running Santa Christmas
How should you deal with getting exercise over the holiday season? (Peter Weber)

How Can I Stay Fit Over the Holidays?

I have trouble figuring out how I should be training during the holidays, when the weather’s dreary, the food’s plentiful, and I don’t have any races planned. But I don’t want to pull a Jan Ullrich. What should I do?

running Santa Christmas

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The German Tour de France winner has become something of a legend for his off-season weight gain, which has been pegged at more than 20 pounds and, before this year’s doping scandal broke, blamed for his inability to defeat Lance Armstrong. But the holidays shouldn’t be all about food and fear of fat. We posed your question to Matt Dixon, owner of Purplepatch Fitness and coach to several of today’s most successful endurance athletes, including Ironman Champion Meredith Kessler. Below, his fitness-saving holiday tips:

Don’t stop exercising completely. Rather, pick two or more key workouts from your training schedule that you will do no matter what. “The rest are optional. It’s not a crisis if you can’t get them in,” Dixon says. If you have a coach, ask him or her to tell you which workouts to keep, and which can be replaced by a holiday dinner party. If you don’t have a coach, keep workouts like hill repeats and high intensity days. “The most challenging sessions are the ones that deliver the biggest training dose,” Dixon says. Don’t worry about the others.

“Get people involved in something like a holiday 5K or a New Year’s Day 10K—something active,” Dixon says. “If you’re going home for the holidays, sign up for a local event. It’s a great time to throw in something a little different, a little fun.” Having a goal, like competing in a hometown race, can help keep you from skipping key workouts and scarfing extra cookies.

3. EAT
Dixon has only one rule for holiday meals: don’t starve yourself before or after the feast. “That’s disruptive to your health, your immune system, and stressful. It’s as disruptive as eating and drinking in excess,” Dixon says. Ideally, Dixon says, “you’ll eat your regular, healthy diet, and make sure to fuel during and after your workout sessions so you don’t create a massive deficit or starvation, and you’ll be less likely to gorge yourself in the big meals.”

Needless to say, Dixon is against “pulling a Jan Ullrich.” His leaner athletes will gain three to five pounds in the off-season, while the bigger ones will gain six or seven.

“Active people sometimes obsess about their fitness during the holidays,” Dixon says. “We just want to make sure you get through them without going backwards. This the time to be more relaxed, see your family, and have a good time.”

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Peter Weber

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