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The 5 worst festive foods

Life’s too short to refuse great Auntie Mabel’s Christmas trifle. She’d be very upset and quite frankly, it really is far too delicious to refuse! But with Christmas festivities and delicious treats on the scene earlier than ever this year, resisting them and sticking to a healthy training diet can be an uphill struggle for even the most dedicated athlete. The average Christmas dinner contains over 1400 calories, 70% of the total calorie intake for a woman and over 50% of the daily intake for a man. Fine if this over-indulgence of festive fodder were limited to the days around December 25th, but for better or for worse, this period now stretches for weeks on end. And that means weeks and weeks of torturous temptation.

Certain foods not only threaten to pile on excess pounds, they can also make us feel rotten as they are highly processed and stuffed with saturated fat or what are often called ‘empty calories’, rather than the nutrient-dense calories we should be eating to sustain energy levels and enhance training performance. Excess consumption of the fats so often found in seasonal fare can lead to the depletion of glycogen, our body stores of the carbohydrate needed for efficient endurance training. The breakdown of fat requires more oxygen per calorie than carbohydrate and is therefore a much less efficient energy source.

With a little knowledge and a few sneaky survival tactics it’s quite easy to make informed choices about which festive goodies you can indulge in and which are best to avoid.

The 5 worst festive foods

  1. Sausage rolls, vol-au-vents and other pastry-based party canap‚Äö√†√∂©s tend to be very high in saturated fat and rarely contain much nutritional value. One tiny mini sausage roll contains around 50 kcal and 2 grams of saturated fat; one mini pork pie is getting on for 200 calories and 10g saturated fat. The guideline daily amount (GDA) of saturated for an adult is 20g. Need any more be said? They’re bad for the waistline, bad for the heart, bad for training.

Be canny and eat a nutritious sandwich or light meal before you go to drinks parties to help resist the danger of temptation. Steer towards less processed foods such as the smoked salmon nibbles, chicken satays, salad-based canap‚Äö√†√∂©s or nutritious hummus with carrot and celery sticks.

  1. Mince Pies, especially shop-bought ones, contain on average about 250 kcal each and about 4g saturated fat. One is fine every now and then, but beware, fat intake can accumulate over the weeks as you munch through these delicious little temptations. Now ubiquitous seasonal fodder, it’s difficult to get through a December day in the office, hairdressers, doctor’s surgery without being offered at least one a day.

Make your own mince pies and you’ll find it much easier to avoid the supermarket version. Homemade mince pies are smaller, tastier and have a lower pastry to mincemeat ratio. What’s more, you can use a better quality, more nutritious mincemeat. Go even lighter by using wafer-thin filo pastry or by rolling out shortcrust pastry as thin as you can and using a star cutter for the lid to reduce the pastry content.

  1. Mulled wine is loaded with sugar; just one small glass can be at least 250 calories, making a large glass 500 calories. Warm yourself up with a convivial glass of this delicious nectar by all means, but remember that several glasses (or mugs) of the stuff will add up to your total recommended daily calorie intake. What’s more, excess alcohol is best avoided when you’re training; as your inhibitions reduce, so the temptation to overindulge increases with every drink.

It won’t be too impolite to just have the one small glass and then swap to a white wine spritzer (130 kcal for a large glass which you can nurse all evening) or a small glass of red wine (120kcal). One devious trick is to ask for a glass of fizzy water with ice and lemon; everyone will think you’re drinking a vodka or gin and tonic. Little white lies such as the need to drive home via an aged grandmother can work too.

  1. Yule Log, a traditional French cake stuffed with eggs, sugar, butter and double cream contains about 250 calories per slice and at least 9g saturated fat. This creamy, chocolate-laden affair is certainly not for the faint-hearted. At best avoid completely, at worst, take a small slice and claim that you are full from the main course… or dive for alternative healthy options which are likely to be within arm’s reach at Christmas time, like satsumas, nuts and dates (a handful of dates is around 60 kcal and contains important vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre).

Other Christmassy desserts, such as Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, make a good alternative and are packed with nutritious goodies such as dried fruit and nuts, providing better sustained energy for training. Avoid overdosing on the accompanying cream, brandy butter or icing, however.

  1. Brandy butter is fine if consumption is limited to Christmas Day, but there should be a government health warning on overindulgence of this delicious accompaniment to mince pies and Christmas pudding. Pure butter mixed with sugar and brandy, this should be eaten in moderation – a half teaspoon is plenty to melt inside a mince pie or over your Christmas pud.

Alternatively avoid completely and enjoy your yuletide treats with a dollop of cr‚Äö√†√∂®me fra‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√úche.

Feeling guilty now and ready to start 2015 with a spring in your step? Don’t forget to download your Christmas copy of FuelSmart for Race Day

For recipe ideas and advice on how to fuel your active lifestyle, go to www.gofasterfood.com, follow Go Faster Food on facebook or @gofasterfood on twitter.