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Christmas diet advice for athletes

It’s that time of year again 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 through to the beginning of January.

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

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 is a good idea to get out and do some exercise each day, even a short walk in the fresh air will make you feel good.

For the festive period as a whole it is useful to have some strategies to work to so 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
  • Used low fat milk for making sauces and drain off the excess fat from meat juice before making gravy
  • Enjoy the classic festive fruit of clementines, tangerines and satsumas for a low calorie vitamin C boost
  • Choose dried fruits and nut selections (in moderation as energy content 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, turkey, 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'

3. Watch the alcohol…

Alcohol is energy laden (Approx. 190kcal for a 250ml glass 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 are 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 'be the driver' so you have to avoid alcoholic drinks all evening

Happy Christmas everyone!

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.

Find out more about Wendy Martinson, or read more about Healthspan's Expert Panel.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace
medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.