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12 ways for cyclists to celebrate and enjoy Christmas

Our Christmas survival guide of how to cope with the excesses and stresses of the festive season

Christmas, it's said, is the most wonderful time of the year. But if you've got pretensions about just how pro you are with your super-fast sportive times, or once you've gained weight you struggle to shift it again, it can also be a troubling time of the year when it comes to cycling fitness.

We've looked at the 12 ways you might reach January with some semblance of fitness and still be able to still get your jersey zipped up.

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 can stand 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.

As soon as you know where you’re going to be, book it in and stick to it. This will give you a framework to build your riding time around, planning longer rides on days when you don't have social engagements.

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.

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’s 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.

Last-minute 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 Christmas 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.

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 20cm 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 (but don't expect it to count towards the Festive 500).

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). 

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.

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 between Christmas and New Year 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.

8. Get the whole family out

The great thing about cycling is that just about anyone – from kids to seniors – can enjoy it. If you’re under pressure to spend more time with family over the Christmas and New Year, but can’t stand the idea of totally forgoing your saddle time, seek a compromise by suggesting that everyone goes out for a spin.

Bike-sharing schemes are growing in popularity, with big firms some already offering major schemes in London, Oxford and Cambridge.

Smaller rental outlets, meanwhile, can be found right across the UK. A website like cyclehireinfo.com can be a useful took for helping to hook you up with a local outfit.

If you do manage to get a ride together with family, just remember to ride a route and at a pace that respects the least experienced or least able.

You don’t want to come back buzzing from your favourite route to discover your five-year-old got dropped after the first mile and hasn’t been seen since. Although it would make for a lasting Christmas memory!

9. Have clean days

Of course, when someone else is laying on the grub it’s impossible to be entirely control of what you scoff. So on the days when you’re not at the mercy of other people’s culinary whims, eat clean. Really clean.

Whereas you might make healthy food choices 60-70% of the time on a normal day, with the odd bag of crisps or a chocolate bar thrown in, over the festive period aim to eat healthy whole foods 90% of the day.

And leave that 10% for healthier processed food options such as wholegrain bread, unsweetened yogurt, tomato sauce, and peanut butter.

This will help to even things out when you have bad nutrition days or highly calorific meals.

10. Watch the booze

We get it. It’s Christmas. It’s a time for letting your hair down and getting a boogie on (or at least tapping a toe to) some old Slade tunes.

And the odd tipple helps you chase off the inhibitions, right? For sure, but it’s precisely because drink loosens you up, that it leads you to making some poor decisions.

To put it plainly, when you’re on the sauce you’re more likely to overeat or eat the wrong food. So swerve salty snacks. Unscrupulous bar owners have been known to offer these free to punters because it increases their thirst and therefore their alcohol consumption.

You're better off avoiding them altogether, and while you're at it remember to stagger your drinks between a glass of fun juice and a glass of water. Not only will you remain hydrated but you'll wake up with less of a hangover. 

11. Plan a post-party social ride 

Another great way to keep your boozing within sensible limits is to arrange a ride with a mate the day after a party – as long as this fits with coronavirus restrictions in your area.

Not only is it a great motivator to get you out riding (after all, how much of a wuss will you look if you cry off with a hangover?) but it can act as a useful tool for keeping you the right side of falling-down drunk.

Telling people that you’d love another drink but have a big ride in the morning with a mate is a great ready-made excuse to go to if your host is an overly generous one.

And if you do happen to be a little jaded when you get on the bike the following morning, it won’t take long for the fresh air and exercise to chase off the night before. 

12. Cut yourself some slack

You’ve probably worked hard all year, and that bit of time you’re due at the end of it is the opportunity for a breather. Not just from job stresses or home-life issues, but even your dedication to getting the miles in on the bike.

Yes, we think it’s important to keep riding over the holidays because if it’s your main way of keeping fit and healthy that’s how you’ll stay fit and healthy.

But if you miss a session, don’t hit a particular training target, do pop one too many mince pies or end up getting lairy on eggnog, don’t beat yourself up, eh? 

As many a cheesy seasonal song will tell you, this is a time for forgiving. So forgive yourself, move on and settle on sticking to some New Year’s resolutions instead.

Merry Christmas!

This article first appeared on Cyclist.co.uk in December 2017

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