The Dangerous Season for Fitness

Recreational athletes deal with shorter days, cold weather, and holidays

By Jared Nieters

The last few months of the year can seem like running the gauntlet for recreational athletes. The combination of shorter days, colder weather, and the succession of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, means training habits change – just as opportunities to overindulge increase exponentially.

What’s more, with the prospect of implementing New Year’s resolutions at the end of it all, people are all the more willing to let loose. By employing a few simple strategies, everyone can limit their fitness hiccups during this dangerous season, or even avoid them entirely.

Find opportunities to exercise

Turkey Trots and other fun runs are easy to find as the year ends. There are events every weekend through November and December within an hour of the Piedmont region, and at least a dozen Turkey Trots in the area on Thanksgiving Day. Starting your Thanksgiving with a 5K can burn an extra 300 calories and stoke your metabolism for the day. A good website for local events is

Maintain perspective on portions

People often look at nutritional information to get an idea of how many portions come in a package of food, but often don’t have an accurate perspective of what that portion looks like on the plate. This makes plating Thanksgiving dinner particularly perilous if you’re trying to eat reasonable amounts of food. There are a number of handy reference charts online that provide easy ways to gauge portion sizes. A general rule of thumb is that a “normal” serving of meat is roughly the size of a deck of cards and a serving of vegetables is roughly the size of a tennis ball. Check out to view an example of a portion size.

Don’t go to parties hungry

Some people tend to fast before a party anticipating that they will overindulge and thinking this will decrease their caloric intake. However, this approach may result in even greater consumption as loosened inhibitions work alongside increased hunger. Enjoy a healthy, protein-rich snack, and a few glasses of water on the way to the party to keep your appetite in check and make the party food a little less irresistible.

Get some perspective on your alcohol

Alcohol is high in calories – a glass of wine contains approximately 125 calories, and that’s in just five ounces. An eight ounce glass of eggnog with alcohol may have as much as 500 calories, and some new craft beers with high alcohol percentages may contain 600 to 900 calories in a 12-ounce can.

Jump on “the day after perfect”

Don’t despair if you overdo it. Don’t stress if you ate too many cookies at the holiday party or indulged in too many slices of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner, it hasn’t torpedoed your health and fitness regime. Author and productivity specialist, Jon Acuff, notes the most important day is “the day after perfect.” That is to say, regardless of how long a streak of success is, most people quit efforts permanently once they have one hiccup. But one night of indulgent behavior isn’t going to undo weeks of effort. If you eat half the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, get back to your exercise routine and portion control on Black Friday.

Don’t deny yourself completely

Build some flexibility into your plans. Decisions such as you’ll eat no mashed potatoes or pie or cake is a tall order. Allow yourself one dessert per week, or an extra glass of eggnog, as this may satisfy cravings and help prevent binges. Set reasonable expectations and meet them. And when cravings are at their worst, satisfy them. These tips will allow you to continue to make progress toward your goals.

Jared Nieters
About Jared Nieters 5 Articles
Jared Nieters is co-owner of Haymarket Bicycles and founder of Mapleworks Endurance Coaching. He has won multiple national championships in cycling and now coaches endurance athletes in a multitude of disciplines. He can be reached at and found on most social media sites at @mapleworkscoach.

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