots of alcohol. It’s important to get back on track as quickly as you can after the break - the more you continue to indulge, the harder it is going to be to get back into your usual routine.
It is also usual over Christmas to get lots of food-related presents which you wouldn’t usually buy such as chocolates, biscuits and bottles of wine and these can also be hard to resist. Try to avoid temptation by keeping them sealed - they can even be used as presents for other people! If you do open them, try to do it when you have the opportunity to share them out to ensure that you don’t overindulge.
Cutting back on alcohol is also key to getting on track with nutrition and training. Alcohol contains a large amount of calories which first and foremost will contribute to weight gain. Not only that, but alcohol also affects hydration levels which will have a detrimental impact on your performance and training.
Set realistic goals
Be realistic about your training and nutrition goals. Going too hard, too soon can mean that by the end of January you’ve cracked and can’t keep it up.
Make sure you commit back to your usual training plan as soon as you can. Training encourages a calorie deficit and helps to maintain muscle mass and growth. Not all weight loss can be attributed to fat loss and therefore without proper training, weight loss may actually be caused by losses in muscle mass.
That being said, don’t go overboard with your training to try and make up for the indulgence, get back on a realistic plan and stick to it. This also counts for nutritional goals. Make sure you are properly fuelled for your training sessions, especially for longer rides where you’ll need to have taken in enough carbohydrates to complete the training efficiently.
When trying to lose a bit of weight it is also very important to be realistic about how much you can lose. It is recommended that you should lose no more than 0.5kg per week and this can be achieved through a 500 caloire deficit per day. Start tracking and recording your food intake and exercise to ensure you are meeting your goals.
Although it is important you remain fuelled for your exercise sessions, if you’re doing a lower intensity ride early in the morning then avoiding food before you train may provide some physiological benefits. Exercising in a fasted state trains the body to use your fat stores as a means of fuel which can help to shed a bit of the Christmas weight you’ve put on.
It is important to note that you should keep your ‘fasted’ sessions to a maximum of 2-3 times a week, to a low or medium intensity, and not longer than about 90 minutes. If exercising on nothing doesn’t work for you, try a breakfast high in protein to avoid hunger pangs. You can learn more about fasted training in this article.
Eat a balanced diet
After the indulgence of Christmas, make sure that you get back into eating a balanced diet. Fill each meal with essential nutrients and try to cut back on what you don’t need.
High quality protein can help to promote satiety and slow release carbohydrates (low GI) can assist in providing energy for longer to help avoid snacking. This should also ensure that you reduce your need to eat the bigger portions that you have been used to over the Christmas period. Some examples of slow releasing carbohydrates include brown rice, sweet potatoes and pearl barley.
Ensure that your meals include vegetables and try to avoid saturated fats. However, don't ignore all fats. You should still be aiming for two to three portions a day of essentials fats like those found in nuts and avocado. These fats can aid recovery and provide fuel for long rides so keep them in your diet.
Eat little and often
It's common to think that a key strategy in losing weight is to skip meals, however this isn't the case. Eating little and often helps to prevent hunger and keeps your blood sugar levels constant to help prevent cravings for sugary foods. This should also ensure that you are providing your body with enough fuel for training.
Any reduction in food intake should be done across the day and across meals, not by avoiding or skipping a meal. Some people attempt to crash diet which induces large calorie deficits with the aim of losing weight quickly. Although this may work for the minority, it is not the best solution for weight loss and can actually cause your body to preserve energy in the form of fat stores, thereby slowing your metabolism and preventing fat burning in the long run.
If you’re back on your training routine, you need to eat regularly to avoid hunger and maximise training.
Focus on recovery
After your training sessions, make sure you have a proper recovery meal. Skipping this meal may seem like an easy way to remove calories from your diet but providing your body with fuel for recovery is very important.
Eating correctly and focusing on recovery will allow you to train properly in subsequent sessions, which in turn is likely to induce a bigger calorie deficit than missing the meal alone. Your recovery meal should consist of carbohydrates for muscle glycogen replenishment and protein for muscle growth and repair.
In order to stay back on track with your nutrition, it is very important that you are prepared with all your meals. If you know that you are going to be out all day, then make sure you prepare a meal and snacks which you can take with you. This will prevent you from buying unhealthier options when you are out and about and can help you to keep on top of what you’re eating.
Thinking a few days ahead can have significant benefits when trying to stick to a plan as it helps you to feel prepared, get the right food, and be organised. If you’re really busy and constantly on the go, you can even consider shakes to help fuel you efficiently. Recovery shakes can be great for when you have somewhere to be following a training session. Also ensure that you keep a nutritious snack with you wherever you go so that when hunger strikes, you can avoid the temptation of sugary foods.
Don't be disheartened
Don’t be too disheartened by a small amount of weight gain over Christmas. As long as you’ve kept your indulgence to a few days and not gone overboard, then enjoying a few festive treats isn't going to set you back.
If you get back into an efficient training and nutrition routine quickly after the Christmas period, it won’t take you long to shed the bit of extra weight to allow you to start training and performing at your best again.
Charlotte Kennedy is a sports nutritionist at Etixx. For more information on Etixx sports nutrition, please visit: www.etixxsports.com