This time of year, articles offering advice on how to keep your weight down during the holidays are as numerous as cans of pumpkin on the grocery store shelves. Just look at any health magazine or at the living section in your local newspaper. But for those who are really serious about this sport—those who work and train to near-exhaustion through much of the year—the holidays offer a welcome respite to the racing season’s relentlessness. Contrary to what you’ll read elsewhere, I’m going to propose using the holidays to indulge and—gasp!—even to gain a little weight.

As you rest, your body actually works hard, repairing the effects of a year’s worth of heavy training.

Some may call the holiday season time off, but it’s an invaluable part of your training cycle. Think of it like an extended night’s sleep after a busy year, instead of a busy day. As you rest, your body actually works hard, repairing the effects of a year’s worth of heavy training. Microtears heal, inflammation leaves the joints, and yes, fat pads the system, preparing it for more work in the new year. Alex McDonald, MD, a professional triathlete and coach, said that it can be very difficult and stressful, both mentally and physically, to stay at race weight year round.

“Indulging a little and focusing on something other than triathlon—and your waistline—can really help the body heal much of the deep tissue damage that has accumulated over the season,” he said.

Sage in post

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

The more restrictive your regimen during most of the year, the more important deliberate downtime becomes. Let go of the need to control every minute of your day and every ounce of your weight. Instead, tune in to what’s happening around you. Listen to Aunt Ethel describe the intrigue in her bridge group. Let Cousin Joe teach you the ins and outs of World of Warcraft. Sit through a performance of the Nutcracker, or a college bowl game with full awareness.

It sounds easy, but being fully aware can be tough. Happily, the holidays offer a direct route to mindful presence by letting you tap into your senses. Look at the beautiful twinkling lights, and note their effect on the faces of your loved ones. Hear the sounds of familiar songs and familiar voices. Smell the pine, the candles, the cookies baking. Better still, focus on really tasting the cookies, (without the guilt!), and maybe even some eggnog, too. Feel the sensations of cold and heat as you move from the outdoors to a warm room, feel the chill of the wind on your face, and the radiation of the fire’s warmth on your back.

If being wide open is anathema to you and you simply must plan ahead, follow the lead of Justin Park, a professional triathlete based in Chapel Hill, NC:

“I always do a long run and some strength training on Thanksgiving and Christmas to get my metabolism firing so that I can eat as much as I possibly can. And I’ve also found that with the right amount of patience and slow consumption, I can pretty much eat steadily from noon until 8 p.m. on those holidays! I consider it a brief venture into the world of competitive eating.”

So even during the holidays, you can add a new twist to competition! So slow down, enjoy the downtime, and revel in the balance the holidays can bring.

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Sage Rountree is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. Her extensive research and work with triathletes and ultrarunners have taught her to value recovery. She leads yoga workshops nationwide and presents regularly for USA Triathlon. Visit her schedule at sagerountree.com.