Just when you think you're tough enough

Nutrition Triathlon

Moderate and keep your holiday feasting balanced


Can triathletes indulge during the holidays or should they steer clear?

Christmas is a time of joy, family, and great food. When it comes to the holidays, it’s easy to indulge, though many triathletes worry about the effect of this on their overall fitness.

For more clarity, we asked Caroline Cornfine, a nutrition expert who is a passionate triathlete herself and author of the book “My Perfect Triathlon Nutrition” (German only).

IRONMAN: Can Christmas treats and triathlon training go together? 

Caroline Cornfine: Most triathletes know that you shouldn’t eat a lot of holiday food right before your training, as it contains a lot of fat which can lead to stomach ache, especially when the training intensity is high.

But generally, triathletes can enjoy a bit of indulgence even when the training is very focussed. Remember, it’s the dose that makes the poison. If you enjoy Christmas treats in moderation, they won’t have any negative effect on your training.

What do triathletes have to consider nutrition-wise during the festive season?

The traditional foods, like cookies, meat, and mulled wine, unfortunately don’t contain a lot of nutrients, and do contain a lot of calories.

You should always keep this in mind and see to it that the majority of your meals consist of lots of fruit, vegetable, whole grains, and lean proteins. This way you make sure that your body get enough nutrients and minerals, which it needs to compensate the training load.

If you know that you are attending a Christmas party in the evening, for example, try to “save up” on the days leading to the feast and mainly eat low-calorie food. It’s not a good idea to skip meals completely in order to be able to eat even more the next time food is served, however. On the one hand, you will lack the energy you need for your training. On the other hand, you risk hunger pangs which will make you overeat later.

What about “little sins”?

Little sins make life sweet. It doesn’t matter if you are more the cookies type of person or prefer a hearty roast – indulge from time to time, especially when it is a treat that is only seasonally served. Just keep an eye on quantity and frequency.

How can I make up for overdoing it?

That’s the easy part!

Just do what you love doing: swimming, cycling, and running. If you really did consume too much, simply try to squeeze in a little extra training the day after.

In addition to this, you can keep a light diet the day after your gluttony. Eat a fruit salad for breakfast, some low-fat yogurt, a salad and some chicken, fish or tofu for lunch and boiled or baked potatoes, and steamed vegetables for dinner. This way you fill up your vitamin and mineral depots again without stepping into the next calorie trap.

How can I get through the festive season without gaining too many pounds?

Eat moderately. Choose only your favourite treats and enjoy them. This way you avoid eating things you actually do not like that much, but which are there on your Christmas plate anyway.

Pack your plate with vegetables and salad, cut off the visible fat from meat, and do not drown your food in gravy.

Bake your cookies yourself, seeing to it that your sweets contain a lot of nuts, but little butter. This does not necessarily mean that these are low-calorie treats, but nuts contain a lot of unsaturated fats and are real power packs for athletes.

Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes or substitute part of it with natural sweeteners such as stevia. For fillings, use jam with high fruit content. Also, consider using plain baked goods without chocolate and a low nut content (e. g. almond biscuits, uncoated gingerbread) to replace energy bars in training from time to time. Although they contain quite a lot of fat, they can be a nice change to the eating routine on the bike, for example.

Happy holidays and eat well!

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