It’s often said that the average person gains five pounds during the six-week period from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s Day. Actually, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average person gains only one pound over the holidays—but never loses it. So, for the typical American, 20 years of turkey dinners, office holiday parties, and New Year’s Eve toasts add up to 20 pounds of extra weight around the middle. You don’t want that.
The holiday season coincides with the offseason for most runners.Training is decreased at this time, which increases the likelihood of weight gain. For the runner who enters the holiday or offseason at a very high level of fitness, a certain amount of weight gain is unavoidable. But what you want to avoid is the common problem of gaining entirely too much body fat at this time of year, which will sabotage your efforts to take your racing performance to a new level next year.
More: How to Build Your Base for Peak Performance
Here are a few tips to avoid excessive weight gain this holiday and offseason:
Set a Weight-Gain Limit
You will probably gain less body fat during the offseason if you replace your vague intention to stay trim with a definite goal—specifically, a maximum weight limit. Use the "8 percent rule" to calculate your limit. Every runner has an optimal racing weight, and most runners have a good idea what that weight is. The 8 percent rule dictates that you should avoid gaining more than 8 percent of your ideal racing weight during the offseason.
For example, suppose your racing weight is 133 pounds. Eight percent of 133 is about 10 pounds. So in this case you’ll want set a goal not to exceed 143 pounds. Once your weight limit is established, weigh yourself once a week to track any movement toward it and make changes as necessary (e.g., lay off the eggnog) if you find yourself getting too close, too quickly.
More: Reach Your Racing Weight the Right Way
Note that if you are already above your optimal racing weight at the start of the offseason, you still must limit your weight gain to 8 percent above your optimal racing weight, not your current weight. More information about your optimal racing weight can be found in my book, Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance.
Gain Muscle Instead of Fat
The offseason is a good time to focus on strength training. Functional strength is important for running performance, but for most runners the development of functional strength usually takes a back seat to race-focused endurance training during periods of peak training. When the offseason arrives, you have less emphasis on endurance training and can increase your commitment to functional strength development that creates a reserve of strength to carry you through the next competitive season. This is also a great benefit because you will add muscle mass to your body and thereby reduce offseason fat accumulation.
More: 4 Ways to Reach Your Ideal Racing Weight