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Navigating the Christmas Break

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Christmas is supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation. To help make this a reality, we give some tips and insights into navigating the break successfully, to ensure you come out of it ready to kick on in the new year.


In our modern, hyper-capitalist world, we seldom get the chance to take a couple of weeks off from work and obligations. That is what Christmas brings for most of us—be it a break from work or from school—and we should cherish it. However, as a footballer or athlete, the lack of structure can be difficult. In this article, we give some tips regarding nutrition and training strategies to help you navigate the break successfully, particularly if you struggle with the sudden lack of structure around eating and training that Christmas brings.


Tip #1: Enjoy Yourself!

When was the last time you had the opportunity to meet with friends and family? Christmas is quite unique in that sense, allowing for the majority of people’s schedules to fall in line and allow for meeting up. Enjoy this time, try not to worry about the fact that you won’t be training as much (if at all), and allow yourself to eat the tasty foods that you may not regularly eat. A few days of indulgence won’t derail your overall athletic goals.


Tip #2: Don’t Skip Meals

If you’re worried about gaining body fat over this period, it can be tempting to skip meals to make space for a large Christmas dinner, for example. This may not be a good idea. In a recent cross-sectional study on University students, there was a significant correlation between meal skipping and risk of eating disorders in both males and females (1). In addition, engaging in this behaviour may reduce your ability to enjoy the subsequent meal. Don’t overthink things: eat at your normal frequency and if you want more food at dinner, or tasty desserts afterwards, go for it! Again, a few days of indulgence is a drop in the bucket compared to the whole year.


Christmas-themed Gingerbread Cookies (Source: Damien on Pinterest)


Tip #3: Track Your Diet if it Works for You

This may seem hypocritical when juxtaposed with the last tip, but hear me out. For some people, diet tracking can help them feel more relaxed around food, as it gives an objective measure of what they have eaten—giving them a sense of control. If you like to do this, it may be worthwhile continuing to do so over the break. This allows you to keep an eye on your total daily energy (kcal) intake and choose to eat as much (or as little) as you like. As we have written about before, diet tracking can be effective for managing body weight and composition, which could be useful over the break. Ultimately, do it if it works for you.


Tip #4: Don’t Sit on the Couch for Two Weeks

While rest and relaxation is massively important, try and get out for some light activity over the break. January is around the corner and so are matches—don’t completely lose your fitness over the break and come back feeling unfit. Doing a light session once or twice per week over the break allows you to keep most of your fitness and ensure you’re prepared to hit the ground running in the new year. This will also reduce the likelihood of injury upon return to sport.


Summary

We hope you can take some of these tips on board over Christmas! We must stress that these are just tips—not rules—and encourage you to use your own judgement when deciding whether to integrate them or not. For some final context, approximately 5–10% of the Irish population experience food poverty (2), and ~8,000 Irish adults are homeless as per the latest figures from October (3). Remember that the luxury of an indulgent Christmas is not experienced by everyone, and that while struggles over the break can be real, they are very much first-world problems.


Why not start the new year with a bang and become a member of Training121? Contact us at [email protected] to learn more about our new tiered membership system that launches on January 9th.


From all of us here at Training121, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year! We will see you back here in January for more health- and nutrition-related content!


Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH

Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121

Founder of Just Health — IG: @just.health.info


Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.


References

(1) Kabakuş Aykut M, Bilici S. The relationship between the risk of eating disorder and meal patterns in University students. Eat Weight Disord. 2022;27(2):579-87. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33881762/


(2) Central Statistics Office (2022). Ireland's UN SDGs 2019 - Report on Indicators for Goal 2 Zero Hunger. Available at: https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-sdg2/irelandsunsdgs2019-reportonindicatorsforgoal2zerohunger/hunger/ (Accessed: 22nd December, 2022)


(3) Gov.ie (2022) Homeless Report - October 2022. Available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/64071-homeless-report-october-2022/ (Accessed: 22nd December, 2022)


Technical Terms

Cross-sectional studies: These are a type of observational study where measurements take place at a single time point. Because they lack temporality, i.e., they do not track people over a period of time, they cannot be used to infer causality. For example, just because diet tracking is associated with eating disorder symptomatology in these types of studies, that doesn't mean we can say that diet tracking causes eating disorders. It is more likely that those with eating disorders are more likely to track their diet, and this phenomenon is called reverse causation.

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