Training just the Christmas period can be hit and miss – on one hand there's plenty of fuel in the tank thanks to over-indulgence with food, on the other hand there are a few questionable choices we make.
With a mixture of late nights, too much alcohol, a busier than normal social schedule and a general lack of focus on training, health, fitness and performance takes a bit of a hit for most of us.
It's not all bad news though. There are physical and psychological advantages that can be exploited during this time if we plan and execute our training schedule accordingly. In this article I'm going to share ways we can enjoy an indulgent festive period without derailing our overall plan.
All of the suggestions made here are as always, based in science and links to the studies are included at the bottom of the article. It's an article aimed at those of us new to this and worried about how Christmas may affect performance goals.
Time to read: 5 minutes
- Christmas Training - Factors to Consider
- Effects of Alcohol on Performance
- Effects of Sleep on Performance
- Nutrition and Long Events
- Psychology of a Break
- Training During the Festive Season - Final Thoughts
- KYMIRA Clothing to help Christmas Training
Training just the Christmas period can be hit and miss. Here's how to make it a hit! It's an article aimed at those of us new to this and worried about how Christmas may affect performance goals.
Christmas Training - Factors to Consider
Taking a bird's eye view of the festive period, we have to consider the ‘out of the ordinary' elements of the time of year. Some Christmas training guides include the cold weather to be a consideration, but I'm not going to add that into here – it's not out of the ordinary for the winter, so you should have already factored the cold into your training plans.
Instead, I'm going to look at what wouldn't normally be so present the rest of the year and make suggestions around those.
The four main points we have to consider at this time of year are excess alcohol consumption, the affected sleep patterns (late nights, effects of alcohol on sleep), the additional foods and how they can be used and finally, the psychology of ‘taking a break' and how that can benefit us when it comes to our training and motivation further down the line.
Effects of Alcohol on Performance
Christmas and drinking go together like bangers and mash. It's hard to picture Christmas without at least some excess drinking, but what effect does alcohol have on performance?
The answer is quite a surprising one, because comparatively little research has been done on the topic, probably because the idea of exercising whilst under the influence is so ludicrous. That being said however, there is the after-effect of drinking, so we need to consider those factors.
What we do know is that endurance is significantly affected by alcohol consumption , with studies showing a marked decrease in performance output with elevated blood alcohol concentration. There's also the effect of inhibited recovery post workout and the diuretic effect of drinking leading to severe dehydration , so consider those when planning a training session.
Effects of Sleep on Performance
One of the common misconceptions about alcohol and sleep is that drinking leads to better sleep – the truth is that alcohol has a serious impact on sleep quality. Up to one or two drinks, sleep can be promoted, but once this becomes either a more established habit (as in more than 2 consecutive nights) or alcohol consumption exceeds 2 drinks, research shows that sleep quality is negatively affected.
When studied, even medium alcohol consumption reduced the sleep time, quality and time spent in REM. It also took people longer to fall asleep when they were under the influence of alcohol. 
Further research shows that endurance capacity, time trial speed, mood, anaerobic threshold and perceived exertion were all negatively affected by sleep deprivation in a study done on well-trained endurance cyclists .
Nutrition and Long Events
Christmas is a time of indulgence, but there's certainly a time when that can work to your advantage, especially when it comes to endurance sports.
Of all of the nutritional strategies around endurance, one that still stands the test of time is carbo loading. Although nutritional strategies are still the topic of fierce debate amongst sports nutritionists, a significant enough body of research still exists in support of carbohydrate loading as a pre-event nutritional strategy. Research suggests that 6-12g of carbs per kilo of bodyweight is sufficient for moderate to high exercise intensity . Interestingly, the benefits seem to last 2-3 days so you can even bank an extra days' recovery and still benefit.
By timing your longer runs, rides, swims, gym sessions etc in the days after an indulgent meal, you're more likely to see the benefits of those extra potatoes when you're in the depths of the session!
Psychology of a Break
There's a lot to be said for an enforced break in sport. There's research that suggests that rest break interventions can have a positive effect on human behaviour, attitude, energy levels and concentration . Although this research is on mentally-demanding study tasks, intense training and competition also includes similar psychological loads for an athlete to deal with, so the findings are relevant.
In addition, we know that reset and recovery helps athletes to physically recover from intense periods of training and competition.
There is a large body of research that supports the notion of enforced training breaks, with a view to staving off feelings of physical and mental exhaustion that will have serious consequences for motivation and performance . Coaches and athletes are encouraged via the findings to maintain contact points with their athletes with both physical and psychological data, adjusting training and competition loads, volumes and intensities relative to standardised baseline norms.
Resting doesn't just improve psychological performance, it will also improve physical performance as skills are enhanced by physical adaptions as a result of the additional rest.
Take advantage of the festive period by enjoying a break from such an intense training and competition schedule. If you can, reduce training load and volume, reduce the pressure on yourself and come back physically and mentally rested and refreshed, stronger and ready to attack the rest of the season with vigour.
Training During the Festive Season - Final Thoughts
There's an innate worry for athletes that Christmas can ruin a lot of good work, but if you take into account what we've shared here, you can come out of the period in better shape physically and mentally than you went into it. Just remember…
- If you are drinking, leave a day or two post drinking to schedule in a training session. Make sure you super-hydrate too!
- Sleep is affected by alcohol, so try not to drink every day – even small doses can affect sleep, so space out drinking days.
- If you eat a big meal, USE IT! The carb loading benefits last 2-3 days after the meal, so you've got time.
- Take the break – it's good for you physically and psychologically. It's not reversing your progress, it's consolidating it.
KYMIRA Clothing to Help Christmas Training
At KYMIRA we produce a range of training garments that will thermoregulate, helping you to stay warm in the cold. This is on top of all of the other benefits linked to infrared, including enhanced performance and recovery.