How to survive the Christmas feasting

How to stay on track without being a festive killjoy

Christmas dinner

(Image: Miia Ranta)


Christmas is a time for family, festivities and overindulgence, yet dedicated triathletes face the slightly awkward conundrum of staying on track for the coming race season without being labelled a killjoy.

With so much food and drink going around, it can seem inevitable that our training and nutrition will suffer over the festive period, and that we are fated to resume our training again in January a little slower and a few pounds heavier. 

However, sports nutritionist Jill Leckey has put together the following tips to ensure you enjoy both the Christmas period and the training sessions that will follow come January…

Quality not quantity

If you find that the demands of Christmas leave you little time to put in long sessions, then transform your schedule and complete short high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions instead. 

For example, 4-6 x 30-60 second maximal sprints interspersed with 2-3 minutes of active recovery can induce comparable fitness gains to that of 45-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Such training can also reduce the negative consequences of overeating on both body mass and metabolic functioning.

Another good tip is to complete fasted morning training sessions (up to 60 minutes), which can enhance training adaptations and stimulate fat oxidation.

Research has demonstrated that completing HIIT fasted morning training sessions reduces the circulating levels of blood glucose in response to the three standardised meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

In other words, exercise performed first thing in the day can improve our ability to efficiently store the subsequent calories we ingest in the day as they are more likely to be stored in muscle as opposed to fat.

If you can, avoid cancelling training sessions for Christmas parties. No one wants to be labelled as a scrooge because you decide to hit the pool rather than a friend’s Christmas drinks but there is no reason why you cannot do both. Plan ahead and reschedule your sessions to a more suitable time if necessary.

Create a nutrition strategy

Try to avoid the temptation to snack on high fat and high sugar foods, for example chocolate and crisps. This may be easier said than done, but try to avoid going to parties and to supermarkets with an empty stomach.

An empty stomach can wreak havoc on your plans for healthy Christmas nutrition, as it encourages snacking on party food and purchasing convenient food options in the supermarket that are often high in sugar and fat.

Plan ahead and have healthy snack options such as nuts or an energy bar to reduce the temptation of choosing sweets or chocolate.

Of course saying no all the time can be very difficult, and letting your hair down and enjoying the odd piece of chocolate or cake is a treat that even the most dedicated of triathletes deserve at Christmas. The best time to consume such snacks is after exercise and during the first half of the day, as this reduces the likelihood of the calories being stored as fat. 

If you want a drink…

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, which is high in calories and negatively impacts the recovery process from exercise. Just like high fat and high sugar snacks, alcohol can be a difficult thing to avoid completely during the Christmas break. Drink water regularly to stay hydrated, especially following alcohol consumption.



Jill Leckey is the senior sports nutritionist for Science in Sport (SiS)