Make a Plan
Between cold weather, travel, and family obligations, the holidays can be a tough time to sneak in a workout. And it’s understandable to freak out about missing a week or two of training: your blood-plasma volume starts to decline almost immediately, meaning your heart rate for a given intensity will increase when you return to your regular workouts. But Abbie Smith-Ryan, assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of North Carolina, brings good tidings. “We all need a break, and the holidays sometimes force us to do that,” she says. The key is not to fight it. “If you don’t plan to take a day off, and you’re forced to by family or travel, you’re stressed about it,” she says. “It’s better mentally to just accept it. If you’re pretty fit, you’ll see adaptations return fairly quickly as soon as you start up again.
What if you’re training for a January skimo race? Smith-Ryan recommends a simple 20-minute high-intensity interval workout: one minute all-out, one minute of rest, repeat ten times.
All the mandatory big meals between Thanksgiving and Christmas can leave you feeling like a mall Santa by New Year’s Day. But there are a few easy fixes. “So many foods that we associate with the holidays start out healthy,” says dietitian Jennifer Bruning. “It’s the way we prepare them and what we add that can dilute those qualities.” She walked us through the beta on three holiday classics.
Skip: The deep fryer. “A great example of how we add a lot of fat and salt to something that started out pretty good for you. You may feel like you’re boosting the flavor, but you’re also making it really unhealthy.”
Serve: A classic roast bird. “It’s got plenty of flavor. The key is to play up those qualities with herbs and spices.” Try a simple rub of thyme, rosemary, oregano, and garlic.
Skip: The traditional version. “It’s better for you than most pies, but it’s still not great. The problem is all the fat and sugar.”
Serve: Pumpkin pie crisps. “Pumpkin is a powerhouse, full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that fight cancer and inflammation. Try amping up the flavor of canned pumpkin with pumpkin pie spices, then serve on toasted whole-wheat tortillas with a bit of cinnamon and sugar.”
Skip: The canned stuff. “Cranberries are fantastic for you. The problem is that they’re incredibly tart, so a lot of sugar gets added to make them more palatable.”
Serve: Homemade cranberry relish. “If you do it yourself, you can really cut down on the sugar by using something naturally sweet like orange juice, which is a lot better than just adding table sugar but tastes just as good.”
Sandbag the Local Turkey Trot
Signing up for a race is a time-honored technique for the motivationally challenged. Some holiday races are big and well organized—Atlanta has a popular half marathon on Thanksgiving Day, and New York City plays host to a New Year’s Eve midnight four-miler in Central Park. But wherever your in-laws live, there’s bound to be a fun run nearby. It doesn’t have to be a priority for your race season, just something to help balance out the office parties and eggnog.