We all love the big bearded man that comes down our chimney during that very long sleep between Christmas Eve and Christmas day – but that doesn’t mean we want to take steps to emulate him.
Cyclists have many different reasons for getting out on the bike – some pedal for health, others for competition, whilst many just love it or use two wheels to get around. If you're trying to lose weight and improve your health or cycling for competition then weight gain is probably not on your Santa list.
The festive period is always awash with parties, big Sunday lunch style meals and ‘ohh, go on, it’s Christmas!’ boxes of office chocolates floating around. It can be hard to stay on the straight and narrow. However, there is no actual physiological reason you have to gain weight in December, you can indeed have just as much fun and keep up with your normal focus on a healthy diet.
Here are our tips for arriving in January just as trim as you are now (and enjoying a few trimmings along the way!)…
Load your plate at Christmas party buffets
Wait, are you reading the right guide? Yes!
Buffets can be deceiving. Those trying to watch their weight can often be tempted to take a mini plate, fill it with carrot sticks, a little dip, a couple of chicken wings, before sauntering away feeling very disciplined. Five minutes later they’re watching everyone else still enjoying their food, so they return for another little plate, perhaps another…
Eating like this basically results in never feeling satisfied, and generally consuming more calories than if you’d just loaded one plate with something as close to a normal, balanced meal, as possible.
So, load up one plate, and enjoy it. Try to include plenty of veg, ideally as unbattered, unbuttered and unfried as possible, and go for leaner meat cuts such as turkey instead of party chicken wings.
Be smart with choices
One full-on Christmas meal on the day itself is never going to do you any harm – but some of us are fortunate enough to be invited to multiple festive sit-down meals every year, turning the weeks before the actual event into a cycle of overeating and the resulting lethargy. It doesn’t need to be that way.
A roast dinner – turkey (or nut roast), vegetables, potatoes, a bit of gravy – don’t actually contain anything all that unhealthy at all. Turkey is an excellent source of lean protein, potatoes are a wonderful low GI carb – though best when mashed not roasted in fat - and no one can criticize a brussels sprout. That alone is a pretty filling meal that you’ll certainly enjoy.
It’s just some of the additions – pigs in blankets, extra stuffing and Christmas pudding that see all the calories add up. So, if you can, try to make sure your plate is heavy on the veg front, choose mashed potato over-roasted, and ask for a more healthy festive dessert like a yummy stewed pear with cinnamon.
Of course – once a year – on actual Christmas day, just relax and enjoy yourself. One slightly overfilling meal never hurt anyone.
Go to parties where there will be nibbles well fed
Going to a shindig where there will be no real food, but lots of plates of indulgent canapés? Do not go to that party hungry!
Sometimes life can get rushed. You ride home from work, jump in the shower, put some clothes on your body, grab a bagel and go. An hour later and you’ve eaten three people’s quota of snacks and are feeling a little bit sick.
Cycling burns energy – you do need to refuel, just try to go about that refuelling in your normal healthy manner, so you can enjoy just one or two nibbles, not a dinner’s worth when you go out.
Enjoy a treat now and then
We don’t go in for banning all of the good things. For starters, that’ll just make you miserable and you’ll end up giving up on staying on the healthy eating bandwagon.
Studies have shown that enjoying the odd treat here and there could serve as a reminder to your brain that you’ve had something nice, and prevent you overeating later. That certainly makes sense – having just a couple of squares of chocolate after a meal doesn’t add a lot to your overall calorie consumption, but does finish off your dinner nicely and means you’re less likely to go fridge-raiding before bed.
It’s easy to mistake the lethargy of being thirsty for the lethargy of being hungry – so before you reach for that 3 pm turkey roll, down a glass of water and wait for twenty minutes.
Staying hydrated is important at all times of the year – forgetting to drink will make your muscles less effective on the bike and can cause them to take longer to repair, too. When you’re cycling a lot in cold weather, it can be easy to forget to keep sipping, so make sure you keep an eye on the water level in your bidon. If it's not going down you're not drinking enough. The one true test of hydration is the colour of your wee – if it’s closer to orange than clear, get a drink down you! Here's a handy colour chart for you to cut out and keep...
Choose your drinks
Speaking of drinks… most alcoholic ones contain a lot of empty calories. Though something like Guinness probably will make you feel fuller, lager or a glass of wine won’t - but they still contain lots of sugar and calories. For example, a pint of lager on average is equal to a slice of pizza at 180 calories. A 175ml glass of wine will be around 130 calories – whilst comparatively a gin and slimline tonic contains less than 50 calories.
We all know drinking too much will make you feel rubbish the next day, so try to enjoy your festive tipples in moderation, keep drinking water between alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration, and choose your drinks wisely, opting for the lower calorie spirits and sugar-free mixers if they agree with you. If not, top up your beer or wine with sugar-free lemonade to half the calorie content.
You know the old saying, calories in, calories out – the two must be equal to maintain the same weight? Totally true!
At the end of the day, you’ll only gain weight if you consume more calories than you burn. Therefore, if you know you’ve got a big family lunch, why not get out for a morning spin beforehand so your legs are well and truly hollow and ready to be filled? That way, you get to enjoy the pleasure of a beautiful long ride and the warming sensation of refuelling at a Christmas table with your loved ones.
If you’re looking for opportunities to get your Christmas calorie burn on, check these Christmas challenges.