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How to stay fit and healthy over Christmas

Christmas is a time to relax, spend time with loved ones and most importantly enjoy some great food and tipple of your choice! But for athletes and other fitness fanatics they want to stay in shape over Christmas. 

If this is you then keep reading, as I’m going to share some very simple and effective tips on how to stay fit and healthy over Christmas! 

How you plan your nutrition over the festive period is entirely up to you, whether you enjoy a 1-2 week binge, or a bit of indulgence in moderation so you don’t feel you need to diet a bit harder than normal come the New Year. Athletes should follow the latter whilst being able to enjoy their food a bit more than normal over Christmas guilt free.

Putting on a little bit of weight over the Christmas period is normal, but this does NOT directly equate to gains in body fat. You’re eating a great volume of food, particularly more carbohydrates, salt, fibre, drinking more fluids etc, which will take longer to digest and sit in the gut, and will be stored within the muscles and liver as glycogen. Yes the scales will likely say you’re heavier and you will probably feel a bit more sluggish, but 1 day of overeating will not result in increased body fat.

Doing this over a period of time is much more likely to be a cause of increased body fat. 

“It is the dose that makes the poison” – Paracelsus

Here’s a few tips to effectively manage your nutrition to make greater allowances for the increased calorie intake over Christmas:

  1. Control your portion sizes – Don’t load your plate up for the sake of it. Stick to similar portion sizes whilst enjoying a few foods and drinks you wouldn’t normally have.
  2. Eat the rainbow – Keeping your plates colourful will ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy, when challenged by excessive alcohol and processed foods. 
  3. PROACTIVE meal planning – Reduce your intake in the days BEFORE Christmas at selected meal times of the day that will not negatively impact your training performances. Focus on less energy dense foods e.g. proteins & vegetables/salads, and be wary of careless snacking choices. 
  4. REACTIVE meal planning – Knowing how much you’ve consumed over the last couple of days, you can make smart meal choices in the same way as the previous point. You will have good stores of energy so don’t worry about needing to over-fuel before training.
  5. Drink smart – if you drink alcohol then just be mindful of how much and what you drink. Don’t mix drinks, stick to lower calorie options e.g. clear spirits & low calorie mixers, and don’t start drinking on an empty stomach!
  6. Stay hydrated – Remember to drink water regularly throughout the day to prevent dehydration, which can result in poorer food choices and a hangover! 
  7. Keep training & stay active – I’m not saying you need to go for a long run on Christmas morning (I won’t be…), but keeping up with your training and going for walks with the family will help you a) feel better about yourself and b) slightly increase your calorie allowance for what you will be eating. 
  8. Relax and sleep well – regular nights of insufficient sleep i.e. less than 6 hours, is highly associated with increased risk of illness, injury, worsened body composition (more fat and less muscle mass), and increased appetite & desire for poorer food choices due to impaired regulation of hunger hormones. Excessive alcohol intake also reduces sleep quality

Take home tips

It’s really important that you enjoy yourself over the festive period, but don’t turn around in the New Year regretting how much weight you’ve put on. Eat smart and control your portions in the days before and after Christmas, Boxing Day, with mindful snacking and drinking choices. Stay active with regular exercise and family walks, hydrate well and relax! 

Merry Christmas!

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