Eight ways to ‘sleigh’ nutrition over Christmas


Whether it’s pigs in blankets or prosecco, mince pies or mountains of roasties, we all have our favourite festive treats that we can’t wait to enjoy on the big day.

A few seasonal extras won’t hurt, but for student athletes, food is fuel and it’s important to make the right choices when it comes to nutrition across the Christmas break. But with temptation all around, how do you resist that obligatory chocolate orange?

Northumbria University performance nutritionist and TASS PhD researcher Steve Marshall shares his advice to help you find a balance between gluttony and being a grinch.

Keep your eyes on the prize

Remember why you do what you do. Think of all of the hard work you have put in over the year. Keeping your main goal in mind will help guide you towards better choices during the festive period.

Out of sight, out of mind

Create an environment that favours better food options. Keep favourable items such as fruit on show and you will be much more likely to snack on them. Meanwhile, foods high in fat and sugar should be kept in a cupboard you don’t use too often. Think of it like this, if your willpower caves every five times you see a calorie dense option, it will be far better if you only see those treats five times a week, not five times a day.

Strength in numbers

Create a support network around you. Let your family and friends know that you are doing your best to make better nutritional choices over the Christmas period. Ask them to support you by not offering you chocolate and alcohol constantly. Those who truly care about you will help you be your best.

Keep active

No matter how dedicated and well prepared you are, the likelihood of a few calorie dense foods or drinks is high. Try and combat this by staying active! Get out for a nice winter walk or cycle with the family. Throw in an extra gym session or two. At the very least, take to the dance floor as much as possible at Christmas parties. Energy balance is key for weight maintenance, tip the scale in your favour and keep busy.

Think before you drink

In a world of triple mocha frappuccinos with extra cream and sprinkles, try to enjoy low or no calorie beverages, like a ‘normal’ tea or coffee. Liquid calories (including alcohol) can be devastating in terms of energy balance. High sugar drinks offer little value nutritionally and they won’t touch the sides on the hunger scale. The odd one won’t hurt, but try not to make a habit of it.

Build a plate to make you great

Make vegetables priority on your plate. Pile on the (non-roasted) veggies first, leaving less room for the ‘naughty’ stuff. Next up, lean proteins such as turkey and chicken. These two should take up about two thirds of your plate. The final third of your plate can be filled with a few treats such as pigs in blankets, potatoes and roast parsnips. Keep condiments to a minimum as they usually pack a hefty calorie punch.

There is credibility in flexibility

This isn’t about the sit and reach test – we’re talking flexible dieting. This essentially means adjusting your food or drink intake to allow room in your energy ‘budget’ for a couple of treats. For example, if you know you are having a big meal or a few drinks, scale back a bit on the portion sizes earlier in the day, or even the day after. Make these ‘cuts’ from fats and carbs, whilst keeping fruit, veg and lean protein a priority.

Tis the season

To be jolly, not obsessed. Stick to the advice above and you can’t go far wrong, whilst avoiding stressing over food. Don’t be over restrictive as this will most likely lead to a ‘binge’ or ‘blow out’. Christmas is there to be enjoyed, and it will be an even more enjoyable January if you stay on track and aren’t playing catch up.