The Runner’s Eating Guide: 9 Tips for Keeping Off the Pounds this Christmas

If you’re like me this Christmas, you’re going to indulge in the big desserts, flowing booze, and generous portions. ‘Tis the season.

Christmas FeastMost people accept that the holidays are a special time to eat a lot of crap and skimp on the exercise. And you know what? That’s okay! I’ll definitely be taking advantage of the generous cornucopia of food and overeating.

But I’ll also try to be smart about how I’m overeating and what I do the next weeek to prevent myself from feeling like a glutton. Nobody wants to put on too many pounds and derail their training.

The more you weigh, the more you have to schlep around in your next race. As Matt Fitzgerald says in Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, “a runner weighing 160 pounds has to muster about 6.5 percent more energy to run the same pace as a runner weighing 150 pounds.”

Yikes. The implications for being at your proper weight are huge, so if you have a January race it’s best to limit the dietary damage you do to yourself this coming week.

Let’s explore 9 strategies to limit the holiday eating damage. Some of these are taken from Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body, which I highly recommend if not for actionable health ideas, but entertainment value.

Stick to a Paleo Diet…Mostly

Paleo principles will go a long way to keeping you from gaining excess weight around the holidays. The rolls, lasagna, potatoes, bread, and other starchy foods are often empty calories and you can easily skip them for an extra serving of veggies and meat. Unless you’re training for a marathon and carb loading, you don’t need the extra sugar.

I’m not suggesting you skip these foods or dessert. Not at all. Instead, try eating paleo for the first two-thirds of the meal – then you can sample the desserts and high carb food. By mostly filling up on low carb food, you’ll stay full longer and avoid the highs and lows of the blood sugar roller coaster.

Eat Slower

It takes your body about 15 minutes to recognize that it’s getting full. So when you use the shovel method to scarf as much food as possible into your mouth, you’re consuming a lot more than you need (or really want).

Focus on eating at a leisurely pace, sipping water after every few bites, and actually talking to your family and friends that are at the table with you. You’ll end up eating less while still being completely satisfied.

More Fat, Less of a Glycemic Response

When you eat more fat with your meal, you’ll experience less of a glycemic response. This is a fancy term that simply means your blood sugar won’t spike as dramatically as it would if you drank a Coke on an empty stomach.

In practical terms, eating a serving of nuts as your appetizer will blunt the blood sugar spike. I prefer to dip veggies into a creamy ranch or cheese dip to get some fat (nuts don’t appeal to me as an appetizer…). Plus, the added fat will help you absorb the vitamins from the vegetables. Win.

Stay Hydrated

Did you know that your body can confuse being thirsty with being hungry? Slight dehydration will trick your brain into thinking you’re hungry, when you’re really not. Prevent the confusion by drinking enough water on your feast day so you won’t overeat.

While a lot of fluids will hydrate you, try not to drink your calories with sweetened tea or soda (see tip #1 on eating paleo). Stick to water – you’ll be better off without all that added sugar.

Pick the Right Booze

My favorite part about the holidays! The early happy hours, free flowing wine, and spiked eggnog. I love it.

But if you want to keep your weight under control, avoid the sugary cocktails and sweet white wines. Swap the tonic for soda water. Opt for a martini instead of a screwdriver. And bro, unless you get iced, stay away from the Smirnoff Ices.

I always go for a dry red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon that has a lot less sugar, but one area that I won’t compromise is my beer. No light beers for this guy – everyone needs their splurge.

Do Frequent Mini-Workouts

I’m not referencing running workouts here. I’m talking about simple exercises you can do for 1-2 minutes throughout the day – like lunges, push ups, or air squats. Tim Ferriss claims these brief bouts of higher intensity work prevent blood sugar spikes, weight gain, and may improve long-term blood glucose control.

I’m not sure if I’m behind this strategy 100%, but if I wanted to have an amazing dietary cheat day I would experiment with it. The best way to implement these mini-workouts is to do 1-2 minutes of body weight exercises immediately before or after your meal. The intensity should be fairly high.

The ancient Chinese may have this figured out. One proverb says, “If you take 100 steps after every meal, you’ll live to be 99 years old.”

Run Hard the Day Before, and Long the Day After

There’s no denying that you’ll be able to handle a big day of eating if your metabolism is increased through exercise. Recent research is showing that you’ll burn an additional 37% more calories after you finish your workout if you run at a high enough intensity. Taking that further (and this is my own guess) – the harder you exercise, the more significant the calorie after burn.

Running a faster workout the day before Christmas will give you a good metabolic boost. Since you probably won’t have time on Christmas, it’s the next best thing. I’d also recommend running a longer run the day after Christmas to continue stoking the metabolic fire.

As a sidenote, this is another strong reminder that being consistent with your training is the best way to stay at your optimal weight. Weekly long runs and workouts are your best tool for keeping your weight where you want it to be, year round.

Eat a High Protein Breakfast

Here’s a simple rule to live by: you’ll be more satisfied and won’t overeat later in the day if your breakfast is high in protein.

According to the 4 Hour Body, the increased protein at breakfast will not only decrease water retention, your resting metabolism will increase about 20% if your breakfast calories are at least 30% protein.

So make some scrambled eggs with beans or sliced chicken. You’ll feel better for longer than if you cho0se toast and cereal.

Take Two Ice Baths

This strategy is a little weird and another gem from Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body. If you’re having Christmas at your place (or have the ability to take an ice bath wherever you are), take a 15-20 minute ice bath in the morning and at night.

The cold exposure stimulates your metabolism and hormonal profile for fat loss. Apparently cold stimulates a certain type of fat tissue that actually helps your body burn more fat and glucose as heat.

When you get in the ice bath, make sure you submerge your chest up to your neck – most of the fat tissue you want to stimulate is on your chest and upper back. The water also needs to be cold enough that you shiver.

Bonus: Some studies have shown that cold showers (or, presumably, ice baths) are an effective treatment for depression. Perfect if you’re spending a week with your extended family!

Putting it All Together

Am I really suggesting that you take an ice bath at your in-laws or do push ups next to the Christmas table before you eat? Of course not. Some are weird, but these tips may prevent you from gaining a few extra pounds this holiday season if you use some of them.

Personally, I won’t be taking ice baths or skipping dessert. But I’ll definitely eat slower, limit the sugar, and do a higher intensity workout the day before Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be merry, so I need all the help I can get.

Want to learn more about nutrition for runners? Join our e-course on diet for runners (free) and see what you should eat, when you should eat it, and how to keep off the pounds so you can race faster.

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