In fact, it's common for some to pack on five to 10 pounds of body fat onto their normally "cut" athletic bodies during the holiday season, which can compromise performance at winter races and make for a slow return to peak form in the spring.
Fortunately, the situation is far from hopeless. It's possible to enjoy all the festivities--including the special foods that help make the season so enjoyable. Read on to learn about 10 nutrition and fitness strategies that will help you maintain peak fitness during the holiday season.
1. Eat four to six smaller meals rather than "saving" yourself for that special holiday meal
Do you honestly think you can resist the smell of a holiday kitchen when you're starving? Chances aren't too favorable. Not only do smaller, more frequent meals enhance metabolic activity (meaning you burn more calories during the day), your less likely to binge on those holiday treats.
To help curb your appetite before a party, choose to snack on "heavy" foods or those that contain a high water content like broth-based soups, fruits and vegetables. Appetite-control researchers have found that your brain may monitor how much you eat based on the weight of your food. One study discovered that people automatically stop eating when they consume a particular weight of food, regardless of the amount of fat or calories.
If the food was light, but high in calories, study participants could easily consume 1,000 calories without feeling satisfied. But they stopped eating heavier low-calorie foods after just a few hundred calories. For example, for 300 calories, you could either have a couple handfuls of chips or five oranges. So instead of eating lightweight foods like chips, crackers, rice cakes and popcorn to curb your appetite, choose heavier foods like fruits and vegetables.
2. Plan a workout before a holiday party or big meal
Why not use all those scrumptious holiday foods as recovery from a hard run or bicycle ride? In the one or two hours after intense exercise, our bodies are more sensitive to the hormone insulin, which helps transport sugars to our depleted muscles. All those precious carbohydrates found in starchy holiday dishes like mashed potatoes, or sugars found in cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie are excellent for glycogen replenishment. And the protein you'll get from that holiday turkey meal will help repair damaged tissue. Furthermore, our metabolism is heightened after a hard effort, meaning we're more effective at burning those little "indulgences" that may otherwise pack on the unwanted weight for upcoming training.
3. In contrast to our "sports mentality" to pick up the pace, when eating, SLOW DOWN!
If you're competitive by nature, you may be inclined to "hurry" your meals. Unfortunately, you won't win a medal by eating fast and you'll make it even harder to win one at your next race with those additional pounds slowing your pace. It takes at least 20 minutes for our brains to signal that we're actually full, which means a slow eater will consume less calories before feeling full than someone who races through their meal. So rather than attempting to finish your plate first, see if you can outlast the competition by being the last to finish.
4. Remember the law of diminishing returns
Doesn't the first bite always taste the best? When looking at brain chemicals signaling "pleasure," scientists have found that we receive less pleasure the more we eat of a food. So rather than feeling like you must eat a full serving of every dessert at a holiday meal, take a bite or two and receive 90 percent of the pleasure at 10 percent of the calories.