Matt Fitzgerald—It’s often said that the average person gains five pounds during the six-week period from Thanksgiving week to New Year’s Day. Actually, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average person gains only one pound over the holidays—but never loses it. So, for the typical American, 20 years of turkey dinners, office holiday parties, and New Year’s Eve toasts add up to 20 pounds of lard around the middle. You don’t want that!
The holiday season coincides with the off-season for most runners. Training is typically reduced at this time, which further increases the likelihood of weight gain. In fact, for the runner who enters the holiday/off-season at a very high level of fitness, a certain amount of weight gain is unavoidable. But what you want to avoid is the common problem of gaining entirely too much body fat at this time of year, which will sabotage your efforts to take your racing performance to a new level next year.
The five tips on the following pages will help you avoid excessive weight gain this holiday/off-season.
1. Set a weight-gain limit
You will probably gain less body fat during the off-season if you replace your vague intention to stay trim with a definite goal—specifically, a maximum weight limit. Use the “8 percent rule” to calculate your limit. Every runner has an optimal racing weight, and most runners have a good idea what that weight is. The 8 percent rule dictates that you should avoid gaining more than 8 percent of your ideal racing weight during the off-season.
For example, suppose your racing weight is 133 pounds. Eight percent of 133 is about 10 pounds. So in this case you’ll want set a goal not to exceed 143 pounds. Once your weight limit is established, weigh yourself once a week to track any movement toward it and make changes as necessary (e.g., lay off the eggnog) if you find yourself getting too close, too quickly.
Note that if you are already above your optimal racing weight at the start of the off-season, you still must limit your weight gain to 8 percent above your optimal racing weight, not your current weight. Not sure what your optimal racing weight is? Refer to my book, Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, for help in determining it.