Training & Nutrition

How to get Through the Christmas Season Without Piling on the Pounds

Strike the balance between indulgence and fitness this Christmas

We all know how easy it is to overindulge over Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately as tasty as mince pies, roast meat, yule logs and mulled wine are, these foods and drinks are often high in fat and/or sugar.

Riding your bike means you can burn off some of these calories but it’s still very easy to eat too much and end up in a positive energy balance, which eventually leads to weight gain.

A reasonably fit 70kg rider cycling at 15mph will burn around 600 calories per hour – the equivalent of three mince pies or a bottle of wine. A typical Christmas dinner may be between 1000-1500kcal – taking about two hours to ride off. A mulled wine has around 250kcal in, depending on how much sugar is added.

We have enlisted the help of Emma Barraclough,the Senior Sports Nutritionist for Science in Sport (SiS) who has offered up some helpful tips to minimise the damage this festive season.

Tip 1: Get out and ride

If you are lucky enough to have some time off work over the Christmas period you will have more opportunities to get out on your bike and rack up the miles.

Trying to match the days of your highest energy intake with the days you have a chance to ride is a great way to avoid weight gain. For example, if you know you have a party that evening, a 2-3 hour ride that morning will create some energy deficit – helpful if it’s going to be hard for you to make good food choices later that evening. Just make sure you properly rehydrate afterwards, otherwise you’ll start drinking alcohol when you’re already dehydrated.

Tip 2: Turbo trainer

As well as being a busy time of year, December’s inclement weather can test the resolve of even the most enthusiastic cyclist. But instead of hanging up your wheels for the winter, why not dig out the turbo trainer.

3 Turbo Trainer Workouts that Will Take you From Zero to Hero

Sure, it may not be as invigorating as hitting the open road, and staring at the garage wall isn’t as pretty as the view from the top of that hill. However a short but hard session is a great way to build power and strength, as well as burning off some of that turkey dinner. To enhance your effort, why not ride along with one of the increasing number of online training videos, such as Sufferfest.

Tip 3: Treat yourself in moderation

If you’re at a buffet, try and limit yourself to one filled plate, and avoid the temptation to go back for more or to keep nibbling foods that are high in fat and salt. Each extra cocktail sausage can cost you 40 calories, a mini pizza is typically around 65kcal, and each pint of beer to wash it down is 200kcal.

For your Christmas dinner, try to fill your plate with lower fat (and therefore lower calorie) options. Choose breast meat over leg from the turkey, and keep the portion sizes of stuffing and gravy small. You’re likely not to be very active on Christmas day, so keep the carbohydrate intake down where you can. Fill your plate with boiled carrots, sprouts, cabbage, broccoli etc rather than boiled and roast potatoes.

Another good tip is to be sparing with your puddings, because many Christmas favourites are high in both fat and sugar. Try buying individual servings to help with portion control – but remember, even a small individual Christmas pudding can have over 300kcal in it.

Tip 4: Booze

As well as watching for fat and sugar, be aware that all alcohol carries quite high amounts of calories. It will also dehydrate you and reduce your glycogen storage, making your ride the next day feel harder work than it usually would be. It’s still good to do some time on the bike versus spending the day watching TV re-runs, but bear in mind that you may need to ride a bit steadier than normal, and your heart rate may be slightly higher for the same given work rate.

Tip 5: Don’t Get Ill

It’s easy during the festive period to become meat and carbohydrate obsessed, leaving you vulnerable to getting ill while training in colder conditions. To combat this, make sure that you take on fruit and veg with an array of colour to help fight off that ride ruining lurgy!

How to Avoid a Cold: Top Tips from Lea Davison 

In the spirit of the season, why not have some clementines, ensuring that you get your vitamin C, and cranberries, that are packed with anti-oxidants. If you do get sick, do take some time to rest.


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