The holiday season can present athletes with a unique set of challenges and obstacles, which can disrupt even the most rigorous training regimen. Though many experts say the best way to stay ahead of the pack is to avoid the indulgences common at this time of year, this is hardly sustainable.
Some think that this “all or nothing'”mentality isa byproduct of greatness—that those who indulge in holiday feasts and partying are weak, or not cut out to be champion athletes. But this is simply not the case. Those who think this way are not viewing the bigger picture of health and wellness, and are missing opportunities to restore psychological health and well-being.
Implement the following tips to ensure peak health and athleticism through the difficulties and uncertainties that accompany the holiday season.
Continue to Exercise
With various events and obligations, continuing your regular training routine may be impossible; however, the all-or-nothing group goes wrong by accepting defeat. Some athletes get demoralized because they can’t continue their program due to travel or other unforeseen limitations; but this stops progress cold in its tracks.
Even though the gym may be closed or inaccessible, make the best of your environment by performing Hill Sprints, Interval Runs or other various forms of exercise that are possible within limited conditions. By continuing to exercise, you give your body a physical stimulus to overcome, helping to maintain muscle mass and boosting your metabolism (more on this below).
Strategically Time Big Holiday Meals
The idea that holiday meals should be skipped, or replaced with minimal, pre-prepared “healthy” dishes, is foolish. Large holiday meals can provide the extra nutrients you need to repair damaged tissue and enhance muscle-glycogen content. The key is something called hormone manipulation. This idea is more simple than its name may imply. With hormone manipulation, all you need to do is create a hormonal environment in your body that is best suited for absorbing nutrients and shuttling them to active tissue like your nervous or muscular systems.
You may have heard an idea similar to this, sometimes referred to as the “anabolic window.” This is the time immediately after a workout when your body is most primed to absorb nutrients and to use them in a highly efficient manner, rather than simply storing them as fat. Although this concept is frequently debated among nutritionists, the idea remains important, particularly during the large meals normally associated with the holidays.
To apply the principle to large meals, you need to perform an intense workout as close to the meal as possible (ideally during the same day). Then, through the body’s normal processes, your hormones will be primed to create an anabolic (or muscle-building) environment. This, again, helps minimize fat gain and facilitate muscle growth and athletic prowess.
Accept a Broader View of Health
Too often, when we think of our health and well-being, we think only of our physical health. Although physical health is most closely connected to athletic skill and development, the implications of other aspects of health cannot be overlooked. These include social and mental health, which can be extensively tested during the emotional duress of the holidays. All-or-nothing athletes do their overall health (emotional, social and physical) a disservice by removing themselves from the social and communal aspects of the holiday season.
So rather than avoid big holiday meals to maximize your physical health, consider the big picture. Most harmful effects of holiday dinners can be counteracted with strategically timed strenuous exercise sessions, and these feasts and time with family can contribute to greater psychological health. And when psychological health is better, overall health is improved, greatly enhancing your potential for physical fitness and long-term athleticism. As with any endeavor, sustainability is key.