The holidays pose a challenge in practicing moderation for athletes and non-athletes alike. Serious runners don’t let holidays lead to weight gain, but they don’t shy away from enjoying festivities, either. Much like everyday eating and training, it’s all about balance for those runners who’ve been doing this for a long time.
From serious amateurs running on the Electric Flight Crew team out of Los Angeles to two ultrarunners who hit the trails for big miles year-round, their best advice for surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds is simple and matter-of-fact.
It’s about heading into the holidays with a plan in place and knowing how you want to feel when it’s all over. Here are their top tips:
RUN A TURKEY TROT
“People probably consume 3,000–5,000 calories around the Thanksgiving table,” says Dr. Josh Goldman, a sports medicine physician and the cofounder of the Electric Flight Crew (EFC). His solution is to run a race on Thanksgiving morning. He tells the whole EFC to look for local turkey trots to ensure they get out for a run that day. Bonus points if you drag your family along to run as well. If you don’t have a local race, make your own course and still do a run that morning, rather than slothing around until dinner.
“Cheese and crackers can happen any day of the year,” says Goldman. Save your appetite and calories for the foods you truly love: Your great-aunt’s famous babka, that perfect mulled wine your dad makes, the stuffing your mom makes once a year — you know what your holiday favorites are, so indulge in them, but maybe pass on the grocery store pie or cupcakes in the office kitchen.
EAT SMALL MEALS
Ultrarunner Brian Tolbert knows that with four kids, he ends up finishing a lot of half-eaten meals and snacks his kids don’t finish. But that means he has to control his eating throughout the day and, as a result, he ends up focusing on eating a lot of smaller meals. “For me, the holiday season also coincides with my offseason when I’m not training nearly as much, so to go overboard now ends up being a double whammy,” he laments. “For me, it’s really all about portion control and eating more small meals instead of bingeing on those big meals.” If you’re more of a grazer like Tolbert, focus on enjoying all the great foods your family is serving at parties, but in small portions rather than loading your plate.
HAVE BREAKFAST AND HYDRATE
When you’re anticipating a huge dinner, it’s so easy to think skipping breakfast is a good idea. You’ll also probably forget to stay super-hydrated, thinking about the eggnog or mulled wine that’s waiting for you. But Goldman recommends eating a healthy breakfast to help you keep your portion sizes in check at dinnertime and hydrating to feel full (and potentially avoid that hangover).
MAKE A “LOUSY” LIST
“Of course I’ll still indulge a bit, because everybody needs some balance in their diet and lives, but I try to adhere to my always-present canon of not consuming things that I know are going to make me feel lousy,” says Cotton. If you know, for instance, that eating dairy products gives you terrible stomach cramps the next day, go for the apple pie but skip the cheese plate. Of course, this is even more obvious when it comes to drinking. If you know more than two drinks will make you feel terrible tomorrow morning, set a limit and stick to it.
WATCH OUT FOR SNEAKY CALORIES
“Unfortunately, calories from alcohol can sneak up on us during the holidays,” says Goldman. “Go easy on the calorie-rich holiday cocktails and beers and stick to healthier drinks like a vodka soda or a Bloody Mary to avoid excess sugar,” he adds. The same is true for holiday-themed coffee beverages (looking at you, pumpkin spice latte). Try to stick to ‘skinny’ alternatives, or if you’re really craving that candy-cane cappuccino, skip dessert afterward.
FOCUS ON FRIENDS AND FAMILY
“Managing nutrition over the holidays can be tough because sometimes it feels like you can’t fully participate without entertaining the array of holiday-themed grub,” says ultrarunner Sarah Cotton. “I remind myself that these occasions should revolve around the people you’re with; not the food and drinks that are involved.”
It’s easy to get distracted by the dessert table, but try to pull your focus back to your friends and family and make meaningful conversation versus always being the first in line at the buffet.