It's that time of year: parties, family commitments and plenty of food and booze to tempt you away from the bike. Winter cycling may seem like the last thing you want to do when there are parties to go to, but finding a balance that suits you is essential to see you through the Festive period
How do you see the Christmas party season? Is the holiday a great opportunity to spend more time on your bike and get in some serious training – maybe by conquering the Festive 500, or is it an excuse to throw off the discipline of the race season and go for broke?
Christmas can be full of dilemmas for the dedicated cyclist. Should you train or not train? Drink or not drink? Ride or not ride? Will that extra Brussels sprout push you over the edge? Will one more glass of wine be okay? Should you stay for the next round or head home to bed? Either way, you’ll know you’ll be paying for it in training time lost and weight gained.
The onset of Christmas also means you’ll be dragged along to those awkward social events otherwise known as parties. You’ll be forced to drink that horrible-tasting liquid other people enjoy called alcohol, and there’s absolutely no escaping the whole moving your feet to loud music thing — aka dancing.
However, luckily for you, you’re in good company, as we at Cycling Weekly are social avoiders too and have some useful advice to help you get through the Christmas period while causing as little harm to yourself (and others) as possible.
Everyone knows that drinking too much can lead to weight gain and the infamous beer belly. Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and drinking also stimulates your appetite while simultaneously lowering your resistance to temptation.
Having an aperitif before your meal has been shown to increase the number of calories consumed. This helps explain why drinking leads to weight gain but it’s not the only factor.
The key effect of alcohol on the body is not how much of it gets stored as fat — less than five per cent of the alcohol calories you drink are turned into fat.
The main problem for those trying to stay lean is the way alcohol shuts down the body’s ability to access your fat stores for energy.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that fat metabolism can be reduced by as much as 73 per cent in an hour after only two drinks of vodka and lemonade.
This can have a great significance on how you feel riding your bike even the next day. With your body’s ability to burn fat inhibited, it becomes more reliant on carbohydrates.
If you want to ride the next day, make sure you ease your hangover with a high-carb breakfast and take an energy drink with you to prevent blowing up.
Alcohol also has an effect on your hormone balance. Just a single bout of heavy drinking raises levels of the muscle-wasting hormone cortisol and increases the breakdown of testosterone for up to 24 hours.
If you want your training to be effective then be sure to avoid riding shortly before the office Christmas party. The damaging effects of alcohol on testosterone are increased when you exercise before drinking.
There’s a plus side…
A study published in the journal Heart, has suggested that drinking can cut the overall risk of heart problems by almost a third in men regardless of whether they drank beer, wine or spirits.
Although it’s still unclear about how alcohol protects the heart, some doctors believe it helps the body metabolise glucose more efficiently as well as reducing blood clotting.
Wine also contains high levels of antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which are very good for circulation, and red wine increases levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the blood. Try it, you might even like it.
Tips for healthy festive eating
Tip 1: Eat olives instead of crisps
A portion of four contains around 30kcal, and provides a great source of ‘good’ unsaturated fat and essential fatty acids like Omega 3. Olives are also rich in vitamin E.
Tip 2: Eat pistachio nuts instead of peanuts
Pistachios are packed with fibre, vitamins, and potassium. Twenty-four nuts will provide around 85 calories. Wrestling them out of their shells means they’re eaten relatively slowly.
Tip 3: Eat cocktail sausages, not sausage rolls
The pastry around a medium-sized sausage roll adds 100 calories per portion.
I bet that you look good on the dance floor…
To some it’s a living nightmare, but dancing can benefit you in more ways than you’d first think.
Dancing can burn as many calories as walking, swimming or riding a bicycle. Wiggling your booty for up to half an hour can help burn anything between 200 and 400 calories.
In one study, researchers attached pedometers to square dancers (traditional folk dance) and found that each person covered around five miles in a single evening.
We all know the benefits of regular exercise, and although dancing may not exactly be the equivalent of a turbo session, it can help.
So if you do miss a session on the bike on Christmas Eve, get down to the pub and boogie the night away. People may think you’re a bit strange, but the joke’s on them, as you’re the one who hasn’t missed your training session.
Partying and social occasions frequently mean late nights and if you’re getting up early the next morning to go training this could lead to fatigue eventually setting in.
Having one late night has little effect on your riding, obviously pulling an all-nighter and riding the next day will, and late nights every night for the two weeks of Christmas will severely affect your performance. Here’s a summary of the latest research…
Just 2.5 hours sleep per night for three nights
There’s no increase in perceived exertion, no decline in lung functioning or respiratory capacity, and no loss of endurance capacity.
Going 20 hours without sleep
Mental acuity is reduced and reaction times slow down.
Going 36 hours without sleep
Time to exhaustion drops by an average of about 10 to 11 per cent at a moderately hard intensity of about 80 per cent of VO2 max (87 per cent of max of your heart rate).
A sleep debt of 30-36 hours (just two hours a night less than needed for 15 days) can reduce cardiovascular performance by 11 per cent.
Do they serve any purpose in life? Six hours earlier you felt fine and now, lying in bed, you feel as if the world is ending.
A hangover is the unpleasant after-effect following heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. Common characteristics of a hangover include headaches, nausea, thirst, fatigue and sensitivity to light and noise.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose more water than it takes on by halting the production of an anti-diuretic hormone.
This is why you find yourself going to the toilet more often while drinking and wake up with an unquenchable thirst. It’s dehydration of the brain that causes those splitting headaches.
Heavy drinking will also affect your ability to obtain a good night’s sleep. The amount of alcohol consumed prevents the brain from performing its normal sleep tasks. In effect, you’re poisoning it.
Try not to mix your drinks either. They may react badly with each other and produce extreme hangovers. The liver will have to work overtime to get rid of harmful toxins, which again will cause further dehydration.
It isn’t really a good idea to go out riding the next day if you’re extremely hungover. As little as two to five per cent loss of body water will inhibit your reactions and increase your body temperature, leaving you feeling weak.
However, many people believe any sort of exercise the following day is a great way to get rid of a hangover. Research published by the Department of Health suggests more than 3.8 million adults in England try to exercise to clear a hangover.
The truth is, it could make you feel worse. Exercise brings on the onset of sweating. True, this may help clear your body of some of the toxins, but the majority of sweat will be body water, leaving you even more dehydrated than you were before.
The best advice you can give to someone is to drink plenty of water and sleep. Try drinking a fluid with high vitamin C levels as it helps the body’s liver to detoxify the alcohol. Sports drinks can ease your headache while also helping to rehydrate the body.
A bacon sandwich can help as well. A bread roll is high in carbohydrate which helps to lift blood sugar levels. Eggs and bacon also help keep your blood sugar levels stable, though a greasy option may put excess strain on the liver.
You wouldn’t drink and drive, and the same goes for drinking and cycling. Many believe that riding a bike while under the influence is okay.
It’s not, and you will be prosecuted. You could also seriously injure yourself and others.