How to Hygge (as an Athlete)

by | Dec 7, 2023 | Lifestyle

As athletes, it can be tough to walk between enjoying the holidays, hygge and the season while still being and feeling…. fast and in shape. The two vibes seem completely at odds with each other: Hustling versus Hygging. Getting your morning miles in versus cozying up on the couch with a gingerbread coffee and scented candle.

When I wrote this article first back in 2017, it was after a conversation with Ellen Noble, back when she was racing pro cyclocross and I was managing the team she was on. We were living in Belgium at the time. We realized that each year, those of us racing or working on the weekends don’t get to do the traditional seasonal stuff we used to love. Even if you’re not a pro, you probably feel like this to some extent. We missed it, but we didn’t feel like there was a balance that was truly possible for us at that point.

When you’re racing every weekend, you miss pumpkin picking, Christmas shopping is more harried than fun, and it’s freaking hard to deck the halls when you’re traveling to races around the state/country/world, depending on your level. Case in point: in 2017 when I wrote this, we were in Belgium. Sort of tough to get a Christmas tree when we leave on the 18th. This year, we leave the 17th from our actual home to be with my family for the holidays, then head towards warmer training weather.

And it gets even tougher as an athlete as cold weather sets in. A few years ago, we were introduced to something even sadder for those of us still in spandex in December: Hygge. The Danish/Scandinavian concept of general coziness and indulgence. Try feeling that at a 35-degree CX race at 8AM on a Saturday… Or at 6AM, pre-race, when you and the mechanics are out for the #StaffShuffle run. Yeah, you don’t really feel cozy.

“Take hyggebukser: These are the one pair of pants you really should never wear in public but are a favorite anyway because they’re so comfortable,” writes Judith Newman, adding, “Or, as I call them, pants.” She penned an epic review of the hit book Little Book of Hygge for the New York Times, and I freaking loved it. So much so that I opened this post to start drafting.

As athletes, we sometimes find it a little hard to get cozy. Hygge and the holidays offer visions of sleeping in, indulging in an extra glass of wine or second dessert, spending time binge-watching shows or holiday movies, cozying up in cashmere. It tends to exclude salads, ice baths, burpees and long runs on the weekend. So, for years, I’ve had a hard time reconciling my intense introverted/bookworm-y desire to hibernate in the winter and embrace coziness now that I live the spandex-clad life.

I do think there’s room for both, though. Especially since, clearly, Hygge (and Judith Newman) and I all seem to have the same feeling RE pants.

This is about coziness, and how to embrace that feeling of hygge, even in a little way, as the athlete that you are. You don’t need to spend a fortune on cashmere socks to do it.

Embracing Hygge As an Athlete

Warm up your recovery drink

Personal favorite? Hot chocolate, thanks to the protein and carb content—especially nice if you make it with milk, cocoa powder, a bit of vanilla and sugar. Mmmmm! But Skratch Labs also makes a *hot* apple cider drink mix that I love. (Or, you know, you can also make hot apple cider.)

Stew. (Seriously.)

I’ve been feeding athletes for years and my #1 go-to meal on cold days looks and smells amazing, but takes about 10 minutes to make. It also features lean proteins, tons of veggies, the option for more healthy carbs, plus good fats. That’s right, stew is basically a super food. And it doesn’t get much cozier than a steamy bowl of stew when it’s cold and rainy out. My tactic: brown ground beef in a pan with some chopped up onions and garlic. Add two cubes of vegetable boullion, a can of diced tomatoes, and a ton of veggies—I like frozen veggie mixes to save time, personally. Tons of spinach, then broccoli, peppers, whatever, plus a can of white beans if I didn’t use much meat, and a couple of diced up potatoes and an Italian seasoning spice mix. Add water til your Crockpot is full, let it go for 8 or so hours. The house will smell amazing, and you’ll look like a kitchen genius. I do a baguette on the side, but for the gluten-free people out there, rice or extra potatoes work too.

Have a cozy blanket on hand

Post-ride, make time to sip that recovery drink AFTER you’re showered and in comfy clothes. When we moved into our place, my favorite thing I bought wasn’t furniture, it was a really comfortable throw blanket for our couch. Nothing special, just soft. Years later, that blanket is a shared one between me and DW, and even though we’ll spend a chunk of the winter traveling in our van (even harder to hygge in that!), we’ll be bringing that blanket with us.

Designate ‘hygge’ time

Plenty of us tend to use down time as a chance to … do more work. I’ve been trying to shut down and enjoy my down time lately, though. For me, that means after dinner, it’s hygge time. That means a book by myself or a Netflix show with Peter most nights, and trying to really let that quiet, indulgent time happen. And in recent years, I’ve also started realizing that breakfast and a cup of coffee with Peter is a pretty cozy way to start the morning. While I usually read at breakfast, I make sure it’s just a fun book, and if Peter wants to have a chat, I always have space for that.

Also, designate ‘holiday’ time

I know that every year when I’m home for the week ahead of Christmas, I have some choices to make. I’m planning on designating at least a few days where we’ll do a short run in the morning, work for an hour or two, and then… Nothing but family chill time. I don’t get to see my parents as often as I’d like, so I know it’s a big priority for me to put athletics to the side and just maintain my fitness while embracing time with them. And holiday doesn’t have to mean over-eating or drinking too much. For me, it’s mostly about getting cozy, having a cup of tea, and crushing through holiday classics and gossip with the family. (OK, and some eating and drinking, obviously.)

Let me know in the comments: Do you struggle with letting go of athlete identity long enough to get cozy?


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