12 things every cyclist needs to do over Christmas
Hark! What's this? Only a dozen strategies to help every cyclist cope with the excesses and stresses of tinsel season!
A dozen strategies to help you cope with the excesses and stresses of tinsel season.
Holidays are coming, holidays are coming… and that means plenty of time off. But how do you use the Christmas and New Year break wisely? Is it a time to ride, or a time to rest? How do you avoid overdoing it at the seasonal knees-ups you’ll inevitably find yourself at? And how do you balance time spent with your bike against time spent with loved ones? Here are our 12 ways of Christmas. No-nonsense strategies that are designed to get you through the yuletide period without letting anybody down, without ending up too portly to sling your leg over your bike’s top tube come January and, most importantly, without missing out on the fun… 1 Have a plan
For many at this pressie-swapping time of year, P&P means postage and packing. To the keen cyclist, however, it stands for planning and preparation. So blow the dust off your diary or get into using a digital option such as Google’s Calendar app, which has the benefit of being able to send reminders to your smartphone of upcoming events. Whether it’s going for a few after-work eggnogs with colleagues or spending the weekend with the in-laws politely declining offers to sample their chocolate log, as soon as you know where you’re going to be, book it in. This will give you a framework to build your riding time around, planning longer rides, for example, on days when you’re unlikely to be hungover. Having a schedule to stick to will also help motivate you, ensuring your training – and fitness – don’t drastically dip. Don’t dodge family events to ride either. Instead, honour those commitments with good cheer, so you can then enjoy your ‘me’ time on the bike without guilt, instead of ending up in the middle of some awful Eastenders- style Xmas meltdown.
2 Be adaptable
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve there’s a good chance you’ll be holding hands with a couple of randoms and slurring the words to Robbie Burns’ Auld Lang Syne. But it’s actually another of the Scottish poet’s aphorisms that’s worth bearing in mind over the holidays – the one about the best-laid plans of mice and men going awry. Yep, we know we told you in the previous point that planning is everything, but c’mon, we all know life has a habit of sliding a few oil puddles under your wheels. Lastminute invites, unexpected visits, trips to A&E with accident-prone kids, a bout of the sniffles, shocking weather… any of these may disrupt your schedule so be prepared to adapt. Should you lose a planned session for whatever reason, check your diary to see where you might be able to slot it back in with minimum fuss. Alternatively, if the minutes available for a ride are cut short, make up for (literally) lost time by increasing your efforts. A more intense workout is usually more beneficial to your overall fitness than cranking out long, steady miles.
3 Build a buffer
Even though you won’t be at work and will theoretically have more time on your hands, life can conspire to keep you out of the saddle. In fact, you may even find yourself riding less than you normally do – particularly if you use your bike to commute. Obviously, it’s no bad thing to use the holidays to allow your body to recover, but the missed rides will soon take their toll and you’ll be surprised how quickly fitness can fall away – especially if you’re adding mince pies and schooners of mulled wine to the mix. To get around this, you can build a buffer by doing what sports-science types call functional overreaching. What this means in plain English is that in the days building up to an extended layoff – days when you’d otherwise be putting a few miles in – really push yourself on the bike. Add in some extra miles, defeat that horrible hill you’ve always avoided, try to beat a personal best or nab a Strava KOM – whatever it takes, do it to push your fitness up a gear. It’ll provide your body with a bit of a buffer so that when the time comes to get back on the bike after the Xmas excess is over, you won’t find it so tough.
4 Ride at dawn
During the holidays, there’s one time of day when loved ones are less inclined to want to hang out. And that’s first thing in the morning when they’d sooner catch up on sleep, making early mornings the ideal time to get a quick hour or so’s cycling in. There are other advantages, too. Ever heard fitness-industry types banging on about EPOC? This is an acronym for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption which basically describes a situation where your body continues to burn calories after exercise because you’ve sufficiently revved your metabolism through your efforts. One study showed that participants burned 190 calories more in the 14 hours after exercise than subjects who didn’t exercise. This scenario is particularly well suited to early morning workouts as the meals you consume throughout the day will have more of their calories instantly torched than stored as fat. Studies also show that early morning exercise improves wellbeing and mental sharpness by both raising energy levels and helping you to sleep better. Stir in the fact that the roads will be less congested and the air freer from pollution at that time of day, and you’ve got some compelling reasons for getting on the bike early – just watch out for ice at this time of year, yeah? And lay your kit out the night before so it’s ready to pull on when you open your eyes – it’ll help you crawl out from under your duvet.
5 Turbocharge your training
As already mentioned, you need to be adaptable so if a planned hour-long ride gets torpedoed by 10 inches of overnight snowfall, don’t just see it as an excuse to crack out the Quality Street and watch Die Hard for the hundredth time. Instead, clamp your bike into your turbo trainer and put your hour in there. Because your effort will be constant (you don’t tend to freewheel on a turbo) it’ll be just as beneficial as a ride out there in the real world. Especially if you mix in some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). For more on how to get the most out of turbo-trainer sessions, see page 112.
6 Shop smarter
When you’re wheeling that shopping trolley around the supermarket at this time of year, there’s a tendency to stuff it with all sorts of foods you wouldn’t normally eat. It’s not just a dangerous time of year to be a turkey. Tricksy ad execs, nostalgia, and seasonal traditions all play their part in making sure the sale of pies, cheese, cakes, champagne, liqueurs, chocolates, crisps and puddings all receive a nice bump at this time of year. We’re not saying you shouldn’t treat yourself to the odd indulgence over Christmas but make it one or two rather than whole a trolley full. After all, if it’s not there in your kitchen tempting you with its happy packaging to unnecessarily add to the day’s calorie count, you won’t find yourself on the other side of New Year struggling up a hill with the fat it ended up as slowing you down. And while we’re on the subject of grub…
7 Eat intelligently
You’re going to have a fair few bad eating choices shoved under your nose over the festive period, particularly at parties. One of the worst things you can do is arrive at a bash with a rumbling tum having elected to starve yourself all day in expectation of guzzling a load of rubbish. This will not result in you consuming fewer calories. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll consume more and most likely in the form of food that isn’t nutritionally rich. Instead your body will crave sweet foods as your blood-sugar levels will be low. Eat as you would normally throughout the day and you won’t feel the need to reach for the cakes and the cookies as soon as you arrive. Look for healthy party food options, too. Sure, you’ll find plenty of unhealthy, processed munchies on offer at the average Christmas party spread, but more often than not you’ll also find unbothered plates of whole foods such as fruit, nuts, olives and vegetable crudités, with the latter often accompanied by a yogurt or houmous dip. Make sure most of what ends up on your paper plate looks like this, rather than something that comes wrapped in a paper muffin case and has Santa’s fat face iced onto it.
You’ll find plenty of nuts, olives and vegetable crudities at Christmas parties. Make sure most of what ends up on your plate looks like this rather than something wrapped in a muffin case that has Santa’s face iced onto it