Knowledge Base Nutrition

Holiday Tummy: Train More or Eat Less

It really is nice and cozy to just hang around in front of the fireplace all day and have a loaded plate with Mom’s cookies and a big cup of Grandma’s hot chocolate in front of you. Just looking at all of those chocolates… No longer the plates but rather the stomachs are gonna be fully loaded. All of a sudden it doesn’t seem too cozy but rather scary. Ever wondered if you can explode of too much gingerbread?

athletes meal

Sadly, we all have to admit that, we as athletes go through the same stages, that everyone else goes through during the holiday season. Our discipline got lost somewhere between unwrapping that last gift and singing “All I want for Christmas…” The new year is just around the corner so I can start all my good habits then, right?

We have a short and spicy article, from Dr. Bernhard P. Rinderknecht (you can learn more about the author below), which covers all the fears of the time between Christmas and New Year; What should I do against my Christmas tummy- train more or eat less?

The holidays mean family time and time to treat yourself and your loved ones. For us endurance athletes it is the perfect time to recover. Once Christmas is over, New Year is just around the corner and with it come the first thoughts of the upcoming races. Didn’t I plan to stand at the starting line with three kilograms less this year? But no, I gained weight and it’s not just my imagination, that’s making me feel like my pants are a little tighter than they used to be.

What now: train more or eat less, to get to my dream weight?

First of all- keep calm:

1. Not the holidays but the time span in between the holidays are what make your race weight. 1 kilogram of pure body fat is the maximum amount that you can gain during the holidays.

2. Everything that you gain isn’t body fat but rather glycogen and water that stores itself in the body. Athletes have more muscle mass and endurance athletes have an especially big glycogen reserve that can bind a lot of water

Now, how can we get that body fat to disappear before the start of our next race?

Train more or eat less? The shortened answer: Training more is important but eating less calories is more efficient. Now you’re probably gonna say that that’s a contradiction. No, it isn’t… I’ll explain.

The training time is the better predictive factor for stabilizing a lower weight. This means that if you increase the training volume, your chance to stabilize your new goal weight is bigger. For the short term solution, your eating habits have a bigger relevance. Because per minute of training in your low heart rate zone, we only burn about one gram of body fat. We athletes burn even less, since our trained muscles are more economic when it comes to burning. (1)

Now what exactly does that mean? If your goal weight is more than 3 to 5 kilograms away from your current weight, then you will have to increase your training volume (including strength training). And don’t forget, patience brings roses or as an African saying goes: “The grass won’t grow faster when you pull on it!”.

Leibel, Rudolph L., Rosenbach, Michael, and Hirsch, Jules. Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight. N Engl J Med 1995; 332: 621-628. (1)

About the author:

The author is a gynecologist with an office and a special lab in Basel, Switzerland. Fifteen years ago, he decided that he wanted to lose some weight to get away from his 133 Kilograms of body weight. Using himself as an experiment, he lost 50 Kilograms and has been able to hold his weight for years. Exercise played a big role in his weight loss. He even participated in two Ironmans (3,9 Km swim, 180 Km cycling, 42 Km run). He advises managers and companies in Fitness questions. He is also a professor in topics such as weight reduction at the department of sport, health and exercise (DSGB). Furthermore he’s a professor in the area of gynecology at the medical faculty at the university of Basel.

His book “Schlank werden Schlank bleiben” (to lose weight and to keep that new weight) can be ordered, in its German version here , or here .