The New Year can bring out the best in athletes such as new focus and better habits—but it can also lead to a very quick breakdown and loss of motivation. Athletes love to make New Year’s resolutions. We are always thinking about every possible way to get more from our bodies so we can perform better.

A popular resolution is to stop drinking alcohol. I always find this interesting as athletes believe it to be a magic bullet: if they stop consuming alcohol, surely they will be leaner, fresher and faster—no question!

I remember hearing that before the 2004 Olympics Ivan Rana from Spain, one of the favorites in the triathlon, had decided to completely forego alcohol for one year leading into the Games so that he could focus everything in his life to his one goal of winning Olympic gold.

Instead, Rana had one of his worst seasons ever.

While we can’t say that his decision to stop drinking was the only reason for his slump, it for sure played its part. Many people have said that beer (in moderation) is one of the best recovery drinks.

Taking away what was once a source of calories and some nutrients can wreak havoc on the body.

We must also take into consideration that there is a social aspect to having a drink. Maybe we find the easiest way to forego a beer or a glass of wine by avoiding the events where we usually have a few.

This lack of contact with friends and colleagues can also have an important consequence, and it is not necessarily a positive one. We put such a big focus on training and our goals that it is good to socialize away from the sport to relax a little.

I would always advise that, instead, we look at reducing consumption. Everything in life should be balanced—we should always aim to be good 80 per cent of the time. I like to plan one of two “naughty” days every week. That’s when you can go out for a drink and eat your favorite foods without worrying about getting fat or what effect it will have on your training the next day.

Other typical resolutions include:

* Sleep more

* Improve nutrition

These, too, are big lifestyle changes and they are generally implemented overnight. The human body loves routine. If we change something, it will react and in almost all cases it will react negatively.

When people stop smoking they do not feel great, healthy and happy the next day—they feel horrible for a long time. For sure the benefits are there in the long run but in the immediate time after stopping things are not going to be rosy.

The same goes for pretty much everything: the body will not like the change and will rebel, and we tend to feel depressed and unmotivated in these times.

I will always tell my athletes that resolutions are great but they need to be implemented brick by brick.

January is a stressful time for most people as we tend to ignore many normal daily tasks through December as the festive season takes hold and other events take priority.

Reality always hits hard in January with piles of paper work, house work, office work and other things that have to be done. This is a time when we need our normal structure to help us stay on top of everything, making sure we are doing what is familiar to our body.

Let’s look at what happens when you decide to change your nutrition. You go to work with different food in your body, which in turn reacts different from the way it usually does. Your energy levels might be lower for a while. You may feel hungry or bloated all day. As a result you cannot concentrate on your work. You do not get as much done and the stress builds up. You need more time for work and slip out of your normal routine very easily.

I will always aim to implement resolutions brick by brick through January and February. For performance, consistency of training is the key and this is the focus of an ironguides program.

Coming into the first weeks of January it is important to not change training routine, making sure to get a couple of consistent weeks training in now that all the distractions of the holidays are behind us.

Once back into your full routine, we can start implementing changes.

We should also have a good look at the resolutions to see if they are really going to make a difference.

The most important thing for athletes is not only to come up with these resolutions but to talk about them with their coach and family. Sit down and think how the changes will impact your life.

For example, while going to bed earlier may leave you more rested for training the next morning and fresher for work, consider the impact it might have on a partner. You may be taking away the only time they have with you.

Living with a triathlete is not always easy as we tend to be pressed for time constantly. Remember to think about others in your life and how your changes will affect them.

For training to be effective we need to be balanced, we need to be healthy and we must have the support of our friends and family. I want athletes to keep this in mind. Most athletes consider the weekend BIG training time. I always ask them to make the sacrifice of waking up very early one morning a week to train so that one day at the weekend can be dedicated to family/ partner time.

You can still do a short training session on this day of the weekend but giving most of that day to family will make them so much happier and you will also find their support for your triathlon lifestyle will grow.

To make 2011 your best season, implement your resolutions over the next few weeks brick by brick

AFTER you’ve considered carefully how any changes impact not only your training but also those

around you. Remember balance!

Alun ‘Woody’ Woodward, Certified ironguides Coach – Austria.

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Alun ‘Woody’ Woodward, Certified ironguides Coach – UK/Hungary

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