Would you eat 20 chicken nuggets, 12 Paddle Pops, or 5 bowls of fruit loops in one sitting? Probably not, but you might drink 4 gin and tonics, or 4 bourbon and cokes at your next Christmas party. And the amount of calories they yield is around about the same.
Add to that the extra snacks we all tend to eat along with alcohol, you might be taking on board a whole extra day’s worth of calories in one Christmas party if you’re not careful.
But as a runner, you don’t want to pile on a couple of extra kilos at Christmas time, only to have to carry it round the course with you in your next event. So what to do?
The answer is definitely not to stop partying!!
Five tips to help minimise the impact of all that Christmas cheer.
- Plan to have only a few days on which you really overdo it
- On Christmas morning, go for a medium length run (60 minutes or more) and a moderate intensity, and include some faster efforts.
- Do daily bouts of vigorous activity
- Exercise within 1 hour of eating your big Christmas dinner
- Don’t pig out on treats like Christmas chocolates, just to “get rid of them”, or “get them out of the house”
And if you’d like to know more of the science behind why following these simple guidelines will work, read on.
Plan to have only a few days on which you really overdo it
If you’re going to overeat, do it properly. Really satisfy your desire for gluttony. Eat like a pig once or twice and be done with it. You’re far more likely to be able to resist those extra dips and chips and other stuff people offer you if you know you’ve already had a blow out. You won’t feel so much like you are depriving yourself.
Eat less at the meals you aren’t planning to really go for it. And definitely don’t have two blow out days in a row. Your body can handle some extra calories occasionally, but if you don’t have a break from overindulging, the extra energy just won’t be used up.
On Christmas morning, or before any planned pig-out, go for a 60+ minute medium effort run and include some efforts at a higher intensity
When you eat, carbohydrate is broken down into simple sugars, moves into the bloodstream, and insulin is used to shunt the sugars out of your blood. From the blood it is used by the brain, stored in the liver, and stored in your muscles in the form of glycogen. Once these storage areas are full, then it is stored as fat.
So, if you deplete your muscles of glycogen before you eat, there’ll be more room in the muscles to store the glycogen from the carbohydrate that you eat. It’ll be stored here ready to be released next time you need energy. If your glycogen storage silos are already full when you start eating, then more of the carbs you take in will be store as fat.
If you know you’re going to be eating a big meal on Christmas day, it would be ideal to go for a run on Christmas morning, and then eat very little, or not at all, until the main event. If you can’t get out on Christmas morning, go out as late as you can on Christmas Eve, and eat very little till your main meal on Christmas day.
Do daily bouts of vigorous activity
Overeating and inactivity is associated with alterations in the expression of certain genes in fat tissue. Unfortunately, it’s also associated with the holiday period!
Research published in the Journal of Physiology in December 2013 showed that daily vigorous exercise bouts could counteract the effect of short term overeating and under activity, with respect to alterations in gene expression and the effect this has on metabolism.
This applied even though the vigorous activity undertaken by research participants meant they had a positive energy balance – ie they still took more calories in than they expended in exercise. The groups ran on a treadmill for about 45 mins at about 70% of their maximum capacity, so it was quite vigorous exercise for a reasonable period of time, but if you have the fitness under your belt to be able to do that, go for it. Even if you can’t manage a 7/10 effort for 45 minutes every day, doing some vigorous activity on most days is going to help keep your waistline trim.
Exercise within an hour or two of eating your big Christmas dinner
If you’re planning a Nanna nap on Christmas afternoon, think again. Once you’ve taken in all that extra energy, you want to use as much of it as you can whilst it’s still circulating in the blood stream, and before it gets shunted into the body’s long term storage silos – adipose tissue, more commonly known as fat.
Researchers at Oxford University found that after a large meal containing 30gms of fat, two to three teaspoons of fat can be added to the waist very quickly. The first fat from any meal enters the blood about an hour after you eat. After around three hours, most of that fat has been incorporated into adipose tissue around the waist. Pretty much, the fat circulates in the blood stream and is “caught” opportunistically by the fat cells around the waist – if fat is floating past in the circulating blood, it’ll be nabbed by the fat storage cells around the waist. Then if it’s not used quickly enough, the fat isn’t mobilised for energy, and goes into longer term storage around hips and bum.
A game of backyard cricket, a trip to the beach, or a long walk will serve you well if you’re trying not to put on extra weight. This post meal exercise can be lower intensity-as your body will prefer to use fat for energy at a lower intensity – which is a bit of a bonus. Who wants to work hard with a tummy full of Christmas pud?
Don’t pig out on treats like Christmas chocolates, just to “get rid of them”, or “get them out of the house”
Let’s be real here. Chocolate doesn’t fill you up-it just makes you feel good. It’s not going to stop you from being hungry for the rest of the day. If you eat all your Christmas chocolate at once, just because you want to get rid of it and then start being “good”, chances are, you’re not going to take in less calories at the next meal to counterbalance the extra calories from the chocolate.
Eating an extra 500 calories from any food source, in any one day, is likely to put you into energy excess, and that’s how you put on weight. Much better to have one or two chocolates a day until they’re finished, or just chuck them out. There’s no rule that says you have to eat something just because it’s there!
P.S. You can find out just how man calories are in your favourite alcoholic drink here