The holidays are upon us and, for most people, it’s a time for hibernation, comfort foods and decadent treats galore. Meanwhile, athletes (and their coaches and trainers), are wringing their hands over how much they can enjoy the season without negatively impacting their fitness goals.
The good news is, while December holidays can usher in a few less-than-healthy behaviors, they also present plenty of opportunities to boost athletic performance, too.
Here are seven things athletes can do to improve their strength and stamina over the holidays:
Few athletes are likely to complain when trainers and coaches propose they get more rest. With time off from various obligations like work, school and practice, it’s the perfect opportunity to slip into a comfy set of pajamas and catch up on ZZZs.
According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep provides a broad spectrum of performance-boosting benefits:
- Helps support problem-solving skills
- Improves mood
- Helps repair heart and blood vessels
- Balances hormones
- Helps control blood glucose levels
- Supports muscle-building and tissue repair
- Enhances immunity
- Increases reaction times
There’s no denying the holidays are a stressful time for everyone. From mounting pressures to hit annual goals at work and semester-end projects or exams at school to social events, travel and family obligations, December can be anxiety-inducing and exhausting for people of all ages.
Athletes and athletic professionals know stress can wreak havoc on sports performance, and compromise athletes’ abilities to think clearly, move swiftly and recover from intense practice sessions.
That’s why it’s critical athletes use the last couple weeks of the year to focus on strengthening their mental health. For some, this means practicing deep breathing and meditation. For others, it may mean scheduling an appointment for a sports massage, or penciling in a little alone time to reflect and prepare for the year ahead.
3. Avoid High-Risk Activities
For many, colder temperatures means ski trips, ice skating sessions and other winter sports. But with the opportunity for an adrenaline surge comes an increased risk of broken bones, torn ligaments and concussions — all of which can put you out of commission for months (or longer). And an exhilarating afternoon on the slopes isn’t worth missing a full season or jeopardizing an entire athletic career.
In other words, now isn’t the best time to try rock climbing for the first time or test an axel jump. Instead, athletes should stick to safer fun and enjoy time as a spectator.
4. Indulge (in Moderation)
Of course, there’s no need to eliminate all the fun — and being forced to miss out on homemade cookies, cakes and all their favorite delicious-but-fatty holiday foods can feel downright cruel. Instead, athletes should feel free to partake in seasonal treats, as long as they do so in moderation.
Enjoying a few indulgences will have little-to-no effect on athletic performance, but overdoing it with massive portions of empty calories can quickly zap athletes’ energy.
5. Refuel with Healthy Foods
To help balance out those sugary snacks and heavy meals, athletes should be sure to eat plenty of “clean,” whole foods.
Here are a few nutrient-dense items athletes can work into their holiday diet to ensure they’re getting the fuel they need to boost athletic performance:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens
- Fresh fruit
- Raw/steamed vegetables
While rest and relaxation can (and should) be hallmarks of the holiday season, it’s still essential to get plenty of exercise. For performance purposes, a few sweat sessions sprinkled in over a break are crucial for maintaining their edge. Furthermore, enjoying some physical activity can promote better energy throughout the holidays so athletes don’t start the new year in a lethargic daze.
7. Have Fun
Athletes — especially student-athletes — face rigorous training and practice schedules during their seasons and pre-seasons, which can leave little time for hobbies and socializing. The holidays, however, provide much-needed downtime for athletes to enjoy favorite pastimes like hiking, playing a few video games, enjoying a night out with friends or cozying up by the fire with a giant stack of books. Doing these things now will help them keep their heads in the game later.
While the holiday season is filled with temptations to slack, it also provides plenty of opportunities to recover and prepare. By suggesting these seven items, coaches and trainers can ensure their team members not only stay in shape, but boost athletic performance, too.