What's Cool In Road Cycling

Smart Eating for the Holidays

The time for office parties, kids’ concerts, and generally hovering around the Christmas treats table is well and truly upon us. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the season with family, friends, and food, but keep these tips in mind to ensure the turkey doesn’t weigh you down next season…

Little Black Book
As a busy guy with a double life as a professor along with a sport scientist, not to mention helping to homeschool our oldest son, my social calendar is typically about as barren as poor old St. Nicholas – shut up at the North Pole all year long and then here, there, and everywhere come December.

My social schedule over the past two weeks has been dizzying: a lab party for my students, an open house at our place, three university parties, one spouse work party, and two children concerts. Coming up this week will be a Podium (my sport science company) dinner, a big children concert at our babysitters, a church potluck, Christmas itself, then an open house at a friend’s.

Craziness in and of itself, but add to it all the food and the time crunch at work, lousy weather (cold and snowy but not enough for winter sports here in Halifax), the athletic lifestyle and sensible eating we all love can easily get tossed out the window.

Dr. Killjoy
Let’s get the hard facts out of the way first – excess weight is one of the biggest limiters to performance. While we don’t need to be as obsessive as pro cyclists can get about calories and body fat, inflating the spare tire around your midsection too much does nothing to make you go faster on the bike, as the adipose tissue does not make your legs move around and serves as an anchor anytime the road gets tilted upwards.

What’s the harm of a few extra pounds over the holidays? Each pound of fat equals 3500 calories. Given a “sensible” diet/exercise induced reduction of eating 500 calories less than you require each day, that adds up to a week of concerted effort to get rid of each pound gained. It is also difficult to mix “quality” training at the same time as trying to shed weight, so you are treading water in terms of your fitness and training goals. And a few pounds each year quickly adds up to double digits!

Moderation in Everything
Regular Toolbox readers will know that my philosophy revolves around moderation in most ideas about training, and the same applies to healthy eating. There is no need to avoid parties or to starve yourself at them. Here are four simple things that I do to keep my calorie counter from exploding over the holiday season:

1. Keep a dietary log. I recently did a 3-day diet recall as part of a study my lab is conducting. In the process an interesting thing happened. My eating got better simply because I was too embarrassed to write down the junk food into the diet log, and simply avoided eating them instead. Whether you get the data analyzed or not, this is a powerful trick to use throughout the year to keep tabs on your diet.

2. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again here, but limit the alcohol intake. Moderation is the key! It helps that I can barely tolerate ANY alcohol before passing out, so this isn’t a problem for me!

3. Eat before the party. My eating schedule is usually early evening (~5 pm) because of the kids. I usually eat a small dinner with them before heading out for a party to avoid being starved by the time the party rolls around and diving into the trough to compensate.

4. With limited training time over the holidays, I definitely emphasize quality and intensity over quantity. High quality weight work, high-intensity work on the trainer, cyclocross, or a hard squash game can all be done in an hour or less, and is great for cross-training and for burning up lots of calories.

5. Get a physical and ideally a full blood workup! This is never bad advice at any time of the year because, fit as you may appear on the outside, we can all be genetically prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other things (e.g., diabetes) that may not only hinder our training but our health.

Happy Holidays
The holidays are a special time for re-connecting with family and friends. For me, thanks to my accident in August, this holiday season is even more special and magical. I want to again thank all the loyal Pez readers for writing words of encouragement and support as I fought through the recovery process. It truly is great to be part of such a wonderful family of bicycling fans and enthusiasts!

Thankfully, the recovery has gone smoother and faster than anybody expected, and I am back on the bike and ready for more. Ironically, I can bike pain-free but my shoulder isn’t strong enough to risk my typical cross-training routines of squash and swimming, so my training this off-season will emphasize trainer work and outdoor winter activities.

Toolbox Openings
Hope you have enjoyed Toolbox this year. We’re going to take the rest of the year off , but 2006 should be another awesome year. We’re looking for new contributors to Toolbox, and we’d like to get people involved who have expertise in the following areas: sports nutrition, sports physiotherapy and/or medical issues, or sports psychology.

If you wish to your words splattered in all its pixellated glory all over Pez and the web, please contact our Toolbox Editor Dr. Stephen Cheung.

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. Stephen’s company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].

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