Updated 21 December 2017

The runner’s holiday weight-loss plan

Don’t sweat your next big feast – we can show you how to get back on track after any holiday splurge.

The good news: It’s prime time for holiday celebrations, roast feasts, home-baked pies and fruity little drinks in martini glasses.

The bad news: Ditto.

Truth is, if you add up the kilojoules packed into just one festive season dinner party, it's easy to conclude that you’re on the road to a 3kg year-end bonus.

When we crunched the numbers, we learnt that a buffet dinner can easily top 8 350kJ.

Well, relax. You’re a runner, and your everyday eating and exercise habits will pull you through a few evenings of revelry.

The key, of course, to dining and drinking without guilt (or weight gain) is to recover and bounce back from those indulgences.

To that end, we’ve enlisted the help of two experts – Greg McMillan, a kinesiologist and running coach, and Tara Gidus, a certified specialist in sports dietetics – to develop a step-by-step guide to surviving the kilojoule-laden mean season.

Here are the main festive fat-traps – and how to burn it off!

Christmas dinner

Food for thought: eat a hearty breakfast

Strange but true: you go to bed feeling like a front row prop yet still wake up ravenous the next day. According to Gidus, that phenomenon happens after a huge meal because your body is so busy digesting that it enters your normal nighttime “hunger phase” in the morning.

And the worst thing you can do is try to starve yourself in a vain attempt to make up for overeating. Instead, she recommends you get back on track by grabbing a smart breakfast, one that energises your body with 1 255 to 1 670kJ and includes high-quality carbohydrates, low-fat dairy and fruit.

Gidus’s perfect pairings include yogurt with granola and berries, or whole-grain toast with cottage cheese and fruit.

Fitness solution: hit the road for a long, slow run

Alas, you really did get intimate with a gravy boat yesterday. On the bright side, however, your body is perfectly primed for a workout that can burn off a chunk of last night’s meal.

“With all the potatoes and stuffing, Christmas dinner is a big carbo-load,” says McMillan. “That means the glycogen stores that fuel your muscles are full to capacity.”

In addition to lots of muscle fuelling carbs, your feast contained a good amount of protein, essential for rebuilding muscles that break down during a long run.

Even better, you have the day off work, an invitation to hit the great outdoors for an hour on the move. Go slowly, enjoy the scenery, and keep moving for as long as you’re able.

“This is all about time on your feet, because you’ll burn more kilojoules the longer you go,” says McMillan.

The reward: 3 300-plus kilojoules burned and an invigorating start to the day.

Dessert binge

Food for thought: cut out the sugar

The least nutritionally balanced of all the splurges, this “meal” is brimming with simple carbohydrates (translation: sugar) and fat.

And as often happens after a dessert bender, you may find yourself hankering for even more sugar the day after.

That’s because digesting loads of sugary carbs triggers a tidal wave of serotonin (the so-called feel-good hormone). When those serotonin levels dip, your body craves more sugar to keep the good times rolling.

Fortunately, says Gidus, the solution is simple. Rather than trying to go cold turkey the next day, sate your sweet tooth with healthier treats like fresh fruit, all-fruit jams and smoothies.

Fitness solution: get speedy

As far as your muscles are concerned, ice cream and chocolate sauce still translates into a decent carbo-load.

But unlike your chicken and roast potato buffet, the dessert binge doesn’t offer the body much else in the way of nutrients. That’s why McMcillan recommends intervals to burn off those sweets in a hurry.

The plan: Knock out six to eight 30-second repeats at about 90% of your top speed with two-minute recovery jogs in between. (Bookend your speedwork with 3km jogs.)

“When you do a hard track workout, you’re tapping into those carbohydrate stores at a higher rate,” he says. “But since it’s a shorter-duration workout than a long run, you won’t break down the muscles as much.”

The payoff? In less than an hour, you’ll torch about 2 900kJ.

Cocktail party

Food for thought: Focus on three square meals

For a night that never involved a meal, you managed to put away a shocking amount of kilojoules and fat.

Even worse, you probably left the party vaguely unsatisfied – and maybe even hit the kitchen before bed. As you regain control of your diet the next day, Gidus says the key is to stop grazing.

“Don’t skip meals and just snack,” she says. “You’ll fall into the same trap of overeating without realising it.”

Instead, eat real meals that range from 1 255 (for breakfast) to 3 760kJ or so (for dinner).

Gidus offers a handy formula to get back on track:

Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with lean protein and the rest with whole grains.

Fitness solution: give your body a break

Fact: You overindulged and consumed many hundreds of kilojoules that need to be burned off.

Fiction: After that last ill-conceived round of mojitos, you’re up for a major workout the next morning. Relax, says McMillan. It’s okay to give yourself an easy day, then hit the ground running after that.

So rebound post-party with a low-key hour of something that feels kind to your body – say, walking, swimming or yoga.

Then crank up the intensity a day later. McMillan suggests an interval workout – a 3km warmup, five two-minute intervals (at a medium-hard effort) with one minute recovery jog in between, and a 3km cooldown. That’s enough to kick back 2 900kJ.

Buffet dinner

Food for thought: go pseudo-vegetarian for a day

There’s little doubt you got your money’s worth – not to mention a full day’s worth of kilojoules – right there at the carving station, and now it’s time to bounce back.

Since you consumed at least a couple of servings of two different types of meat at the buffet, Gidus recommends that you restore balance by eating primarily vegetables and whole grains the next day, paired with a little lean protein like tofu or fish.

The resulting antioxidant infusion won’t negate the high fat and sodium content of the meats, but it is a healthy statement. And best of all, you’ll feel more energetic right away.

Fitness solution: weight and cruise

Last night’s feast provides the perfect energy for speedwork, endurance, even muscle repair. The coach’s prescription to maximise that fuel supply: a tempo run, followed by weight training to amp up your metabolism.

Few workouts are more efficient than the tempo run because it treads the line between aerobic and anaerobic.

“You’re trying to reach that balance at your body’s lactate threshold,” says McMillan.

First, head out for a 6km tempo run (at about an 80% effort) bookended by 3km jogs. Second, complete a circuit in the weight room that works your major muscle groups to fatigue. Then enjoy the afterglow of a set that zapped more 4 000kJ.

4 extra-credit kilojoule burners

1. Heading to the mall? Park at the farthest corner of the lot so you’re forced to take a nice brisk walk.

2. Take your dog for a spin around the neighborhood – even when he doesn’t really need to go.

3. Don’t just stand there – walk up and down escalators. Better yet, just take the stairs.

4. Go sandboarding with your kids. For an extra workout, pull them back uphill on their boards.

This article was originally featured on

Image credits: iStock




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