Christmas is a season to eat and be merry of course, but many use it as an excuse to overindulge. Many claim putting on weight over the festive season is part and parcel of celebrations but in reality, it is not necessary and can be avoided. Maintain focus on your longer term goals, whether that’s simply to be healthier overall, or even as hardcore as preparing for competitive events in the new year; keeping them in mind will help you decide where to draw your lines!
We are not advising anyone to restrict their food intake, but if you want to enjoy the next few weeks without overdoing it, follow our Christmas survival top tips to control the festive urge!
- Maintain your routine – Although it’s only natural for things to go a little awry over Christmas time, try and keep some things the same. Maintaining some basic principles of drinking plenty of water, having a good breakfast and making sure you hit 5 fruit and vegetables a day will stand you in good stead. Think about planning your exercise in where you can too, something is better than nothing, especially if the Christmas week is a little hectic with family and commitments.
- Don’t feel guilty – if you do go a little overboard, banish the guilt. Don’t use words such as “cheat day” or “bad” food. You need to enjoy yourself so get rid of negative talk. Enjoy your time and your food and if you think you slightly overdo it, just cut back a bit the next day. Think about balancing it across the week, if you have one day you’ve overindulged for a staff party or such, you can still eat really well and clean on the other days.
- Don’t feel obliged – It is ok to say no! Just because someone has offered or made something, you don’t have to eat it. Don’t feel pressured by the “but it’s Christmas” comment. Eat and drink what you are comfortable with and don’t eat or drink to please others.
- Have a protein rich snack before you go out – Protein takes longer to digest and therefore keeps you full up for longer. If you go out feeling really hungry, you are more likely to yield to monster portions when faced with the option. Have some hummus and raw veg or greek yogurt with seeds and nuts – that will keep hunger at bay.
- Avoid buying too much food – Having cupboards bursting with foods can be a recipe for disaster. The temptation to eat more than you need is there as a result of not wanting it to “go to waste”. Try and only buy what you need and avoid over-sized boxes, tins of biscuits and crisps etc…if they are there, you will only be tempted to eat more.
- Back away from that buffet! – Buffets can be a dangerous place, bitesize food makes it feel like you’re not eating a lot when you are. Make sure you fill half your plate up with veggies or salad, then protein based foods such as chicken or fish and then the smallest portion carbohydrates like bread or potatoes. Take time selecting your food and once your plate is full, move away to avoid the oh-so-easy grazing and hopefully to do some dancing!
Riding in the winter is key to maintaining a good level of fitness and setting you up for the next season. However, it can be dangerous as the nights draw in and the weather turns cold, wet and windy. Staying safe on the road is key, and the last thing you want is an incident or a bad experience to derail your season preparation!
Here are my top tips for riding safely in the winter and making the most of your time in the saddle!
- Lights – lights on the front (white) and back (red) of your bike are crucial to ensuring you are visible out on the road. Chances are if you’re commuting you will be doing so in the dark, as daylight hours are reduced. Similarly if you are on the club run at the weekend, foggy, misty, or overcast conditions are more likely in the winter months. Strong lights to show what’s ahead will make your rides safer, as well as making vehicles aware of you on the road.
- Training indoors – on the indoor trainer (turbo or rollers), wattbike or similar. If it is icy, pouring with rain, snowy, frosty or below 3C, you reduce the risk of illness and crashing by training indoors. Turbo trainers are a great tool for training – allowing you to do controlled efforts while staying warm, dry and comfortable. You can get as much benefit from a 50 minute ride with efforts indoors, as you can from a two hour road ride in the cold, where you will be taking risks. No dirty bike to wash too, bonus!
- Winter kit – You need to be prepared for all types of weather when riding in the winter. Warm gloves are key to ensuring you have feeling in your hands to brake and change gear. A warm, waterproof jacket is also a great bit of kit, as is a thermal baselayer to wear under your jersey. You could also take a rain cape for your back pocket, just in case of showers. It’s wise to wear a buff around your neck, to keep your neck and chest warm, especially for if you stop and don’t want your body temperature to drop too much. This can also be pulled up around the face to minimise the amount of cold air you are breathing in.
- Roads – Due to bad weather, the condition of roads may be compromised so extra care is needed. As I mention in my beginner 12-week plan, look out for potholes or cracks in the road, and identify them to the group you are riding with. Some potholes may be covered with water or leaves and simply look like a puddle, so try to maintain concentration and be aware. Signalling the road surface is even more important riding in groups, to ensure everyone stays upright. Roads may also be more slippery so cornering and stopping needs to be done with extra care. Don’t grab your brakes, and when cornering, go a little more slowly in and out of the bends.
- Winter Tyres! – During the winter months, with bad weather conditions and poor road surface, you have the option to change to a more durable tyre. Tyre brands will all have several winter options that are generally heavier, grippier and thicker, to reduce the likelihood of punctures or skidding.
- Fuelling on the bike – You will burn more calories on the bike when you are cold as your body works harder to stay warm. Therefore fuelling sufficiently on the bike is crucial to ensuring you can enjoy longer rides in the winter. Even though it is cold you still need to drink and make sure you eat a good mix of carbohydrate and protein every 30 minutes to keep your resources topped up.
Riding in the winter is tough and it’s hard to stay motivated when the weather is grim and there are less hours of light to ride in. However, you will be grateful for the winter miles next summer when the sun is shining and you’re feeling fit – so enjoy riding your bike, and with these tips you can stay safe out on the roads too!
Article by Jonny Bellis OLY – Former professional road cyclist with Team Saxo Bank, and elite private coach.
Jonny Bellis was one of Britain’s most promising, up and coming cyclists; a member of the GB squad with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy and part of the world’s number one professional road team, Team Saxo Bank. When Jonny won bronze in the Under 23 World Road Race in 2007, he became the first British male rider to medal in over 40 years and also represented Team GB in the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the age of just 19.
His burgeoning career took a monumental detour after a horror scooter accident in 2009. He spent 3 weeks in an induced coma, contracted repeat life-threatening infections, suffered a stroke and was told he’d be paralysed from the neck down. In just over a year after this tragedy and after a gruelling recovery process, he incredibly made it back to the start line at the top of his game at the Tour of Britain. He retired in 2015 and now inspires the next generation as a coach. He provides a true and unique depth of experience and we’re proud to have him on board as our cycling expert.
Download the Amplify Life app for free to follow Jonny’s expert plans and get stuck into your training journey! To speak to Jonny directly about 1-1 coaching you can contact him through his website below.
As ol’ Ned Stark said, “Winter is coming”, and after the Arctic spell we had last year, we need to think ahead and be prepared. Although we know that moderate exercise is good for keeping the bugs away, it is also evident that those of us engaged in more intense training, or have recently competed in an endurance event, appear to have an increased risk of developing symptoms of the upper respiratory tract (URT) (1). To us at Amplify Life, that just seems unfair!
To make matters worse, if you’re training to compete at any level, getting unwell can lead to a nice relaxing anxiety attack about time ticking away towards your next race! Many of us constantly analyse our levels of fitness, or lack thereof when the flu comes around. It adds an extra intensity and stress to a winter bug that maybe non-athletes don’t get.
We are itching to get back in our trainers and training schedules and, as a result, we may not rest quite enough and allow our bodies to recover before pushing the heart rate up again.
So, from learning through experience, here are my top tips for staying well and top of your training game during Winter (..and not ending up feeling like a white walker in the army of the undead)!
Eat well and hydrate often
- It may seem simple, but one thing that does your body no good is training hard and not eating correctly to meet your requirements. Immune system function appears to be suppressed during periods of low calorific intake and weight reduction. Therefore, if you are prone to catching illness, it is advised to lose weight slowly and during non-competitive training phases when training volume is lower (2). In general, eating a healthy balanced diet on a day to day basis is a simple step to ensure an optimally functioning immune system. As, if you are energy deficient your immune system may suffer, and you may be more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections (URTI).
- A healthy immune system benefits from a diet adequate in calories, high in fresh fruit and vegetables, omega 3 fats, nuts and whole grains. Ensuring three meals a day and good recovery meals / snacks that contain carbs (50g) and protein (20g) post training will help keep your body in top form.
- Keep hydration levels up. Drink regularly throughout the day (moderate tea and coffee intake also counts) and ensure after you have trained you hydrate enough for your urine to be clear.
Carbohydrate and fluid intake during exercise
- Studies have found that carbohydrate intake may play an important role in maintaining effective immune function. Low carbohydrate intake may cause direct immunosuppression, as immune cells function best on glucose alone.
- Additionally, ingestion of carbohydrates during prolonged, intense levels of exercise can reduce the production of cortisol as a response to training. Cortisol, known as the ‘stress hormone’, has been linked with immune suppression. If an athlete is training fasted or in an intentionally low-glycogen state, it is advised not do this more than a few days at a time. Plus, if you’re prone to illness and bugs it’s probably a safe bet to not do it at all until your immune system is back to strength.
- Staying hydrated during exercise has multiple benefits. One key reason is that it ensures saliva flow is maintained (mmm nice right?). Saliva is important as it contains antimicrobial properties, so if saliva flow decreases there is a chance that we become more susceptible to infection from viruses and bacteria (1).
- Vitamin C has antioxidant properties which help counteract the effect of damaging free radicals you produce as a result of heavy exertion. If you manage to have plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet, then supplementation may not be necessary. However, during high levels of training and getting over illness, you may benefit from increasing your Vit C intake to give your body that extra boost.
- A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (3) showed how the supplementation of 600mg Vitamin C per day for 3 weeks prior to a 90km ultra marathon race, reduced the incidence of URTI during the 2 week recovery period.
- Probiotics or ‘friendly bacteria’ are getting more and more attention these days. Whether you are fermenting your own food or taking a supplement, we are much more aware of how significant our bowel health plays in so many aspects of our wellness. Thinking about adding these into your diet may be a wise idea to help fortify your immune system.
- Active people should look out for probiotics that contain at least 10 billion live species of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. If you don’t want to take supplements, try using live natural yogurt or foods such as sauerkraut and kefir for example.
- A double blinded study in the International Journal of Sport, Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (4) supplemented 84 endurance athletes with a probiotic or placebo over 4 months of winter training. They measured the incidence of URTI in both groups. The number of athletes that experienced 1 or more weeks of URTI was 36% higher in the placebo group compared to those that took a probiotic.
- Vitamin D is recognised as having an important role in immunity and helps to defend against the common cold. Vitamin D deficiencies are common in the athletic population, although the general population also suffers, especially in the months between October and March due to lack of natural sunlight.
- Individuals are advised to supplement every day with 10 mcg of Vitamin D a day, and make the most of daylight hours!
- It’s also crucial in assisting phosphate and calcium absorption, so getting enough Vitamin D is important when making sure you can get everything you can from what you eat and supplement.
Immune Boosting Top Tips summary!
- Don’t skip meals and avoid negative energy balance. Overall energy intake should match your requirements. Don’t shy away from carbohydrates, and if you are doing fasted training / training low carb, only do it for a few days at a time.
- Consider taking carbohydrate during training (30-60g / hr). Taking this in fluid form also helps maintain hydration and saliva flow.
- Ensure regular intake of protein (20g per meal per day) and focus on post training meals (0.3g/kg of body weight).
- Regular intake of fruit, vegetables and salads (at least 7 a day). If you think you will struggle with this consider taking a multi vitamin.
- Take Vitamin D supplement between October and March.
- Take probiotic every day ensuring it has at least 10 billion live bacteria
- Consider supplementing with extra Vit C (no more than 1000mg) leading up to focus races.
(* note : if you are taking a multivitamin, to avoid double dosing check what it contains as you may not need extra vitamin C or D, for example.)
Article by Alex Cook – Registered Sports & Clinical Dietician
- Gleeson M 2016 Immunological aspects of sport nutrition. Immunology and Cell biology 94 117-123
- Nieman DC et al 1996 Immune response to obesity and moderate weight loss Int. J Obesity relatedMetab. Discord, 20:353-360
- Peters EM et al Vitamin C supplementation reduces the incidence of postface symptoms of URTI in ultra marathon runners Am Journal Clinical Nutrition 57: 170-174
- Gleeson M, Bishop NC, Oliveira M, Tauler P 2010 Daily probiotics (Lactobacillus casei Shirota) Reduction of infection incidence in athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 1-10