Like Christmas turkeys, a few of you may have started to notice putting on a few extra kilos from when you last raced, but do not worry, as this is a good, natural thing. After all we all have to consider the sustainability factor – we all cannot hold the lean bodies we had from the race season (unless you are naturally born that way), especially when research has suggested that our body fat is 64% genetic and 36% lifestyle.
Weight increase also tends to be unavoidable, as we reduce the amount of cardiovascular training we do, and we also slacken off our strict diets we had from the race season. But is there also something more scientific we must consider?
Due to genetic programming, as the temperatures plummet, our bodies naturally increase the brown adipose fat tissues (found heavily in babies), as this is the fat type that keeps you warm. Whilst white adipose fat tissue stores energy, the brown tissue actually burns calories for heat, so we naturally eat more in winter.
Another essential point to consider is by looking back at our palaeolithic routes. As it takes 10,0000 years for DNA to change, we are still carrying the same genes from when we were hunter-gatherers. So, if you can imagine people back then in the winter months, struggling to feed themselves due to all the vegetation covered in snow and all the animals either hibernating or emigrating to a warmer climate. Our bodies naturally develop a genetically programmed famine process called the “thrifty gene hypothesis”. This is to help us survive the winter months by hanging onto fat stores.
Now, we have all heard the best way to eat is little and often, which is basically the same concept as the “thrifty gene hypothesis”. Because we were hunter-gatherers genetically, our bodies are used to smaller meals, as and when we found them, so naturally we metabolise fat quicker than just eating one large meal. That is because by eating one large meal, your body thinks it is going into famine, so it will cling onto body fat. However, the problem we have is that we are no longer hunter-gatherers, as food is readily available to those that are lucky, so we actually do not need to store fat for the winter months.
So, if this is the case, what can we do to help ourselves? First of all, you cannot tell your partners that you indulged on three mince pies, half the cheese board, whilst washing it down with a bottle of port because of the “thrifty gene hypothesis”. Personally, I find the most effective way to prevent too much off-season bulk is to limit gains to 8% from your ideal race weight. For example my racing weight is 64kg, so I try not to allow myself over 69.2 kilo. After all, I want my off-season to build up muscular endurance and high miles to construct a strong base for the race season and not a fat-burning assignment.
Wear warm clothing and trick your body thinking it has brown adipose fat tissue. Avoid nasty trans-fats and sugar and opt for healthy fats contained in oily fish, nuts and avocados. These foods are rich in essential fatty acids, which help the breakdown and transportation of cholesterol, as well as help brain development. Eat plenty of dark green and orange vegetables that contain beta-carotenes, which are rich in fat-soluble vitamins A&D, that are important to bone growth and maintenance. If you struggle with your 5 a day however try this from PhD Nutrition:
I guess what I am trying to say is enjoy your Christmas, but enjoy it within reason. Treat yourself, but don’t make yourself regret it.
Have a wonderful Christmas everybody – and a fast New Year