How to avoid totally derailing your runners healthy food and training plan and still have some festive treats.

Christmas is almost upon us and with it comes more eating, drinking, partying and celebrating. Christmas is a time of celebration so it is important to embrace it and have fun. 

BUT, it is also a time when many people abandon their healthy eating and exercise routines, which could lead to weight gain, poor energy, sluggishness and ultimately poor running performance. 

So, here we give some HINTS and TIPS on 3 key areas of health to help keep you running into and through Christmas. 

Eating Hints and tips:

Did you know that over half of the increase in body weight during adulthood is thought to take place during the Christmas holiday period.

1.Follow the 80:20 rule: eat healthy 80% of the time and indulge in something you enjoy 20% of the time. Now this could be observed on a daily basis, so having a small amount of a “Christmas food” that you like each day. 

2.Manage portion size: remember plate balance – ¼ plate protein, ¼ plate CHO, ½ plate vegetables. This is a very simple but essential and effective way of helping manage weight gain over the Christmas period. 

3.Make your own food – by making your own foods you can manage what ingredients you use. You can also adapt recipes and substitute certain ingredients for healthier option for example replacing white sugar with coconut sugar or honey

4.Avoid Grazing – try to influence when you will have meals or healthier snacks. This may help manage blood sugar levels and appetite

5.Share or give away the foods that you want to avoid – if you find it difficult to ration yourself with chocolates, cakes etc then share them with friends and neighbours. Or if you know of people who are happy to eat these foods on an odd occasion, give them the ones you can’t resist.

6.Freeze left over or excess food – generally we always over buy at Christmas time therefore we are left with SO much food once the guests have left. As a result, it is really tempting to eat it because we don’t want to waste it. So, use the freezer…most foods can be frozen and will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Just defrost as you need it.

Drinking Hints and Tips

Did you know almost two-thirds (61%) of drinkers in the UK claim they over-indulge on alcohol over the festive season

1) Alternate each drink with a glass of water – this could reduce the amount you drink overall but also reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol.. 

2) Stock up on non-alcoholic alternatives – for you and any other guests who may want to limit their alcohol intake. There is now a wide variety of wines, spirits and beers to take advantage of so it’s really easy. 

3) Always use a measure for spirits or wine – aim not to free-pour because it can make it almost impossible to know exactly how much you are drinking. 

4) Downsize your drink by serving in a smaller glass – this can make all the difference, especially for wine because as we know wine glasses seem to be getting bigger and bigger. 

5) Avoid topping up your glass or letting anyone else top up your glass – try to finish one drink before pouring another. This way you can track your intake over the course of the evening more easily. 

6) Ensure you EAT before drinking – whether you are entertaining at home or going out. Drinking on an empty stomach is known to hasten the cerebral and physical effects of alcohol

Running Hints and Tips:

Did you know that over the Christmas period there is generally a change in most people’s routine, which can result in a change to an individual’s training routine.

1.Consider reducing the amount of endurance runs you do – include more skill-based training. For example hill drills and interval/tempo sessions, for HIGH effort, LOW time. 

2.If you are an evening runner, consider moving training sessions to the morning – so you can still meet up with friends and family. 

3.Get adequate sleep – If you know you are going out one or two evenings in a week, ensure you go to bed a little earlier on the nights you are not going out…especially on the nights following an evening out.

4.Write out a Festive Training Plan – or find a training plan online. Research suggests that having a training plan during the festive period could be a strategy to avoid weight gain. 

5.If you can’t run…walk – if running is just not possible, go for a walk instead. The important thing is to be physically active in some way.   

6.BUT, don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve what you would like to any given day. Let yourself off the hook but then get back on track as soon as you can. 


1.Follow the 80:20 rule: ie. eating healthy 80% of the time and indulging in something you enjoy 20% of the time. 

2.Don’t skip breakfast – this may lead to you making poor food choices and/or eating too much later in the day 

3.Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water – this could reduce the amount you drink overall but also reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol. 

4.Downsize your drink by serving it in a smaller glass – this can make all the difference, especially for wine because glasses are so big these days

5.Reduce the amount of endurance runs completed and include more hill drills and interval/tempo sessions – high effort, low time. 

6.But really, I think the most important message is: don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve what you would like to on any given day. Let yourself off the hook but then get back on track as soon as you can.

Related Topics:

A Focus on Festive Foods

On a Runners Plate at Christmas


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and

advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.

If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact

your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell host RUNNERS HEALTH HUB. A place for like-minded female runners who are looking for simple ways to support running performance, energy, endurance, and general great health.

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Aileen and Karen