Holiday Food: Drafting a Winning Lineup
One of the many perks of being an athlete is that when the holidays come around, we don't have to worry so much about a few—or more likely a few hundred—extra calories. First of all, our energy needs are much higher than our friends' whose idea of sport is a particularly cutthroat game of foosball. And secondly, any weight that sneaks on during the holidays is just as easily shed in January when we fall back into our normal routine of eating and working out.
Although the period from Thanksgiving until just after New Years is somewhat of a nutritional black hole, there are actually plenty of foods in Aunt Hilda's holiday buffet that can fit quite nicely into an athlete's game plan. The secret is to draft the best foods for your dietary lineup. Here are some of the most promising players in the typical holiday pool, and some tips for enhancing their performance.
This lean source of protein is also swimming in
The vegetables in this Italian delight—peppers, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms—are filled with phytochemicals, which are plant chemicals that enhance immunity and lower the risk for chronic disease. Nosh on a few pieces of cheese for some
Scoop up a handful of selenium, fiber, protein,
Big Game MVPs
This choice is a solid source of protein,
Turkey. Carve off a slice and you'll get a good dose of protein as well as some iron with each serving. Dark meat contains more iron than the lighter parts. Go for the extra point—Top slices of turkey with cranberry sauce instead of gravy.
Stuffing. This is the ultimate dish for carbo-loaders. And if it's made with celery, raisins, cranberries, apples, nuts, or any other goodies, you'll get extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Cranberry Sauce. Whether you slice it or scoop it, this rich, tart sauce is excellent on its own or as a topping for turkey, stuffing, or potatoes. It also boosts fiber and phytochemical levels.
Squash. The pilgrim who introduced this beauty to the table was a true nutritional visionary. Dig in to the butternut, hubbard, or acorn varieties and be treated to a mouthful of flavor as well as a whole host of phytochemicals and the potent antioxidant, vitamin A. Go for the extra point—go easy on the butter; often a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg is enough to bring out squash's natural flavor.
These little guys are really legumes who are cousins to black beans, chickpeas, and lentils. More importantly, they provide athletes a shot of protein, carbohydrate, and fiber, as well as
Sweet Potatoes. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carbohydrate… All this and it can satisfy your sweet tooth with barely any calories and no fat, too. You didn't think such a food existed, but think again. If only they made an energy gel out of these tubers.
Pumpkin Pie. This is a pumpkin's time to shine, and boy does it shine in this position. Not only does this pie provide the vitamin A and potassium we come to expect from anything pumpkin, it also delivers a good supply of calcium and carbohydrate. Go for the extra point—skip the whipped cream or go for the lighter version.
Apple Pie. Or any other fruit pie for that matter, especially if it's homemade. It's as close as most people will get to eating fruit for dessert, and often slightly lower in calories than other desserts like cakes or pastries. Go for the extra point—top with low-fat frozen yogurt (for calcium) instead of ice cream.
Sugar Cookies. Yes, they're full of sugar, but they're still carbohydrate. Trail runners can get away with eating jelly beans and gum drops, so enjoy a couple of these sweets at the office holiday party. Go for the extra point–eat your cookies Santa-style; a glass of skim milk is a great source of carbohydrate, protein, calcium, and several other vitamins and minerals we athletes need a lot of.
Beer. Athletes, from the armchair to the gym-rat variety, seem to really like their beer, which may be good news for heart health. Moderate drinking—one drink/day for women and two for men—of alcoholic beverages is believed to decrease the risk for heart disease. Go for the extra point—stick with moderation and alternate with a few glasses of water, since alcohol can lead to dehydration.
Red Wine. While all alcoholic drinks are thought to offer some health benefits, red wine gets an extra healthful punch from the phytochemicals in grapes. Go for the extra point—again, moderation is key.
Hot Apple Cider. In addition to providing the quintessential holiday aroma for your kitchen, hot apple cider adds a few extra phytochemicals—you can never have too many of these.
A Winning Lineup
As an athlete, it is especially important to get enough nutrients, particularly carbohydrate, protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, E,
So, with all these great foods to choose from, bench the scale this holiday season and enjoy your favorites. Just be sure to work in a few runs, walks, or pick-up games in between meals.
American Dietetic Association
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Canada's Food Guide
Dietitians of Canada
Akerström TC, Pedersen BK. Strategies to enhance immune function for marathon runners: what can be done? Sports Med. 2007; 37:416-419.
Gleeson M. Can nutrition nutrition limit exercise-induced immunodepression? Nutr Rev. 2006;64:119-131.
Last reviewed May 2009 by
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