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Christmas diet advice for athletes

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Article written by  Wendy Martinson

Date published  10 December 2021

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It's the time of year when Christmas fare will soon be overflowing and temptation to eat and drink excessively is all around us. For some, the celebrations can start at the beginning of December and carry on to the beginning of January.

That’s 4-5 weeks of eating and drinking, which can easily lead to excess weight gain and a less than ideal start to the New Year.

During Christmas Day and Boxing Day everyone should be able to relax, rest up and not worry too much about eating and drinking more than normal. It's unlikely that a couple of days will set you back too much. However, it's a good idea to get out and do some exercise each day, as even a short walk in the fresh air will make you feel good.

For the festive period as a whole, it's useful to have some strategies to help you start the New Year feeling healthy.

Tips to survive the festive period

1. Daily exercise

Most elite athletes will carry on doing some training over the festive period, albeit less than usual. That's a good tip for everyone to follow. It could be a walk, run, cycle, gym session, dancing, whatever makes you feel good and gets you moving off the sofa away from the box sets and chocolate boxes.

2. Control over indulgence

Everyone wants to enjoy some treats at Christmas, and rightly so, but there are some healthier choices you can make that will help keep you on track without making you feel like you are missing out.

  • Fill up your plate with seasonal vegetables and lean protein (remove skin and fat) and reduce carbohydrate (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread) intake to match reduced activity levels.
  • If having roast potatoes or parsnips, cut them into large pieces, so they absorb less fat during cooking.
  • Use low-fat milk for making sauces, and drain off the excess fat from meat juice before making gravy.
  • Choose dried fruits and nut selections (in moderation as their energy content is high) as nutritious snacks rather than over-doing the chocolate.
  • Be selective about nibbles eaten at parties. Limit pastry items such as sausage rolls, quiche, vol-au-vents, spring rolls and flans and anything that's been deep-fried. Watch out for with anything that comes with mayonnaise or soured cream such as coleslaw, potato salad and creamy dips. Choose lean beef, chicken, smoked salmon, fresh prawns, mini kebabs, salads without mayonnaise, crudités or wholegrain crackers with hummus, salsa, tzatziki instead.
  • Avoid sugary soft drinks that provide 'empty calories'.

People clinking wine glasses over Christmas dinner

It's easy to overindulge in alcohol over the festive period. Here are some tips on how to avoid this.

3. Watch the alcohol…

Alcohol is energy-laden (Approx. 190kcal for a 250ml glass of wine or pint of beer, 60kcal per single measure of spirits) and at parties it's very easy to lose track of how much you are drinking. As well as potentially leading to an unpleasant hangover the next day, it can also tempt you to eat fatty/sugary foods you may otherwise avoid.

  • Try not to arrive at a party thirsty. Quench thirst with water or a low-calorie soft drink before going.
  • If you're going to drink alcohol, set yourself a limit (2-3 units for women, 3-4 units for men) and stick to it.
  • Ask for low-calorie mixers with single rather than double measures of spirits to control intake.
  • White wine spritzers are a lower-energy alternative to wine or champagne, and make a long refreshing drink.
  • Drink water alongside alcohol.
  • Volunteer to drive, so you have to avoid alcoholic drinks all evening.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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About Wendy Martinson

Wendy Martinson OBE RSEN is Lead Performance Nutritionist and Intensive Rehabilitation Nutritionist for the English Institute of Sport and Lead Nutritionist for the Great Britain Rowing Team.