Some great advise on how to stay on track this festive season from Claire Walker at Active Spirit Nutrition:
Enjoying the Festive Period whilst keeping the half marathon training on track…the runner’s oxymoron?
As the countdown to Christmas begins, the social calendar fills up with irresistible invitations to office Christmas parties and other social events. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the festivities because, everything is based around social occasions that don’t really occur en masse at any other time in this country. But how does one keep training on track whilst enjoying the festive period? It’s a question of balance, focus and planning.
Most of us know that from the end of November until the New Year, things are going to be busy.
Often we forget how busy, but we do know it will be busy. If you are following a training plan, use that as the basis for your planning for the festive period. Of course all plans are just a framework from which to work however it’s important to mention that all plans come with the caveat that if you miss a training session, it’s not the end of the world. The key is to make sure that you do not deviate from any plan so much that you cannot get yourself back on track. So focus on each week and look to see where the flexibility may be in your training plan (and if you aren’t following a formal plan, try to give yourself a rough plan at least for the next few weeks to help get you through the festive period). I would suggest that you don’t want to miss your long runs but maybe you need to switch when these will be – perhaps if you know you are going out to a big party on Saturday night, you could do your long run on the Saturday morning rather than Sunday morning (which is when most training plans seem to have them)?
Once you have looked at your social and training calendar in this way, it is easier to then sort out your plan for eating and drinking. As I say to all my clients, you need to ensure that your base diet is great because, as the old adage states, ‘you cannot outrun a poor diet’. I use the BANT health eating guidelines (http://bant.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/WELLNESS-SOLUTION-IMAGE.jpg) with all my clients because I feel this is a great starting point for good nutrition. So for the days when you aren’t socialising try to ensure that all meals contain carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats in the correct proportions as per the BANT healthy eating guidelines. Depending on your mileage, you may need to play around with proportions and snacks to make sure you have sufficient energy to see you through the day.
Regardless of whether you are socialising or not, staying well hydrated is important to us all but particularly if you are in training mode. The general guide most quoted is 6-8 glasses of water every day. Tea & coffee can contribute to your overall fluid intake but it shouldn’t be your only source of hydration. The easiest way to monitor your hydration level is to monitor the colour of your urine. Generally clear and a pale urine colour will indicate that your hydration levels are good. Please note that certain conditions may alter your urine colour so you may need further medical advice if you have one of these conditions. Whilst training, it really is important to make sure you are suitably hydrated because even mild dehydration can lead to headaches and make you feel unwell. Alcohol is a known diuretic so if you are drinking when you are socialising, do make sure you take measures to prevent dehydration before you start training again. On the day of your social event, make sure you are suitably hydrated before your start drinking alcohol and then try to limit your alcoholic drinks to one per hour, alternating with water, fruit juice or soft drinks.
In the ideal world, no one would overindulge ever but realistically, most people do like to relax and not have to monitor what they eat and drink. And realistically people don’t like to feel like they are missing out so here is where the balance comes into things. Which events are you going kick back and enjoy guilt free? And which are you going to keep a closer focus on your food & drink intake?
Plan the kick back and enjoy events so that there isn’t a clash with your training. For the other events, you don’t necessarily have to abstain totally from drinking alcohol or eating certain foods but have a plan for how you approach then events. With regards to alcohol, you can if you choose refrain completely, or you can limit your intake to 1-2 glasses with a meal or drink alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks during the evening. Fortunately, there are lots of options with non-alcoholic drinks these days and generally less social pressure to drink excessively.
Equally with food, enjoy the meals you have on your kick back & guilt free days but plan for them. If you know you are going to be having a big meal on, say, Saturday evening, keep your meals small during the daytime both on the Saturday and Sunday. Don’t be tempted to skip meals so you can stockpile calories for drinking. Alcohol supplies empty calories so avoiding proper meals to compensate for a booze splurge will mean that you are losing out on essential nutrients, just when your body is most likely to need them. Try to start each day with a substantial breakfast. One of my favourites is a bowl of porridge made with nut milk such as almond milk, a handful of berries and a sprinkling of ground nuts & seeds. The porridge will help stabilise blood sugar levels and this will in turn help control appetite later int eh day. Adding a dollop of probiotic natural yogurt will help boost your immunity as well as help counter some of the less beneficial effects of the party season such as too much alcohol and lack of sleep.
Another useful tip is to have a pre-party snack so that you are not really hungry when you get to your party. I personally quite like small pot of natural yogurt with sliced banana because the yogurt’s protein slows the emptying of the stomach and this can help delay the effect of your first alcoholic drink. The potassium rich banana helps balance any increase in salt intake which is useful because most party snacks/canapes tend to be high in salt e.g. olives, crisps, nuts. Other examples of healthy snacks are wholemeal toast with nut butter, muesli with milk and hummus with oatcakes.
For the days where you are keeping a closer focus on your food & drink intake, think about maybe limiting the courses so you have maybe 2 out of 3 courses? Think about alternatives to foods within meals. Most restaurants can cope with small deviations from their menus, even set menus. So maybe switch to new potatoes rather than roast potatoes? Opt for fresh fruit as a pudding instead of Christmas pudding etc. You can also ask to have sauces and gravy provided on the side so you can decide how much you want over your main meal. Have soup for the starter but without bread. Share a desert with someone if you can’t resist having one – at least that way, you will limit your intake.
It’s all about having strategies to deal with social events and keeping a focus on the strategies. And the days that you have overindulged, just chalk a line under that day and start afresh with the current day. Don’t write the plan off and think you’ve blown it, you haven’t at all.
As with all training there must be an element of discipline because you want to achieve your goal of the running the Ealing Half Marathon, so plan your training and your nutrition to keep yourself on track. I’m a firm believer that food & drink are to be enjoyed so why would you want to deprive yourself? The key is to make sure that the treats are infrequent, so you can really enjoy them and that for most of the time you are eating as nutritiously as possible.
Above all, enjoy the festive period as it is only once per year. One very important part of this period is socialising with people and this is great for mental health.