Cyclists often get stuck thinking about food only in terms of fuel or calories. However, food is also an important part of social connection and tradition and should be enjoyed.
If you tend to stress about holiday eating, try reframing your thinking over the next few weeks to help reduce anxiety around food. It’s possible to incorporate special foods and eating occasions as part of an overall plan to stay healthy and happy while training through the winter.
Endurance athletes are typically rooted in routine. From pre-exercise meals to counting grams of carbs to blending recovery concoctions as soon as you get off the bike, food might be a dialed-in regular part of your training. If straying from your food routine is a source of stress, remember that being a resilient athlete involves learning to embrace flexibility. Embrace this unstructured or loosely structured time of year and also give yourself a break from a rigid mentality around food. This reset can feel restorative and help you start the upcoming training season with more motivation.
During holiday gatherings, continue to prioritize complex carbohydrates like greens, berries, whole grains, squash, beans, and potatoes. They provide fiber and other nutrients. Also, aim for at least 20 grams of lean protein at each meal to help you feel satiated and promote recovery. Avoiding or limiting alcohol intake is also never a bad idea. Instead, try making some festive mocktails for your gathering!
Give yourself permission to eat the holiday treat you really want. Trying to avoid this can just induce more stress and guilt; and, chances are you may end up eating filler foods before finally eating what you really wanted anyway. Just eat what you want the first time and enjoy it.
Even if you don’t get to do your normal workouts, try not to restrict or “save” calories for later. This can result in stress, big swings in energy levels and appetite, and possibly compensating for the calorie deficit later by overeating.
On days when you train for 60 to 90 minutes, regular meals and snacks can probably meet your energy requirements. You would still want to shoot for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during rides over 90 minutes, and take fluids throughout. Holiday treats can also fuel your rides! Why not pack a holiday cookie or two for the ride for some fun and festive fuel? Hot cocoa, spiced apple cider, or a peppermint mocha can also hit the spot and provide hydration and carbohydrates.
Finally, remember that this is just a very short period in a very long season. Don't miss out on enjoying it; your family, friends, and future self will thank you.