Strategies for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

BY Joe Hamilton

The holidays mean great food—but indulging too much could affect your training well into the spring. Here are some strategies for holiday health.

Weight maintenance is difficult for most people during this time of year, and athletes are not exempt! While it’s fine to indulge a bit, remember that the weight you put on during this time of year will be the weight you will have to burn off in the spring to get back to quality training. Get too far off the rails, and you may even end up carving into valuable and effective spring training time.

Of course, we all know where the weight comes from. For some perspective, the standard “Thanksgiving turkey dinner” equates to around 5000 calories. An average woman needs to eat about 2000 calories per day to maintain her weight, while an average man needs approximately 2500; so that average woman would need to burn off approximately 3000 calories and a man 2500 to cover the excess. Given that the average person (male or female) will burn between 450 to 750 calories per hour cycling, that equates to about a 3.25 hour spin for a man and four hours of cycling for a woman. That’s a long ride for one meal!

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all solution; if there was, everyone would be doing it. There are thousands of articles, workout programs, and blog posts out there, but sorting through them can be overwhelming. Through my years as a fitness trainer, coach and athlete I’ve found some effective, basic steps that you can take to reduce or even eliminate that holiday weight gain. Here are my top five: 

Consider calories.

Understand and know what your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is. Your RMR is the calories needed for you to live and breathe, and there are many calculators that can provide you estimates. The ones I tend to gravitate to consider activity levels, like GlobalPxPH. Once you know your RMR, you can target your baseline calorie intake level and the additional calories needed for specific energy expenditure. 

Reduce portion sizes and use a variety to your advantage. 

Rather than taking huge servings of one item, take small portions of several. Psychologically, you will feel like you have eaten more because you have satisfied multiple food cravings. Variety can reduce eating excessively, especially if that one food you love is higher in calories than others. 

Moderate your drinking. 

Cocktails and alcoholic drinks seem to be available everywhere year this time of year. Who doesn’t love Baileys and Irish crème or a good winter brew with friends and family? But these drinks rival desserts in calories and sugar—and can leave you dehydrated and inflamed when you want to train the next day. One simple way to cut down your alcohol consumption is to drink a glass of water in between each drink you have. This will not only help your cut down alcohol consumption, but it will moderate your hydration levels, keep you full and help you avoid that hangover.

Choose fruits and vegetables. 

A lot of party trays tend to show up at the office this time of year. With so many options, it is really easy to pick among the cookies, candies, and cakes. Keep your eyes open for the healthy options that are nutrient-dense and not sugar-based. Some examples include nuts, pretzels, celery, and whole wheat crackers. 

Plan in advance.

I know this seems like a general statement but there is a lot of merit to it.  For example, if you have an afternoon office party, don’t skip your lunch. Your lunch is a great time to consume those foods high in protein, fibers and low in energy density. That way, by the time you make the office party, you will not be tempted to eat everything in sight. If traveling, plan your meals ahead. I will often pack myself a breakfast I can eat in the morning or at least a healthy snack. If all else fails, you can always pour hot water into a bowl of oatmeal and eat a banana. 

Bring Your Mobile Workout Kit. 

Trying to fit in workouts around family and travel during the holidays can be a challenge. So when you’re crunched for time or on the road, remember to bring a mobile workout kit. This can include things such as a yoga mat, TRX cables, a jump rope, and some running shoes. With these simple tools, you can quickly get a full workout, and even target the areas that are cycling-specific. Some recommendations include: 

  • The pushup with rotation for the core.
  • Single leg jump rope hops
  • Squat thrusts
  • Plyometric push-up 
  • A 30-60 minute run in your aerobic zone.  

Most of all, enjoy yourself. It is the holidays and for many the only time of the year we get to spend time with friends and family. Just be cognizant of what you eat, and whether it will be fueling your or holding you back come spring.

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Joe Hamilton Mountain Biking On A Trail In The Woods
About Joe Hamilton

Joe Hamilton is a coach for SpinDoctors Performance, LLC. He has more than a decade of experience in the bicycle industry as an athlete, coach, personal trainer, and team organizer. As a USAC and Accredited Training Peaks Level 2 coach, he has helped athletes at every level prepare to reach their goals in road and mountain cycling. You can follow SpinDoctors on Instagram or Facebook. For more information on personal coaching, training plans, or to schedule a free introductory call visit:

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