Step 1: Lay the groundwork
Do a little preparation and even the worst hangover won’t make you lose sight of your fitness goals
Stock your cupboards
‘Food such as eggs, fish and avocado are high in B vitamins which will provide energy that’s been depleted by alcohol and caffeine,’ says Nuffield Health nutritionist Nick Wilkinson. ‘Strengthen your immune system with zinc, found in turkey, lamb and sesame seeds. Cruciferous vegetables such as sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower increase your glutathione, which supports your liver functions – including processing alcohol.’
Have a goal
‘Be clear with yourself about what your goal is,’ says performance coach Brendan Chaplin. ‘For example, it might be to drop 2kg of your bodyweight. The clearer you are, the better the chance of success you’ve got.’ That way if you fall off the wagon, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do to get back on track (rather than just, ‘Oh, I’ll work out a bit harder tomorrow’).
Use ‘if-then’ plans
Decide your actions in advance and you’re far more likely to stick to them, according to a University of Leeds study. Make a list of all the temptations you’ll encounter and what you response will be. For example, if I’m offered mince pies, then I will only have one.
Create a vision board
‘Have a photo of yourself in good shape or of someone you admire somewhere prominent, such as your phone’s background or inside your front door,’ says Chaplin. ‘Use it to remind you of your goals and the rewards you’ll give yourself if you stick to them.’
Allow for slip-ups
‘You’ve got to accept that you’ll eat and drink more than normal,’ says Chaplin. ‘If you understand that it’s going to happen then you’ve got a much greater chance of controlling elements such as when and how much.’ If you’re eating three decent meals a day, seven days a week, you can afford for 10% to be less than optimal.
Download the White Noise Lite app and play it as you go to sleep. White noise helps keep you in the land of nod because it’s equal across all sound frequencies so it can act like a sound mask, blocking out sudden changes, which are typically what jolts you awake.
Step 2: Survive the party
Has anyone ever drunk a pint of water between alcoholic drinks? Here’s some realistic advice to stop you feeling so rough the next day. We can’t stop you embarrassing yourself, sadly:
Line the stomach
It’s not a myth – but shouldn’t be done with a pint of milk. ‘Eating fats slows the stomach’s absorption of alcohol and gives your liver more time to deal with the nasty by-products,’ says Wilkinson. ‘So have salmon or avocado for your “pre-match” meal. You should also take milk thistle before you head out because it assists your liver in getting rid of alcohol.’
Don’t begin early
If your party starts mid-afternoon it can be tempting to write off the whole day. ‘Instead, try to eat and drink well right up until you’re going to the party – and think of it as your “cheat” meal for the day,’ says Josh Taylor, strength and conditioning coach at Salford Red Devils. ‘Eating and drinking poorly for a few hours is nowhere near as bad as doing it all day.’
Kick-start your evening
No time to get to the gym before a night out? This 20-minute Tabata workout doesn’t need any equipment, so it’s perfect for doing in the office. ‘It’s made up of four exercises: chest-to-floor burpees, decline press-ups on your office chair, half range bodyweight squats, and mountain climbers,’ says Taylor. ‘Do an exercise for 20 seconds, rest for ten seconds, and repeat until you’ve done that eight times. Rest for one minute, then do the same for the next exercise.’
Watch your mixers
‘Swap mixers like tonic water and lemonade for soda water,’ says Taylor. ‘It’ll keep you much more hydrated and it doesn’t taste too dissimilar.’
Pick your beer wisely
A study published in Journal Of The International Society of Sports Nutrition found that deep-ocean sea water delivered a better balance of sodium, potassium, zinc and magnesium than most sports drinks. Spanish beer Er Boquerón is made from mineral-rich sea water (filtered, of course) so it lessens the dehydrating impact of alcohol – plus it has two gold stars for exceptional taste from the International Taste and Quality Institute. That’s not an excuse to drink twice as much as normal, though.
Step 3: Keep your guard up
Feeling safe in the bosom of your family? That sort of complacency leads to mindless cake-munching. Here’s how to get through your trip home
Survive the hangover
There are two toxic by-products of alcohol: shame and acetaldehyde. We can’t do anything about the embarrassment but a breakfast of eggs will help with the other stuff. ‘Eggs contain cysteine, which counteracts the toxins and helps make glutathione, an antioxidant which also neutralises acetaldehyde,’ Wilkinson says.
Avoid the sports drinks
‘Sports drinks have rehydrating electrolytes but they’re often packed with sugar,’ says Taylor. ‘It's better to eat bananas, which are high in potassium, or add a little more salt to food for better hydration.’
Plan your dinner
‘Eat your turkey first, then the veg and finally the roast potatoes,’ says Wilkinson. ‘Protein will fill you up so by the time you get to the carb-heavy potatoes you’ll find it much easier to eat less.’
Bring your own
Christmas is a time for giving, receiving and gorging on baked goods – but if you’re doing the baking, you can easily swap out some of the unhealthiest ingredients without sacrificing taste. ‘Replacing flour with ground almonds or coconut flour gives you the same texture but with more nutrients,’ says Taylor. ‘And instead of using refined granulated sugar, try stevia, a natural and low-calorie sweetener.’
Do quickfire routines that don’t eat into your family time too much. Head to the gym for Chaplin’s workout: 12, then 11, then ten, then nine reps of reverse lunges, weight plate clean and presses, mountain climbers (reps each side), goblet squats, dumbbell press-up rows and burpees.
Mull it over
‘Make your own mulled wine rather than buying a sugary ready-made one,’ says barman and Schweppes ambassador JJ Goodman. ‘Add 75ml ginger beer, 10ml cinnamon syrup (equal parts sugar and water boiled with a cinnamon stick), 2 cloves, 30ml apple juice, the juice of half a lime, 25ml aged rum and 25ml red wine to a saucepan. Gently heat, then serve with a lime wedge.’
Step 4: Get through the big day
It’s Christmas morning and you’re still in one piece.This step-by-step guide to Christmas Day will make sure you don’t falter at the final hurdle
Open your calendar
It’s pretty hard to buy a non-chocolate advent calendar these days – and Christmas Day’s is the biggest piece. This year, get yourself a Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate calendar. A study published in Chemistry Central Journal found that by weight dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than blueberry, cranberry and pomegranate.
Be a giver
Make sure you give more presents than you receive. Not only will you be everyone’s favourite person, a study by the University of Buffalo showed that those who give more are less likely to suffer an early death. So you may not have as much stuff on the day, but in the long term you win.
Make a socks appeal
Pre-empt your well-meaning sock-buying relatives and put Sensoria Fitness socks on your wish list. Sensors in the fabric can monitor your running gait in real time so you can make the most of that Boxing Day run you’re definitely going to do. Right?
Get off the gravy train
Christmas dinner isn’t the same without it, but the British Dietetic Association has a way to make gravy a little less unhealthy: allow the fat from the turkey juices to rise to the surface, then skim it off and use the remainder for your delicious gravy.
Put away some pudding
Don’t feel too guilty about eating Christmas pudding. Although it is high in sugar, it’s also got fibre, B vitamins, potassium, iron and calcium. If it’s home-made it’ll be lower in trans fats than a shop-bought one, and you can reduce the sugar by making your own and swapping out the dried fruit for fresh fruit.
Spending days on end with the family can be tense. Try to control your temper, because research from NYU Langone Medical Centre found that your risk of a heart attack rises after an angry outburst. If you’re about to blow, psychologist Dr Steve Peters suggests taking some alone time – what he calls ‘calming your inner chimp’ – before you talk things through.
Stand for the Queen’s speech
Why? First, it’s respectful. And second, Dr Mike Loosemore, England’s chief medical officer at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, says that standing for just three hours a day has the same health benefits as doing ten marathons a year. You’ve got to start somewhere…
Nap yourself awake
Drink a coffee and have a 15-minute snooze. You’ll wake feeling refreshed as the coffee hits your brain. Studies show this will boost your memory too, so you’ll finally beat your uncle at Trivial Pursuit.
Telly for your belly
Trapped in front of Downton Abbey? Try this: whenever a bell rings do ten wide-arm press-ups. When someone from ‘upstairs’ appears ‘downstairs’ do 15 triceps dips off the sofa. Lastly, every time Lady Mary raises her eyebrows you owe ten V-sits. Explain the rules to everyone so they can point out when you’re slacking off.
Call your nan
When it’s all over, take time to call your relatives and tell them what a lovely day you had. Studies published in the Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology found that talking to other people about positive events was associated with increased well-being. So it’s worth listening to granny telling you again how grown-up you sound.
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.