When it comes to health and fitness over December and January, many athletes approach the season differently. “Some embark on intense training camps all over the country in anticipation for the competitive seasons coming. Comrades and Two Oceans runners start putting together their base mileage and base fitness in preparation for a qualifying marathon. While others see December as a refresh and restoration period and do a lot of nothing a lot of the time,” says founder of Fitness From Africa Coaching (FFA) Marcel Viljoen

“At FFA Coaching we have a fair percentage of each group following our programs and we understand that each person should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and train according to their goals. I had a personal training client many years ago who wanted to ‘take a break’ from her program over December. Her holiday program included regular exercise, active days, and nutritious eating, which was a great strategy and healthy ‘toned down’ approach.”

Your Training

When you consider your health, fitness, and performance over this period, keep the following points in mind: 

  1. Be consistent
  2. Develop efficiency
  3. Keep the goal THE Goal!


This is fairly simple. keep showing up for training and your body will appreciate it and start producing results. Having great goals is one thing, but purely talking about them won’t get you off the couch!


This is a little more complex, says Marcel. “We suggest ‘training and not straining’ as is this is the best way to improve. Your body has a variety of areas that require conditioning including musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, physiological, and psychological. 

To be the best version of yourself you need to be mobile and supple! It’s important to keep your strength sessions up (even on holiday) to have a strong frame and base to work with. This will support your training and race goals. 

Endurance sessions will strengthen your lungs and heart, while training at different intensities and using the correct nutrition will help your energy (and digestive) systems to become more efficient and responsive. 

Taking your negative thoughts ‘captive’ will keep your motivational levels above the line of success and keep the focus during the tougher parts of the process. Your mindset is just as important as your physical running goals. In fact, they go hand-in-hand! 

Keep the goal THE Goal

This means being single-minded and not getting distracted by anything that will prevent you from being successful. That mountain needs to be climbed slowly and progressively to prevent setbacks and injury. Restoration and rest periods should be part of your program on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis in various shapes and forms.”

When all these components are in place and developed patiently and deliberately, you’ll be able to go all out on race day and not be disappointed. 

Your Diet

Registered dietitian, Sarah Wildy has the following suggestions to help you stay on track with your nutrition goals over the festive season: 

Eat / Drink More 


It’s obvious that as a runner, you should be drinking plenty of water, especially if you’re running more in summer, but many athletes don’t drink enough. The key is to drink enough water throughout the day, not just during a run. A good rule of thumb is to drink 1.5 to 2L of water per day. 

According to a report in Runners Blueprint, your hydration needs during a run depend on: 

  • Your training intensity
  • Fitness level
  • The clothes you are wearing
  • Your Sweat rate
  • The heat/humidity of the environment

During a run, aim to drink 120-180ml of water every 20 minutes, and for longer runs (over 90 minutes), a sports drink will help to replace lost sodium and other minerals. 

Healthy Low GI Carbs 

Oats, sweet potato, and brown rice are just some examples of low GI carbs which are great for sustained energy.  These foods will also help keep you fuller for longer and prevent over-indulging on Christmas pudding. 

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

Take advantage of all the delicious fruits and veggies in season over the holidays.  Not only are veggies good sources of vitamins and minerals, they’re also packed with additional antioxidants to help you recover faster after longer training sessions.

Lean Proteins

Foods such as eggs, tofu, chicken, fish, lean meat, beans and pulses such as chickpeas, will help to keep sugary cravings bay, plus protein-rich foods are excellent for muscle growth and repair, as well as for healthy joints and bones. 

Healthy Fats

Foods rich in healthy fats include olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds (including chia seeds), avocado, fatty fish and a small portion of dark chocolate (roughly 2 blocks), are incredibly healthy and nutritious foods. Plus, they help to give you more energy throughout the day. 

To Note:

Fats have more than twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates, and according to sports dietitian, Lizzie Kasparek who wrote a report for Sanford Health, “At low intensities a greater amount of fat is used for energy, though carbohydrates are always being used, but as exercise intensity increases from low to moderate/high intensity, the use of fat as fuel decreases and carbohydrates are used as the primary fuel source.

Eat / Drink Less

High Sugar, Processed Food 

We know that sugar is everywhere, and many long-distance runners rely on gels and energy drinks to fuel up and recover from longer runs, but research shows that runners aren’t immune to the detrimental effects of too much refined sugar. 

Too much sugar in the diet can raise the risk of a host of chronic health conditions such as 

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Hormonal imbalances

Try to limit your intake of high sugar, processed foods such as sweets, cakes, chocolates, and baked goods. Fizzy drinks should also be kept to a minimum. If you do indulge in these foods over the holidays, Sarah suggests keeping the portions small and eating mindfully. 


With the festivities always comes a celebratory drink or two, so, if you are going to have alcohol, avoid the sugary, alcoholic coolers. Rather opt for a spritzer of wine with soda water or add loads of ice.  If you’re adding spirits to mixers, then choose sugar-free mixers, such as sugar-free tonic water with a shot of gin, for instance.   

If you do end up overindulging on foods and drinks, Sarah suggests: 

  • Getting back on track the very next meal. Don't wait until Monday to start again
  • If you eat a large lunch (with 3 courses for instance), then consider a light supper such as fruit salad, or skip it all together. Avoid having another heavy meal in the same day.
  • Get rid of unhealthy leftovers - send them home with your guests!


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