Pies, puddings and pitfalls – staying on the right side of the Christmas treats! 

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Christmas, as we all know, is the party season and a time of celebration, but it also tends to be a time of high fat and high calorie foods.


Keeping in the festive spirit and enjoying the celebration without sabotaging your health and fitness goals may be difficult, but is definitely doable as we speak to Skandia Team GBR’s Performance Nutritionist.

Olivia Busby, who has been involved with the British Sailing team for the past 12 months, develops specialised nutrition programmes for the sailors to fuel their sailing and training sessions and ultimately optimise performance.  Across the programme she develops and oversees the nutrition education and resources delivered at Youth and Junior level and has a key involvement in delivering nutrition support at the Olympic Development Squad training camps.

Nutrition and performance

“Nutrition impacts on performance in a number of ways, firstly by providing you with the energy and fuel that you need to maximise training and sailing,” said Olivia. “Good hydration optimises brain function, decision making and coordination, which are key skills required by our sailors when they’re on the water. Nutrition is also crucial to strengthen immune function and increase rate of recovery between training sessions.

“Extra meals, treats and social occasions over the Christmas period can lead to extra calorie intake and this coupled with reduced activity levels can lead to an increase in body weight,” explains Olivia.  

“To avoid this keep to your usual eating pattern as much as possible and do not miss meals as this leads to overeating later in the day. Have a good breakfast to start the day well and avoid temptation to snack on treats that may be around. Stick to usual portion sizes, eat slowly and stop eating before you feel uncomfortably full.  

Olivia continues: “Eat before you go to parties where only snacks and canapés are being served as it is easy to overeat on these options.  It is often the sauces served with meals and pudding that contain additional calories so limit or avoid these. Turkey is a naturally low fat meat if you remove the skin after cooking, and finally keep hydrated and be as active as possible during the Christmas period.”  

Many people assume that the only way to avoid the extra pounds at Christmas is to miss out on all the luxuries that are associated with the festive season, such as Christmas pudding and the abundance of mince pies and mulled wine.  However, Olivia gives out some of her top tips on how you can stay healthy and nutritious even when merrily munching your way through the Christmas holidays.  

Avoid those extra pounds

“Christmas pudding contains a lot of fruit so have a small portion and replace high fat brandy butter or cream sauces with milk-based custard or yogurt as these are lower in fat. Occasional mince pies throughout the Christmas period are OK, but they are high in fat so choose options such as fruit (fresh or dried), vegetable sticks, crackers with salsa or yogurt dips, low fat yogurt, malt loaf, cereal bars, fruit loaf or a currant bun more often,” says Olivia.  

Olivia worked with the Olympic and Paralympic team sailors leading up to the Games to ensure they followed nutrition plans that supported their individual fuelling requirements, as well as meeting specific body weight targets. It was also important to implement immunity strategies to minimise risk of sailors becoming ill around the Olympic and Paralympic Games period.

Stay fit and healthy this Christmas

Olivia goes onto explain that even though immunity was crucial during the summer months in the build-up to the Olympics, this winter period is just as important as this is when sailors and even the festive party-goers are most susceptible to the runny nose or sore throat.

“Immunity is a key area for our sailors to focus on during the winter. The travel required during winter months can also place sailors at risk of minor illness and infection. It is important for sailors to get the basics right by following a healthy, balanced diet including a variety of fruit and vegetables for essential nutrients.  

“Fuelling and hydrating effectively around sailing and training sessions is also vital to reduce stress on the body’s immune system. Having a good snack or drink as soon as possible after sessions speeds up recovery after hard or prolonged sessions. Good hygiene practices are also crucial to minimise risk of picking up and spreading illness and infection when attending parties with large groups of people.  

Olivia concludes: “You can enjoy the Christmas period and keep fit and healthy if you make good food and drink choices, have treats in moderation and keep active!”